Gun owner's liability when it comes mishaps involving their children

If a child is able to get ahold of a parent’s gun and something tragic happens, is “OMG! That poor parent is suffering enough-Anything more would just be piling it on” the proper response, or should there be a consistent pursuit of criminal charges against the parental gun owners? I lean heavily towards the latter, but I would like to hear what y’all have to say on the matter. This thread is only about situations where children misuse their adult relative’s guns, please.

Justice should be rendered without passion or prejudice.

“I feel bad for you, but you still fucked up and you owe the state responsibility for that; the state does not owe you for your feelings.”

Should prosecutions be mandatory?

Prosecutions should be made according to the same standard applied to any other crime.

I’d be ok with it. In general, I’d like to see less people in jail in our country but a felony conviction would prevent them from owning guns again and that would probably be a net positive. I’d probably looking for a 1 year sentence.

I don’t think the fact that it involves a gun should matter.

There are a lot of things in a house that can kill a child. Leave medicine out (outside of its child-proof container) and a child can die from that. Leave a power saw out and a child can cut themselves severely enough that they could die of blood loss before help arrives. Remove the hand rail from your balcony and the child can fall and die. There are plenty of chemicals, especially cleaners and such, that can cause death.

I don’t know why guns should be singled out. Any weapon, whether it’s a gun or a bow or crossbow, or a sharp sword on display or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s something that is dangerous. Guns don’t deserve special treatment one way or the other.

Only an idiot would leave a battery-powered circular saw out where a child could play with it, and similarly only an idiot would leave a gun out where a child could get to it. Same issue, same crime. IANAL, but I believe the term “reckless endangerment” applies. In PA where I live, reckless endangerment is a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 2 years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. If you leave a gun out and no one even gets hurt, you’re still guilty. Just leaving a gun out where someone can get to it is enough to create a potentially deadly situation.

If someone actually dies, again IANAL, but my understanding is that’s called negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter. You didn’t mean to kill anyone, but you were negligent to the point where someone died. In PA, that’s up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

I don’t have enough experience with our legal system to know how often such crimes are prosecuted, but I don’t think the fact that a gun is involved should make a difference to the situation. The same standards should be applied to someone leaving a gun out where someone can get to it as leaving out a dangerous power tool or dangerous chemicals, and if someone dies, it should be the same standards if a gun was used or if the child bled to death from a wound caused by a circular saw or was electrocuted by wires that were intentionally left exposed.

Two thoughts:

I think gun related accidents and near-accidents regarding children are way more common than is realized. My thinking: if my kid ever had a near-tragedy with a gun I left out–either picked it up but didn’t fire it, fired it but didn’t hit anyone, or fired it and didn’t hurt anyone badly enough that we had to go to the hospital, I would never tell anyone. Not even my husband. Certainly not my mother. I’d be too ashamed and afraid. I’d cover it up and try to never even think about what could have happened. It seems to me that for every case that simply has to be reported–someone is badly hurt or dead–there must be hundreds or thousands of these near-misses. If any cases at all are happening, there’s a lot of gun owners being far too casual. People need to know it’s a crime to leave your gun where your kid can find it.

Second, I think suicides need to be part of this conversation. The link between gun ownership and teen suicide is well known. If you have a teen in your house, you should protect them from their own adolescent mistakes by keeping your gun inaccessible. That needs to be part of gun safety lectures. Not just the focus on keeping guns from toddlers.

Modnote: Suicide is part of every thread in GD on guns. Leave it out of this one for now. It will poison the debate and throw off the conversation.

After talking to Czarcasm, suicide is on the table for this discussion.

Gun ownership is about personal responsibility, this person failed at being responsible in a most miserable way. They need to be prosecuted in a way that makes them unable to possess firearms, if the only way to do that is to charge them with a felony then that’s what needs to be done, hopefully there are better ways, but it must meet a constitutional challenge.

Anything beyond that I would say is bases on the circumstances.

It seems to me that your question, particularly with the idea of “piling” on suffering, is not all that dissimilar from whether or not to prosecute a parent who leaves his child in a hot car. There’s obviously less of a direct causal link in your scenario, but I’m not sure that makes someone more culpable or augurs in favor of more punishment (although, perhaps from a deterrence standpoint). I don’t know what the right answer is on either situation, but I think I’d approach them much the same way.

I wanted to circle back to this point, but first give my opinion regarding the general point of the thread. To wit, yes, the parents should bear legal responsibility in the event of such tragedies.

