Two More Kids Were Shot With Their Relatives' Guns. We Need to Pass Laws to Punish the Relatives.

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 24 2013 4:25 PM

Two More Kids Were Shot With Their Relatives' Guns. We Need to Pass Laws to Punish the Relatives.

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In this file photo, a young student displays a sign referring to handgun violence during a public rally sponsored by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

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Update, 5:15 p.m.: CBS News is reporting that Laderika Smith, the mother of the 5-year-old girl who shot and killed herself on Sunday, will be charged with second-degree murder. I'm glad that she'll be held responsible for her daughter's death, but I'm not entirely sure that a straight-up murder charge is appropriate here. More on this tomorrow after I've had time to consider it.

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Original post: On Friday a 9-year-old boy from Canton, Ohio, was shot and killed when a rifle that he and a 14-year-old cousin had been looking at unexpectedly discharged. The rifle belonged to the older boy’s father. On Sunday a 5-year-old New Orleans girl shot and killed herself with a .38-caliber revolver. The girl found the gun when her mother left her alone in the house to go to the store. The mother returned to find her daughter lying on the bedroom floor, a bullet in her head. The girl died later that day.

According to NBC News, the girl’s mother, Laderika Smith, has been charged with “cruelty to a juvenile,” because she left her daughter alone in the house; authorities in New Orleans are apparently deciding whether to bring more serious charges against Smith. The "cruelty to minors" charge was likely brought because Louisiana might not have any other way to hold Smith culpable for the death of her child. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Louisiana doesn't have any child access prevention laws, which provide for the prosecution of adults who give children access to guns. Neither does Ohio, and, as such, it’s not clear whether charges will be filed in the Canton case; in remarks to the media, the local sheriff characterized the incident as both a tragedy, which it is, and an accident, which it most certainly is not.

I apologize to those of you who are regular readers, because you probably know what I’m going to say next. Nevertheless, given that children keep dying due to negligent firearm discharges, I feel obliged to keep saying it. These incidents might be unpredictable, but they’re not accidental. Every single one of the child shooting deaths I’ve covered over the past two months could have been prevented if the relevant adults would have stored their guns in gun safes, instead of on shelves or tables; if they would have checked to confirm that the guns were unloaded and the chambers were clear; if they would have directly supervised their children when they were using the guns, instead of assuming that the kids knew what they were doing.

The Canton and New Orleans incidents mentioned above are typical. In both cases, the kids were left unsupervised in a house where there were one or more unsecured firearms; the parents or guardians apparently assumed that the kids either wouldn’t find the guns or were mature enough to handle them safely. This makes no sense to me. Why would you trust your child’s safety to an assumption?

I understand why people want to categorize these incidents as accidents. It seems heartless to prosecute a parent who just lost his or her child. But these shootings would almost certainly decrease if there was a clear societal expectation that when you bring a gun into your home, for reasons of sport or protection, you will be held responsible for everything that happens with that gun. Period.

Prosecuting the parents in these incidents is one way to make that expectation known. These children die because their parents or guardians fail to observe certain basic, common-sense gun safety precautions. Their deaths are a direct consequence of this careless, cavalier attitude toward gun safety. It is criminal negligence, and state and local governments need to start treating it as such.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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