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Kids Killing Kids

KIDS KILLING KIDS

It happened again. This time, the gun was obtained illegally by Michael Santiago, a former Chicago gang member who felt he needed protection for himself and his family after testifying against another gang member in a murder trial. He wrapped the loaded gun in a pair of pajama pants and put it on top of the refrigerator, where he thought it was out of reach of his two small sons. That was the first mistake. Then, Santiago showed his six year old son where the loaded gun was stored. That was the second mistake. When Santiago was at work, his wife was at the store and grandpa was babysitting, the six year old and three year old boys decided to play cops and robbers. What happened next was tragically predictable. The six year old climbed up to reach the loaded gun on top of the refrigerator, and used it in their game. But it was no toy, and the three year old ended up dead.

Although typically hesitant to prosecute grieving parents, the district attorney charged Michael Santiago with felony child endangerment. Keeping illegal guns out of the hands of children is too important, and the deterrent value of prosecuting this case outweighs the policy of not imposing criminal liability on parents already burying a child.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that sixty-nine children under the age of fourteen died from accidental firearms discharges in 2013; thirty of those deaths were children under the age of five. Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization advocating for gun control, argues that those numbers under-report. It estimates that at least one hundred such deaths occur each year.

CHILD ACCESS PREVENTION LAWS

Twenty-seven states and D.C. have laws imposing various levels of criminal liability on gun owners who fail to properly store and secure their guns. Because approximately one out of every three hand guns is stored loaded, unlocked and in a location known to the children in the house, these laws are a crucial step in encouraging parents and adults to keep guns away from kids. The stronger child access prevention (CAP) laws impose liability for negligent storage of a firearm, basing culpability on the theory that the adult "knew" or "should have known" that the firearm was accessible to the minor. Illinois has a tough CAP such as this (but prosecutors chose to charge Santiago with felony child endangerment). Some states base liability on negligent storage, but then limit imposition to only those circumstances when actual harm occurs rather than including all times that the firearm is accessed by a minor.

Georgia has one of the least stringent CAP laws; it imposes liability only for the intentional, knowing or reckless provision of a firearm to a minor. Furthermore, parents can only be held liable for their child accessing their gun if they knew there was a substantial likelihood that the child would use the gun to commit a felony. However, even where liability under child access prevention laws does not exist, charges can be brought under other laws, such as child endangerment, as in the Chicago case.

But it is not just about liability. It is about keeping children--and everyone around them--safe from unintentional shootings. That is why firearms must be stored properly, and why adults who own them need to be held accountable if they are not.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or a loved one has been injured due to the provision of a firearm to a minor and its accidental discharge, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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