Throughout the country, an accidental shooting ends the life of a child every other day. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a child 17 and under dies every 17 hours in Florida alone. Firearm shootings killed or injured nearly 3,200 kids between 2010 and 2015; the number of deaths and injuries children have sustained since 2010 continues to climb alongside the number of gun sales. In many of these cases, children are shot and killed or maimed by other children who happened upon a loaded weapon. In these situations, many may wonder, who is to blame?
Unsafe Gun Storage Leads to Preventable Tragic Deaths
Today, firearms are present in about one-third of all homes with children. In roughly half of these homes, gun owners keep their weapons unlocked. In one-sixth of these, the guns are loaded. As more people become convinced that they need guns to keep their families and belongings safe, they buy more guns for protection. Just twenty years ago, the primary reason to own a firearm was for hunting.
Homeowners who keep easily-accessible firearms anticipate the day that they will need their guns at-the-ready when an intruder breaks in; however, the most likely scenario is that one of their children will get a hold of the gun before they ever become the victim of a break-in or home invasion. Day-to-day, a person’s risk of being a crime victim is microscopic compared to the chance that his children will use the easy-to-grab weapon to hurt himself or others.
The accidental death of a minor is a tragic event, but it is made more painful in cases where the death could have been avoided by abiding simple safety guidelines like keeping guns locked in a storage compartment that children cannot access. In Florida, there are laws intended to eliminate haphazard gun storage practices in homes where children reside. These are called Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws and are in place in twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C.
Florida’s CAP Law
Common sense places the responsibility of safe storage on gun-owning parents. Florida’s CAP law makes it illegal to store loaded firearms in a place where a person can reasonably expect a minor to gain access to it without a parent’s knowing. Loaded weapons must be stored in a locked box or have a trigger lock.
Child access prevention laws attempt to hold gun owners responsible for the safe storage of firearms by imposing consequences for those who fail to store them safely. In Florida, it is a second-degree misdemeanor offense to carelessly store firearms that a minor (a child under 16 as defined by Florida Statute §790.174) later accesses. If the minor uses the weapon to hurt someone, the charge can be enhanced to a third-degree felony.
Do Parents Go to Jail After an Accidental Gun Death?
In some cases, parents have been charged and convicted of carelessly keeping their firearms. Though Florida has a CAP law intended to protect children, the way it is applied varies wildly. In many cases, prosecutors choose not to press charges against parents who are already grieving, believing that the loss of their children is punishment enough. Also, juries in these cases usually sympathize tremendously with the parents; they are unlikely to convict in many such cases. For the prosecution, it may not be worth pursuing these charges.
If you or a loved one is facing weapons charges in West Palm Beach, attorney Brian Gabriel can work with you to secure your future. For over 30 years, Mr. Gabriel has defended misdemeanor and felony weapons crimes throughout Palm Beach County. He can provide insight and options that only an attorney can offer. Call 561-622-5575 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.