Locked and Unloaded: Nevada Could Do Better

Child gun deathsWe still don’t know why a 12 year old boy shot a teacher and classmates at Sparks (NV) Middle School.  [RGJ] It’s natural to look for a “motive,” some resolution, or explanation, for the inexplicable.  Given what we do know about the brain, we might never know.  We know, for example, that there is a second period of development in the pre-frontal cortex during  pre-puberty, [PBS] but while we know volumes about the structure of the brain we’re not so informed about the operations of the mind.   What was in the boy’s mind may be unknown; what was in his hand is obvious — a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic.

Each time these tragedies hit the headlines there is the all too predictable response from gun enthusiasts — We can’t enhance regulations because… Freedom…Liberty…2nd Amendment …Patriotism. What of the “responsible gun owners?”  Perhaps, we could consider a change of perspective.

According to the gun enthusiasts NO impediment is tolerable which might even remotely constrict their “rights” to arm themselves to the eaves — if we accept this then why not consider the possibility that while a person may own all manner of firearms we might give some thought to how those are stored.  The firearm used in Sparks came from home, and there is another home in this country which may have contributed to the stock of stolen weapons that all too often show up in crime statistics.

“Rep. Renee Ellmers’ (R-NC) husband reported an AR-15 rifle stolen from the family’s home in Dunn last week, according to a police report.

The weapon had been left leaning against a gun locker in an unlocked garage on Kingsway Drive, the report said.

The rifle, a gun case and a GPS, with a cumulative value of $1,100, were reported stolen, according to Chief J.D. Pope.  Police think the theft happened on the night of Oct. 15.

“According to the report, they had been out target shooting and brought the gun back and leaned it against the gun safe,” Pope said. “ … The garage door was left unsecured, according to the report.” [Charlotte Observer]

An open garage door, an AR-15… what could possibly go wrong?

One very common bit of advice on gun storage is provided by the state of California:

“Store your gun safely and securely to prevent unauthorized use. Guns and ammunition should be stored separately. When the gun is not in your hands, you must still think of safety. Use a California-approved firearms safety device on the gun, such as a trigger lock or cable lock, so it cannot be fired. Store it unloaded in a locked container, such as a California-approved lock box or a gun safe. Store your gun in a different location than the ammunition. For maximum safety you should use both a locking device and a storage container.”

Following this advice might also reduce the number of successful suicides by children  in this country.

“In the first nationally representative study to examine the relationship between survey measures of household firearm ownership and state level rates of suicide in the U.S., researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that suicide rates among children, women and men of all ages are higher in states where more households have guns.  […] The researchers found that states with higher rates of household firearm ownership had significantly higher rates of suicide by children, women and men. In the 15 states with the highest levels of household gun ownership, twice as many people committed suicide compared with the six states with the lowest levels, even though the population in both groups was about the same. […]
“Removing firearms may be especially effective in reducing the risk of suicide among adolescents and other potentially impulsive members of their home. Short of removing all firearms, the next best thing is to make sure that all guns in homes are very securely locked up and stored separately from secured ammunition. In a nation where more than half of all suicides are gun suicides and where more than one in three homes have firearms, one cannot talk about suicide without talking about guns,” he adds.” [Harvard 2007]

Lock’em up unloaded might also alleviate other tragic numbers. Discussing the number of children who are killed or seriously injured by firearms is made more difficult because decisions made at the local level about causation leading to serious under-counting.

“A New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities. The killings of Lucas, Cassie and Alex, for instance, were not recorded as accidents. Nor were more than half of the 259 accidental firearm deaths of children under age 15 identified by The Times in eight states where records were available.”

