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Thinking About Safe Storage Laws

Police are charging the New Jersey woman who lost a child when her older child accidentally shot the other one playing with mom’s pistol. In her case, she was keeping the pistol illegally. Safe storage laws are meant to punish parents who do things like this. Any time a law is proposed to deal with a social issue it’s worth asking:

  • Is justice served by this law? This woman already lost one kid. If she goes to jail the other kids ends up in the state foster care system. Now in this case, given the criminal history of this woman, maybe the kids are better off in state care. But is that always the case? Is the behavior in question so bad that it’s worth breaking up families over?
  • Is the law going to deter the irresponsible behavior? I’ve often argued that in most cases when it comes to accidental shootings (which are actually pretty rare) the kinds of people who need to be deterred are the kinds that won’t be deterred. The fact is that most of the people reading this don’t need a law to tell them to do what is necessary to keep firearms secured from kiddies and other irresponsible persons. It’s difficult for me to believe that the potential loss of a child is not more of a deterrent than the law.
  • Is the law enforceable? As with most laws regulating personal behavior in the home, enforcement is only going to occur when the police become aware of a violation, which is only going to happen after an accidental shooting, the very thing the law is meant to deter.

Generally speaking, I’m skeptical of any law that controls people’s behavior in their own homes. My issue with safe storage laws in general has been:

  • They usually apply a one-size-fits all solution. There are a lot of ways to secure firearms. Some solutions, like trigger locks, are outright dangerous for someone who is uneducated on how to use one.
  • They usually don’t exempt households without children. I have no kids, and while I have a safe to secure my firearms from burglars, when I’m home we have unsecured firearms, and there’s no risk to either of us with that.
  • They are not enforceable, and the people they will be enforced against are already dealing with the loss of a child. When a child is accidentally poisoned (which happens far far more often than firearms accidents), we don’t generally charge the parent for leaving prescription drugs, drain cleaner, etc unsecured. We don’t charge pool owners for accidental drownings (also happens far more often than firearms accidents) if they left the gate open.

I think incidents like these are best left as torts when multiple parties are involved, and something for child services to investigate, and dealt with through family court if necessary. I’m not sure charging a mom who just lost a kid with a felony is really justice.

10 Responses to “Thinking About Safe Storage Laws”

  1. Ian Argent says:

    I’m not Evan Nappen, but it looks like the NJ law is being misrepresented

    http://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2015/title-2c/section-2c-58-15/

    2C:58-15. Minor’s access to a loaded firearm; penalty, conditions
    1. a. A person who knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to a loaded firearm at a premises under the person’s control commits a disorderly persons offense if a minor gains access to the firearm, unless the person:

    (1) Stores the firearm in a securely locked box or container;

    (2) Stores the firearm in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure; or

    (3) Secures the firearm with a trigger lock.

    b. This section shall not apply:

    (1) To activities authorized by section 14 of P.L.1979, c.179, (C.2C:58-6.1), concerning the lawful use of a firearm by a minor; or

    (2) Under circumstances where a minor obtained a firearm as a result of an unlawful entry by any person.

    c. As used in this act, “minor” means a person under the age of 16.

    It’s a misdemeanor (Disorderly Persons offense), and has that exemption for “does not apply … as a result of unlawful entry.” You have the bugaboo of “reasonable person” and a bit of a circular definition of secure location (a secure location is one that a reasonable person would believe to be secure…) And it appears to require that a minor actually gain access to the firearm; and that the “peron” knew or should have known it was likely.

    NJ101.5 tends to be a fairly pro-gun news outlet for being an NJ news outlet, but their reporting is somewhat slipshod. Or the Essex Co prosecutor’s office slipped them “bad” info. OR both.

    • Ian Argent says:

      (I didn’t look it up on the nj government website itself, but that looks like the wording I recall from the last time I looked up the law, and agrees with a couple of other cites I found looking for this reference)

  2. Bill Twist says:

    Actually, any requirement that you must keep your guns locked up is unconstitutional:

    “Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.” – DC v. Heller.

    • Ian Argent says:

      NJ law offers trigger lock as an option, not a requirement. And that part of Heller has been ignored by followup circuit decisions and SCOTUS won’t take the cases.

      • Publius says:

        Do we really want them to?

        • Ian Argent says:

          That was prior to the current situation.

          NJ’s safe storage law ranks pretty low on my list of annoyances. It’s a misdemeanor, if a minor (under 16) actually gets ahold of a firearm you should have stored properly because you had a minor in the house. I imagine it gets used as a hook for “not in the public interest” revocations and for CPS intervention, mainly.

      • Bill Twist says:

        Doesn’t matter. It’s there in black and white. If you get arrested for it, ask for a jury trial and you get to introduce that to the jury. You read that to them, a Supreme Court decision that it’s expressly unconstitutional for you to be required to lock up your guns and that any law that requires you to do so is null and void, along with McDonald v. Chicago which applies the ruling in Heller to the states.

        Then the prosecution has to argue that it isn’t unconstitutional, which it *CLEARLY* is, and if you’re not a total dirtbag the jury will pretty much have to side with you: You can show in simple, easy to understand language that a law requiring you to keep your gun(s) locked up is null and void according to the highest court of the land.

        If do right, no can defense.

  3. Richard says:

    The point of safe storage laws is not safety but making gun ownership inconvenient and expensive. As is pointed out in the post, the people who would be deterred don’t need it and the ones who do need it won’t be. What is left is just harassment.

    • Ian Argent says:

      This is hardly necessary to harass gun owners in NJ. It’s a bit of a feel-good law, but the restrictions on hollow-point ammo are a lot more onerous, as are the transport restrictions. If it’s not at the very bottom of “things I’d change” it’s pretty close to it.

  4. Will says:

    “…something for child services to investigate, and dealt with through family court if necessary.”

    Bear in mind that “Child Protective Services” are part of the assault on the family, and intended to do as much damage to that structure as possible. It’s a Progressive construction. Their power base is built on taking children away from their parents, for the most frivolous of reasons.

    Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES would you ever want them involved. Across the country, there is no record of them ever doing something good or useful.

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