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Child’s shooting shows need for safe gun storage law

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Feb. 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
February 23, 2012 5:40 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Authorities could end up charging the wrong person for the tragic shooting Wednesday of a third-grade girl at her Bremerton school. Blame it on this state’s lack of even a minimal gun-storage requirement.

The 9-year-old boy who brought a loaded handgun to school in his backpack does bear responsibility for the accidental shooting that critically injured Amina Bowman. But again, he’s 9 years old. Children that age often have little understanding of the consequences of their actions. Authorities would have to prove that the boy was aware that his actions were wrong in order to charge him with a crime.

Unfortunately, the person most responsible for this tragedy –  the adult who kept a loaded gun accessible to a youngster – likely won’t be held accountable.  Washington is not one of the 27 states that requires at least minimal safeguards to prevent children from getting access to firearms in the home. It has no criminal penalty for adults who fail to do so.

According to the boy’s teacher, he is a troubled child – all the more reason for his parent to have kept any firearms under lock and key in the home, if at all. The only way the parent might be held accountable is in civil court. Amina’s family could sue in hopes of recovering at least some of what is likely to be an astronomical bill for medical and rehabilitation expenses. But they’re not likely to collect much; Kitsap County officials say both of the boy’s parents have extensive criminal records.

In years past, lawmakers tried to enact sensible firearms storage legislation. The Whitney Graves bill, named for the 8-year-old Marysville girl accidentally shot by a playmate in 1996, would have made it a misdemeanor to leave a loaded gun easily accessible to a child.
Gun advocates, including the National Rifle Association, successfully blocked that legislation. If only the NRA had worked as hard to protect children as it is working to get its vanity license plate approved by the Legislature this session.

Lawmakers should not give up trying to bring Washington state into the national mainstream regarding safe firearm storage. Some adults would still ignore such a law, but the deterrent would save lives. And there would at least be a way to hold adults criminally liable for putting lethal force within reach of children.

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