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Nevada school shooting: Could parents face criminal charges? (+video)

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Other examples also point to that possibility, but they suggest that the prosecution of such cases varies widely, whether or not states have laws specifically targeting negligent parents.

For its part, Nevada is one of 27 states that does have a Child Access Prevention (CAP) law. But some laws are more stringent than others.

Nevada, like 12 other states, prohibits only intentional, knowing, or reckless provision of firearms to minors. Several other states impose liability if the child actually uses the firearm. Only three – Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California (plus the District of Columbia) – impose liability when a child “may” or “is likely to” gain access to a gun, even if they never do.

Of these, Massachusetts is the only state that has a true “safe storage” law on the books, says Sam Hoover, a staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Massachusetts law requires that guns be locked at all times in the home, except when used in self-defense. In addition, all guns in Massachusetts must be kept with a locking device in place.

Yet even in those states that don't have CAP laws, some prosecutors have found ways to go after gun owners who fail to keep weapons out of children's hands.

“It’s a fairly straightforward civil liability case that a parent can be held liable for failing to adequately secure a gun away from a young person, and there have been a number of civil suits over the years, and a number of reported cases around the country of holding gun owners to the highest degree of care in securing their weapons,” says Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

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