Safe Tennessee Project calls on state lawmakers to strengthen child access prevention laws

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After an 11-year-old boy intentionally shot and killed his 8-year-old neighbor with his father’s shotgun, The Safe Tennessee Project is calling on lawmakers to address our weak firearm storage laws.
Saturday afternoon in White Pine, Tennessee, an 11-year-old little boy asked his 8-year-old neighbor if he could play with her puppy. She said no, so he grabbed his father’s shotgun and killed her. Another child was present and witnessed the shooting.

The boy has been charged with first degree murder. The boy’s father, the owner of the shotgun, has not been charged with any crime. And, under current state law, it is unlikely that he will be.

According to The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

Tennessee prohibits a parent or guardian from intentionally, knowingly or recklessly providing a handgun to a juvenile(1) or permitting a juvenile to possess a handgun, if such parent or guardian knows of a substantial risk that such juvenile will use the handgun to commit a felony.(2)

Tennessee also prohibits any person age 18 or older, including a parent or legal guardian, who knows that a minor or student is in illegal possession of a firearm in or upon the premises of a public or private school, in or on such school’s athletic stadium or other facility or building where school sponsored athletic events are conducted, or a public park, playground or civic center, from failing to prevent the possession or failing to report the possession to the appropriate school or law enforcement officials.(3)

1. “Juvenile” is defined as any person under 18. Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1319(a)(2).
2. Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1320(b)
3. Tenn, Code Ann. 39-17-1312(a)

“The only way this 11-year-old’s father would be held legally responsible is if the boy had told his father that he intended to shoot the little girl and then had used the father’s handgun to do it,” explained Beth Joslin Roth, Policy Director for The Safe Tennessee Project. “Leaving a loaded gun unlocked and accessible to a child, under our state laws, is not illegal, even if the gun is used to injure or kill another person.”

Child Access Prevention, or CAP laws, vary widely from state to state. Some of the stronger laws impose criminal liability when a minor gains access to a negligently stored firearm, while the weakest merely prohibit persons from directly providing a firearm to a minor. There is a wide range of laws that fall somewhere in between, including laws that impose criminal liability for negligent storage of firearms, but only where the child uses the firearm and causes death or serious injury. Weaker laws impose penalties only in the event of reckless, knowing or intentional conduct by the adult. States also define “minor” differently for purposes of preventing access to firearms by children.

There are no child access prevention laws at the federal level, and federal law does not generally require gun owners to safely store their guns.

Tennessee ranks 9th in the nation for accidental shootings and many of these involve children. To date this year, there have been at least nineteen accidental or unintentional shootings of children in Tennessee. At least ten of them were directly related to a child finding an unsecured and loaded firearm, seven results in injuries, three resulted in death.

But, this incident is different. Although it, like many of the unintentional shootings involving children in Tennessee, was the result of a gun owner storing a firearm negligently, this was an intentional shooting. Witnesses report that the boy, who had bullied the little girl in the past, shot her because she said he could not play with her puppy.

“Honestly, we see heartbreaking stories everyday, but this is truly chilling,” said Roth. “Here we have a parent who left a loaded gun where his son could get to it, but we also have a boy- an 11-year-old child- who responded to a perceived slight from this little girl by shooting her. I have really never seen anything like this. Using a gun to respond to conflict is not normal behavior for a 5th grader. Now, the child is charged with first-degree murder. This story is making national news now. What a sad and shameful example of the gun culture in our country and in our state.”

The Safe Tennessee Project is now calling on our legislators to improve our child access prevention laws. Unsecured, accessible guns and children lead to tragedies far too often in our state.

“I have had enough of looking at photos of children whose lives have been cut short because a gun owner chose not to store a gun safely,” said Roth. “If you’re going to store your gun irresponsibly, you shouldn’t be able to have a gun. And if your irresponsible behavior results in injury or death, you need to be held legally accountable. This isn’t a political issue, it is public health issue.”

One comment

  • This IS nothing short of a TRAGEDY! And my heart ACHES for Makayla’s family!
    Yet there’s also something WRONG with a society that expects an 11-year-old to make the SAME “reasonable deduction” as an ADULT! Despite this boy’s “intent,” I DOUBT he fully understood the TRUTH of “death!” It’s PROVEN FACT that his ability to deduce and make “reasonable” decisions at his young age IS IMPOSSIBLE!
    HOW, then, CAN WE hold him to such “account” that we’d charge him with FIRST-DEGREE MURDER?!! This country has come to “use” imprisonment as its CURE-ALL (rather than address the actual reasons for the ulcer under the band-aid!), that we now – in “good conscious” – imprison CHILDREN?!!!
    OF COURSE he SHOULD be locked away AND receive HELP! But in an APPROPRIATE FACILITY for a CHILD! NOT in the confines of an ADULT PRISON – NOR charged as AN ADULT!
    NATURALLY our CHILDREN ARE “ILL” — WE’RE guiding them — and WE’RE ILL!!