By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
My #2A enthusiasts out there in our Save Jersey growing audience can likely issue spot a few more, but as best as I can tell, Save Jerseyans, there are three major problems with the enhanced penalty for improper storage of firearms legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10). In no particular order…
1) Is This a Solution in Search of a Problem? Quite Probably…
The primary aim of S-516 is to assign 4th degree culpability to an adult when a child gets his or her hands on a firearm; the charge could reach the 3rd degree if a child is seriously injured or killed. Awful stuff! But how often does it really happen?
Not often (as best as we can tell).
The Washington Post, hardly a conservative rag, looked at the CDC statistics and discovered only 102 accidental gun deaths among the U.S. under-18 population in 2011. Less than half of that number was under 13.
Still, it’s an emotional issue that plays pretty darn well with a large segment of the voting population. “In my hometown of Toms River, a four-year-old shot and killed his six-year-old neighbor with one of the many loaded firearms his father left unsecured around his home within reach of the young child,” said Holzapfel, recalling the tragic 2013 death of Brandon Holt. “As a former prosecutor, gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment, I find it unconscionable that some gun owners could be so irresponsible. As long as the penalty remains a virtual slap on the wrist for gun owners in these instances, we will continue to read about these tragedies.”
I also find it unconscionable. Most NRA members would agree. But given the fact that we only see about 50 of these incidents throughout our 50 states on an annual basis, I’m not sure how many we’ll “continue to read about” with or without this proposed law on the books. That’s not a good foundation for legislation, let alone any legislation which endeavors to eat around the edges of a fundamental right (in this case, Second Amendment gun ownership).
2) If There is a Problem, Does This Bill Solve it?
The Senator’s explanation of his own bill’s true effect is extremely telling. “This legislation doesn’t change the standard for how guns owners must store their firearms under state law or the right to self-defense, nor does it remove the element of prosecutorial discretion that exists under current law to determine if the owner made reasonable efforts to secure their weapon,” Holzapfel continued in the NJ Senate GOP release celebrating his bill’s passage. “It makes clear, however, that if a gun owner fails to reasonably secure their firearm from a child, and that failure results in someone being injured or killed, the gun owner is guilty of more than just a disorderly person offense.”
You’d think changing storage standards would be a more pressing item were the owner’s actions representing the true threat to public safety, right? But I just explained above that accidental minor gun deaths are very rare, right up there (or down there) with fatal lightning strikes. Also consider how every time we see a so-called “mass shooting” in the news, the suspect invariably perpetrated his evil act in (A) “gun free” zones (B) in violation of dozens of gun laws.
So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?
3) The Unintended Consequences Could Be Awful
I’m troubled by what S-516 might unintentionally accomplish, Save Jerseyans.
The legislation DOES contain this proviso:
b. This section shall not apply:
17 (1) To activities authorized by section 14 of P.L.1979, c.179,
18 (C.2C:58-6.1), concerning the lawful use of a firearm by a minor; or
19 (2) Under circumstances where a minor obtained a firearm as a
20 result of an unlawful entry by any person.
Fair, right? Well, good luck relying on these provisions when an angry parent in a custody dispute calls the police to complain about what’s actually a lawful use of a gun by his or her child while with the other parent. Or what happens if a child uses a weapon to fend off one parent who is in the middle of engaging in domestic violence against the other?
I can think of dozens of such scenarios which are no less unlikely (and in many case much more likely to occur) than the statistically unheard-of accidental minor gun deaths which catalyzed this legislation in the first place.
I’m a realist. This legislation got through the State Senate which, in most instances, is more centrist than the Assembly. It’s likely to get to Governor Chris Christie’s desk in some form given the bipartisan fervor to do something politically-expedient towards addressing this emotionally-charged non-problem (sorry for the snark but I call’em like I see’em… you know this).
My hope? That at the very least, Governor Christie will use his conditional veto, as he has in the past, to demand tighter language (see point #3 above) in order to avoid the criminalization of future law-abiding citizens, something which will henceforth be known as getting Shaneen Allen-ed.