There is at least one commonality between the role of parent and that of gun owner – both require a heightened level of personal responsibility. Ensuring the safety of children is an instinctual trait for our species. Being a responsible gun owner just makes good sense. When both these roles are ignored, the results can be tragic.
As I began research for this column, the circumstances surrounding the February 22 accidental shooting of an 8-year-old girl in a Port Orchard elementary school were well-documented (Trib 3/13). On the heels of this tragedy came the story of a 7-year-old shot by her younger sibling, using a loaded firearm left unsecured in the family car. In today’s print edition was another similar shooting, this time in Little Rock, Arkansas, wherein a 9-year-old shot her younger brother when their parents momentarily left the family’s home.
This string of easily preventable accidents were enough to spur this column. Then I opened up the Trib’s online page to check a particular fact and read the title, “3-year-old accidently shoots, kills himself.” I was probably not alone in assuming this related to one of the three stories above. Now we all know differently.
Another loaded gun left unattended – one more young child lost.
These events are not related by any bizarre conspiracy. Each incident, however, has obvious circumstantial similarities that tie them together in a tangled and bloody knot: failure to unload or lock up firearms; failure to account for minor children; failure to recognize the devastating possibilities of combining the two. These adults failed in their duty to protect both their weapons and their children.
The Port Orchard incident, which involves 8-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman, is a case in point. The mother of the young boy who brought the gun to school was recently charged, along with her boyfriend, with Assault 3rd degree in Kitsap County Superior Court. County Prosecutor Russ Hauge determined that the gross misdemeanor charge of Reckless Endangerment was insufficient given the impact of the shooting on young Kocer-Bowman, who almost died as a result.
The particular circumstances of the Port Orchard case, such as allegations of drug use and abysmal parenting ascribed to the mother, Jamie Lee Chaffin, certainly provide a reason for elevated charges. But the felony assault charge is not ideal. It was not drafted to encompass the grossly negligent behavior of the man and woman charged with the crime, and there is no surety that the prosecution will be successful.
The Marysville shooting is playing out much differently. In this case the loaded and unsecured weapon, with which one sibling shot and killed another, was the property of their father, a police officer. No charges have been filed, perhaps because the victim and shooter were siblings. In either case, there is no state law to hold negligent gun owners accountable for the tragic results. That would be in the 27 other states which do.
But our state law does define negligence. According to RCW 9A.08.010, a person’s actions are negligent, “when he or she fails to be aware of a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her failure to be aware of such substantial risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.”
Does leaving a loaded gun in the presence of children seem like something a reasonable person would do? The answer is no.
This is not a problem seeking a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, gun ownership requires the complete attention of everyone with skin in the game. That includes law enforcement, lawmakers and gun owners. It also includes the National Rifle Association which so proudly promotes gun safety but works so hard against gun accountability. There has been a deadly tally since the NRA successfully blocked a 1996 measure making it a misdemeanor to allow children access to loaded weapons.
The real question is whether the gun lobby will continue to view any attempt to hold gun owners responsible for their weapons as the stealthy presence of gun control. The answer depends on whether the attempt to save innocent lives from negligent gun owners could possibly be an infringement on their 2nd Amendment rights.
The answer, again, is no.