Killing Our Children: Lawsuits and Loaded Guns

Smoking gun looking down the barrel.If fewer gun owners left their guns loaded and accessible, fewer children would die.

Irresponsible adults continue to leave loaded and unlocked guns within easy access of children. About one third of American children live in homes with firearms, and of these households, 43 percent contain at least one unlocked firearm![1] In all, more than two million American children live in homes with unsecured guns — and 1.7 million live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked.[2]

Leaving unsecured firearms within easy access of a child is a crime and can lead to civil lawsuits to recover money damages for resulting injuries and/or death.

In the News:

You may have heard the latest high profile child shooting to make the rounds on the internet — A 2-year-old boy reached into his mom’s purse while shopping at Walmart, found a loaded pistol, pulled the trigger, and shot and killed his mother. — “Toddler reaches into purse and gun goes off, killing mom.”[3]

When adults leave loaded weapons around kids, bad things happen. Take a look at a few of the headlines from our community:

  • Amelia, January 14, 2104– “Amelia couple whose 10-year-old son accidentally shot his brother has pleaded no contest”
  • Chesterfield, January 13, 2015– “Va. man charged after son accidentally shot by another child”
  • Chesterfield, December 4, 2009– “A man has been charged with recklessly leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm . . . accidental shooting incident during which a three-year-old shot herself in the hand”
  • Henrico, January 26, 2009– “A two-year-old boy was taken to VCU Medical Center yesterday with a gunshot wound”
  • Hopewell, June 9, 2014– “3-year-old boy shoots twin brother”
  • Richmond, January 13, 2015– “Richmond father charged after 5 year-old son accidently shot and killed another child with father’s pistol”
  • Richmond, January 16, 2013– “A Richmond man who was shot accidentally by a 4-year-old boy has died of his wound”

 

The Facts:

  • From December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings.[4]
  • Between November 11, 2103 and January 1, 2014 (less than 2 months) 23 children were accidently shot.[5]
  • Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under died each year in unintentional shootings. [6]
  • About two-thirds of these unintended deaths – 65 percent – took place in a home or vehicle that belonged to the victim’s family, most often with guns that were legally owned but not secured.[7]
  • More than two-thirds of these tragedies could have been avoided if gun owners had stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them.[8]

Virginia Law:

Virginia Code § 18.2-56.2. Allowing access to firearms by children; penalty.

  1. It shall be unlawful for any person to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
  2. It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to authorize a child under the age of twelve to use a firearm except when the child is under the supervision of an adult. Any person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. For purposes of this subsection, “adult” shall mean a parent, guardian, person standing in loco parentis to the child or a person twenty-one years or over who has the permission of the parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis to supervise the child in the use of a firearm.

Virginia Code § 18.2-371.1. Abuse and neglect of children; penalty; abandoned infant.

  1. Any parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the care of a child under the age of 18 who by willful act or omission or refusal to provide any necessary care for the child’s health causes or permits serious injury to the life or health of such child shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony. For purposes of this subsection, “serious injury” shall include but not be limited to (i) disfigurement, (ii) a fracture, (iii) a severe burn or laceration, (iv) mutilation, (v) maiming, (vi) forced ingestion of dangerous substances, or (vii) life-threatening internal injuries.

. . . .

Court Cases:

Wright v. Commonwealth, No. 0558-10-2, 2011 WL 4770807, at *1 (Va. Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2011):

Defendant owned a handgun, which she had stored in a locked gun cabinet when she lived at her old residence. However, she was in the process of moving and had not yet had an opportunity to move her gun cabinet to her new residence. Instead, the defendant stored the handgun in a gym bag that she placed on the floor of her bedroom closet. Her 10 year-old son found the gun and shot and killed his 5-year-old sister while mom was at work. The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld the mom’s conviction for Felony Child Neglect.

(Although not discussed in the above opinion, the father of the deceased girl had a valid claim against the mother for leaving a loaded handgun within easy access of a child).

 

How We Can Help:

At Cuthbert Law Offices we have handled accidental gun deaths due to the negligence of a gun owner. We helped a family in Walnut Hill (Petersburg, Virginia) recover money from a homeowner’s insurance policy on account of the death of their son. The son was over at his cousin’s house playing. The two young boys found a loaded firearm in a closet. One of the young boys squeezed the trigger, killing our client’s child. We sued the home owner for negligence (leaving a loaded weapon within easy access of a child). We ultimately settled the lawsuit out of court for the policy limits of the defendant’s homeowner’s insurance policy.

It is negligence to leave a loaded weapon within easy access of a child. If you or someone you know was injured in an accidental shooting, give us a call. It may be that we can help the injured victim or the victim’s family recover money from a negligent gun owner.

At Cuthbert Law Offices we offer free consultations and are available 24 hours a day for emergencies. Call us: (804) 733-3100.

 

 

[1] http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

[2] Mark A. Shuster, Todd M. Franke, Amy M. Bastian, Sinaroth Sor and Neal Halfon, “Firearm storage patterns in U.S. Homes with Children,” American Journal of Public Health 90(4), April 2000; Okoro et al., Prevalence of Household Firearms and Firearm-Storage Practice

In the 50 States and the District of Columbia: Findings From The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002, Pediatrics 116(3): e370-e376 (Sept. 1, 2005).

 

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/30/woman-shot-with-own-gun/21062089/

[4] http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

[5] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/08/1265789/-Welcome-to-Lowe-s-How-may-I-shoot-you-P-S-23-kids-accidentally-shot-last-week-GunFAIL-LI#

[6] http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html

[7] http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

[8] http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

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