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Should Parents be Liable for Children's Firearm Use?

On October 21, 2013, a 12 year old student at Sparks Middle School in Nevada allegedly shot and killed a popular math teacher and wounded two classmates before turning the gun on himself. Authorities believe the 12 year old obtained the semi-automatic used in the attack from his home and that he brought it to school, committing the attacks just before classes began for the day.

With so many school shootings being committed by kids who obtain guns from the adults who care for them, the question of holding these adults liable for children's access to these weapons is being more closely examined. Most states have some version of a Child Access Prevention ("CAP") law. CAP laws impose criminal liability on adults who negligently leave firearms accessible to children or otherwise allow children access to firearms. Both Nevada, where the shooting took place, and Georgia, have a CAP law on the books. Some states go further and impose criminal liability if a child "may" or "is likely to" gain access to the firearm--even if the child does not actually access it. California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have this statute. There are only four states that have Safe Storage Laws which impose criminal liability for for negligent storage of unloaded firearms: California, D.C., Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

In some states, the standard of liability is the "intentional, knowing or reckless" provision of firearms to minors. This is a higher burden of proof than mere negligence, and therefore not a strict of a law. Nevada has this standard of liability. In Georgia, parents and guardians are only guilty of providing firearms to minors when they know of a substantial risk that the minor will use the firearm to commit a crime. This standard of parental liability is the least stringent, since the access of a child to a firearm is not enough for liability; the parent or guardian must also be able to foresee the risk associated with the child's possession of the weapon.

Foreseeability is an element of tort liability. Are civil tort actions an option for personal injuries sustained from accidental shootings by children? Yes; parents have civil liability for negligence. Even if a parent or guardian is not found to have violated the CAP law, or is criminally liable in any other way, they can still be held accountable for property damages and personal injuries sustained from negligent storage of the firearm, and negligent supervision of the minor.

If you have been injured in an accident involving a firearm and a minor, contact The Thomas Law Firm today.

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