Predictably, the NRA pounced on the results, saying more children were killed in falls, accidental poisonings, and because of environmental issues.  The argument is extraneous.  First, merely because more children might be killed by other means doesn’t address the argument that fewer children would be killed if guns weren’t accessible.  Second, if we are seriously under-counting the firearm deaths, then the argument is evidentially  false.  Third, there’s demonstrable obfuscation:

“The rifle association’s lobbying arm recently posted on its Web site a claim that adult criminals who mishandle firearms — as opposed to law-abiding gun owners — are responsible for most fatal accidents involving children. But The Times’s review found that a vast majority of cases revolved around children’s access to firearms, with the shooting either self-inflicted or done by another child.” [NYT 9/13]

Recent headlines offer support for the Time’s conclusion: “Father faces charges in Fayetteville toddler’s death,” [WRAL] when he left a .22 semi-automatic under the family’s couch.   “Michigan toddler finds loaded gun in closet, dies from bullet to the face” [NYDN] “Toddler shot to death in Yellowstone was killed by father’s pistol,” [ChicagoTrib] “Three Year Old Killed … with gun from grandmother’s backpack,” [Yuma Sun] “Kentucky Shooting: Boy, 5, Shoots And Kills 2-Year-Old Sister, Police Say,” [AP] and “Kansas boy, 7, shoots self in head during family gun outing,” [NYDN]

Indeed, there are children killed by being mauled by animals, by being dropped or assaulted, or by being poisoned by household chemicals.  However, the instances of other causes of death doesn’t offer any substantiation to the contention that we ought not consider legislation on gun storage, trigger locks, and smart gun technology.

The state of Nevada doesn’t directly address the safe storage of firearms, and the possible consequences of guns + children.

Nevada’s gun “storage” law is particularly unhelpful:

 “NRS41.472  Imposition of liability for minor’s negligence or willful misconduct regarding firearm. 1. If a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for a minor under the age of 18 years:  (a)Knows that the minor has previously been adjudicated delinquent or has been convicted of a criminal offense; (b) Knows that the minor has a propensity to commit violent acts; or (c) Knows or has reason to know that the minor intends to use the firearm for unlawful purposes, and permits the minor to use or possess a firearm, any negligence or willful misconduct of the minor in connection with such use or possession is imputed to the person who permits such use or possession for all purposes of civil damages, and, notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 2 of NRS 41.470, that person is jointly and severally liable with the minor for any and all damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.  2. As used in this section, “firearm” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 202.253.  (Added to NRS by 1995, 1149)”

In short, a parent would have to “know” that the child intended to unlawfully use a firearm before any liability attaches.  How do we “know” if a 12 year old has a “propensity to commit violent acts?”  A three year old?

Massachusetts law takes the storage issue head on:

Section 131L. (a) It shall be unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun including, but not limited to, large capacity weapons, or machine gun in any place unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. For purposes of this section, such weapon shall not be deemed stored or kept if carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user.

California takes on the issue of children’s access to firearms:

“AB 231 establishes the Firearm Safe and Responsible Access Act, creating a third degree misdemeanor if a person negligently stores or leaves a loaded firearm in a location where they know, or reasonably should know, that a child can access the firearm without permission and the person fails to take proper safety measures.  A third degree misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.  The bill also requires licensed gun dealers to post this warning in their place of business with other already required postings of child safe storage laws.” [ASMDC]

The California Penal Code specifies storage requirements in homes with children present:

(b)(1)Except as provided in subdivision (c), a person commits the crime of “criminal storage of a firearm of the first degree” if he or she keeps any loaded firearm within any premises that are under his or her custody or control and he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian and the child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes death or great bodily injury to himself, herself, or any other person.

(2)Except as provided in subdivision (c), a person commits the crime of “criminal storage of a firearm of the second degree” if he or she keeps any loaded firearm within any premises that are under his or her custody or control and he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian and the child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes injury, other than great bodily injury, to himself, herself, or any other person, or carries the firearm either to a public place or in violation of Section 417. [more]

There are no silver bullets in firearm related death issues.   No single piece of legislation can “solve” problems associated with children’s access to guns, or prevent every school or home tragedy created when children get access to firearms.  However, if this state is truly interested in protecting children there are steps we can take which could ameliorate the situation, or at the very least offer more legal recourse to the victims.

The next session of the Nevada legislature should give some serious consideration to amending our statutes in regard to children’s access to firearms, and to the appropriate storage of firearms in Nevada homes.

1 Comment

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One response to “Locked and Unloaded: Nevada Could Do Better

  1. Sin City Siren

    Reblogged this on The Sin City Siren and commented:
    There is no making sense of the school shooting in Sparks, Nevada this week. But Desert Beacon offers one place to start.