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.