Editorials

Legislature can save young lives by supporting gun safe-storage bill

Faith Hamblin, 6, was accidentally shot in the chest last year while playing with a 5-year-old boy who had grabbed a loaded shotgun from an unlocked cabinet at his father’s home near Greenup. Faith underwent three surgeries at a hospital because of a punctured left lung that kept filling with blood, a shattered left shoulder and other internal injuries.
Faith Hamblin, 6, was accidentally shot in the chest last year while playing with a 5-year-old boy who had grabbed a loaded shotgun from an unlocked cabinet at his father’s home near Greenup. Faith underwent three surgeries at a hospital because of a punctured left lung that kept filling with blood, a shattered left shoulder and other internal injuries.

Never have we heard even the staunchest defender of gun rights say that adults have no duty to secure firearms from children.

What we hear is that most gun owners exercise great care in handling and storing their weapons, and that they want people who are irresponsible to be held accountable.

So, why is not a single Republican in the Kentucky legislature sponsoring a law against leaving a loaded gun where a child can use it?

It’s not because there’s no problem.

Kids in Kentucky regularly kill and injure each other with guns that an adult left within reach. Such shootings killed at least 15 children and wounded 21 between 2012 and 2017, according to reporting last year by the Herald-Leader’s John Cheves. The average age of both shooter and victim was nine.

The shooter is also often a victim, such as the three-year-old in Hardin County who killed his 15-month-old sister with a gun that his father left on a closet floor, then repeatedly screamed “I’m sorry, Mom!”

As in that case, the responsible adult is almost never charged, in large part because no Kentucky law exactly fits the situation. Police and prosecutors are reluctant to bring felony endangerment charges against someone whose careless storage of a gun leads to a child’s death or injury.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, would remedy that dilemma. House Bill 31, which is getting the cold shoulder from the Republicans who control the House, would create two levels of misdemeanor for improperly storing a firearm — Class B, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, when a minor gets access to the weapon, or Class C, punishable by up to a year, when a minor uses the weapon to hurt or kill someone. Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, is a co-sponsor.

A similar bill sponsored last year in the Senate by Louisville Democrat Gerald Neal got a similar cold shoulder from Republican leaders and went nowhere.

Republicans claim to be the party of personal responsibility. Experience teaches that good laws support personal responsibility, especially when accompanied by public education. Drunken driving is an example. After states raised the drinking age to 21 and toughened DUI laws, alcohol-related deaths were cut in half in this country, with the greatest drop among people under 20. Seat belts, which have saved an estimated 255,000 lives, are another example.

The mother of the 15-year-old charged with killing two students and wounding 14 at Marshall County High School last month reportedly told another parent that her son probably took the handgun used in the shooting from a closet in their home.

Lawmakers, who honored the Marshall County victims, could save other children from the same grisly fate by adding Kentucky to the list of places where gun storage laws are protecting children.

At the very least, Republicans should urge House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, who told Cheves he hadn’t even read HB 31, to give the potentially lifesaving measure a hearing.

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