Politics & Government

Bill would make it a crime to leave loaded guns where kids can find them

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Guns and kids

Over the past five years, at least 36 Kentucky children accidentally shot themselves or another child with a loaded gun that adults either gave them or left within their reach. Most of the time, police quietly closed their investigations of the shootings without bringing criminal charges. “How is nobody legally responsible for this?” one anguished father asks.

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Recklessly storing a gun where children could find and use it would be a crime in Kentucky under a bill that state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, pre-filed this month for the 2018 legislative session.

Wayne’s bill would require gun owners to use either a gun safe or a gun lock if minors under age 18 were in their homes. Improper firearm storage would be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, if a child gets access to the weapon. The charge would rise to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, if a minor uses the weapon to hurt or kill someone.

“We’ve had a number of children killed because they were playing with guns that adults left out here in Louisville. It’s just a terrible tragedy,” Wayne said Thursday. “Guns are everywhere now. We’re flooded with guns. And people are so casual about where they leave them.”

The Herald-Leader reported in July that it’s rare in Kentucky for parents to be prosecuted after an accidental child shooting involving an unsecured firearm, despite at least 36 children being shot — 15 fatally — in the preceding five years. Police and prosecutors said they were reluctant to pursue felony charges like wanton endangerment because they sympathized with the parents, or they were not certain that such serious charges would apply to someone guilty of careless gun storage.

“In my reading of the law, it would require someone actually providing (a gun) to them, as compared to just leaving it where they could come across it,” Christian Commonwealth’s Attorney Lynn Pryor said in 2013. At the time, Pryor declined to prosecute a man who left a loaded .38 caliber revolver on a living room table with his grandchildren present. After the man left the room, a 4-year-old boy picked up the gun and accidentally shot and killed his 6-year-old sister.

Wayne said his bill “already is getting some strong push-back from people who don’t understand the legislation. They say, ‘It’s government intrusion into the privacy of my home.’ They say, ‘My gun is kept in my bedside table, it’s not under lock and key, but that’s nobody’s business but mine.’”

Realistically, Wayne said, nobody would be charged under the bill unless there was a child-involved shooting. Police would not be authorized to search homes at random to see how guns are stored, he said.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed so-called “child-access prevention” laws, with some success at saving children’s lives, studies suggest. State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, filed a similar measure last winter in the Senate, but it died for lack of action.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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