A 12-year-old Jacksonville girl was taken off life support and passed away last month after she was shot in the head during a slumber party while sleeping. The shooting, by an 11-year-old boy, was determined to be accidental. Sadly, she is the fifth child in the area to have been shot accidentally just since February.
Although Florida law allows prosecutors to charge adults with negligence when children are hurt or killed by a gun that was left loaded and accessible, no charges have been brought in any of these cases. Florida was the first state in the country to adopt a “safe-storage” law back in 1989. Since then, 17 state and Washington, D.C. have enacted similar laws that require firearms to be in a locked container and/or have a trigger lock on them.
Prosecuting these cases can be problematic. Some prosecutors don’t want to compound a family’s grief by holding a loved one of the deceased criminally accountable. It can also be difficult to determine who is at fault.
One former Florida state attorney said that each case presents a unique situation. He says, “We very, very seriously reviewed the records and the individuals involved. Where was the child when the gun was found? Where were the mother and father or other responsible person? What was done to prevent this?”
Nonetheless, experts say that laws like the one in Florida have reduced accidental gun deaths as well as suicides.
Tragically, like this case, too many of these deaths involve children shooting other children. Back in 2006, a 5-year-old girl was shot to death by her 8-year-old brother. The mother was charged with culpable negligence, but received just five years of probation rather than the five-year sentence she could have received.
It remains to be seen who, if anyone, faces charges in this recent fatal shooting. There were reportedly conflicting stories of how the boy obtained the gun and from where.
While no criminal charges can be worse than the loss of a child, prosecutors can and do file charges against people who have been negligent in the storage of their weapons. If you are facing these charges, it’s essential to seek experienced legal guidance.
Source: The Florida Times-Union, “No negligence charges in unintentional shooting deaths of Jacksonville children,” Garrett Pelican, May 26, 2017