Not (NOT!) going on an extended gun ownership tangent, but one of reasons that some CCW permit holders are more careful than other gun owners on safety is that they pound the risks into your head about always having a weapon on your body, and how you secure it. It’s often the folks who have ‘grown up’ around guns but never had training or ‘bought it to keep in a nightstand just in case’ that are the most lax.

So yes, if you can’t be bothered to properly secure your firearms, you have created a direct, deadly risk. Here I slightly disagree with @engineer_comp_geek in that I do feel there is, or should be, a somewhat greater onus for responsibility when the circumstances involve a gun. After all, there are circumstances where you would have power tools, poisonous cleansers, or medications out for legitimate reasons with no reasonable expectation of a child gaining access, but it happens anyway. With a firearm, you are trained to treat it as always loaded, always dangerous, and to be aware of everything in the barrel’s path.

So while I wouldn’t say it needs separate legislation to address, I absolutely agree with ECG’s point that it should/would fall under reckless endangerment or negligent homicide and the additional risk should mean that the expected judgement should be the higher end of the range. Of course that’s IMHO.

SIDENOTE - not picking on your ECG, just felt your post was one of the strongest in the thread, so I spend more time with it!

Okay, circling back around to the quote from the OP. I think it’s strongly implied, but I want to make it explicit - the legal responsibility does not, or should not apply just to children making use of an adult relative’s gun. If you have a firearm in your house and have visitors, you are just as responsible for protecting those visitors (especially children) from injuring themselves and others.

Even if you have trained your child in gun responsibility and feel comfortable with them handling and using firearms, you are very unlikely to have the knowledge and legal responsibility to make that decision for a guest. And if that guest can come across an improperly secured firearm in your residence, you damn well should be liable at least in part (age and other factors make some difference) for unfortunate consequences.

Okay, /rant off, and again, felt it was strongly implied in the OP, but wanted to clear it up.

Lastly, on one other line of the OP -

As @DCnDC and @engineer_comp_geek point out, I think it should be prosecuted the same way as other potentially lethal reckless endangerment claims are handled. The ‘but the family is suffering enough’ line often feels like an excuse to wash hands of responsibility. Sure, they’re suffering, but I would want the police or courts to take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Do the parents have other children? Or young guests?

For a family in the middle of a tragedy, maybe taking one or more parents off to jail is not in the best interests of the remaining family, but that’s what the courts are for in part - determining the best consequence for the crime and circumstances. Let them decide within the guidelines of the governing law. And using ECG’s Penn statues as an example -

(b) Grading.– Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the first degree. Where the victim is under 12 years of age and is in the care, custody or control of the person who caused the death, involuntary manslaughter is a felony of the second degree.

And as such, should well be grounds even as second degree felony to prevent that parents from owning a firearm again. Admittedly since we have such a mishmash of state vs federal laws, getting a consistent legal consensus nationwide would be difficult, but that’s a different thread.

As others have mentioned, there are standards where your negligence which cause death or harm to your child is a certain crime, and gross negligence or reckless conduct is yet another crime. I don’t think that there should be a special category for guns, but I have no problem with generally applicable law applying to conduct involving guns.

I certainly don’t agree with some form of strict liability where the parents are responsible no matter what, but yeah, if you leave a loaded pistol in with your four year old’s toys: sure. Where the line in between that is involved is typically handled on a case by case circumstance in other areas.

That seems to be an unusual place to set the bar, pretty much guaranteeing that nobody gets convicted.

How many parental nite stands are where toddlers can never get to them nor get the drawer open?

Wanting to safeguard the weapon from children while wanting instant access to said weapon in the middle of the night-not a simple problem to solve.

I never set the bar there. I was simply illustrating that there are obvious cases and not so obvious ones.

I would say that a gun in an unsecured drawer/area anywhere in the house would be a rather obvious case.

Lots of parents I know use biometric pistol safes for this purpose. They do nothing to prevent the gun from being stolen but they allow a loaded gun to be kept at hand and 90% as available.

I think it’s fair to have a higher level of security if you have children in the house. I use this myself, and it’s only me and my wife in the house. While it is reasonably secure, if I had kids or young visitors, I wouldn’t feel comfortable - most of the stuff designed to be quick access could be pried open with a small crowbar, or (worst case) a very strong screwdriver and enough time.
Plus while I love having the multiple options (2 RFID, PIN, or key backup), I remember what a BLEEEP I was as a child. If my parents had had guns, I would probably have at least tried to find the keys at some point.