Editorial: Parents should be held liable for kids' access to firearms
It's tragic any time a child is accidentally injured or killed, particularly when it may involve carelessness or neglect by an adult who is responsible for the child's welfare.
Inexplicably, it seems that in many cases involving firearms, adults are not held responsible for that recklessness.
That's why it was encouraging to see that Kanawha County authorities have pressed charges against a Cross Lanes couple after their 4-year-old girl was shot by her 5-year-old brother as the parents slept. The girl suffered a small-caliber gunshot wound to her arm.
It was fortunate she was not killed. Nevertheless, the parents were charged with child neglect causing serious bodily injury -- as they should have been.
Other cases across the country -- including in this region -- have not been handled in the same manner. For example, no charges were filed against a parent in 2011 when a 2-year-old accidentally shot herself fatally with a gun left in an unlocked console in a car in Ashland.
Last year in southern Kentucky, no charges were filed against the parents after their 5-year-old shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a rifle he got for his birthday. In both cases, the parents left loaded guns where their children could get to them.
Last year, a newspaper analysis found that there were dozens of instances across the country involving children under the age of 12 accidentally killing themselves or another child with guns they had gained access to in their homes or the homes of relatives.
In many cases, parents or relatives were charged with a criminal offense, usually involving neglect. But in several cases, no one was charged, according to the research by the New York Daily News.
Part of the problem is that many states have loose or no laws holding parents accountable for their children's safety regarding access to firearms. Kentucky falls in that category, where parents' criminal liability only applies when guns are knowingly or intentionally given to minors, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The same organization also notes that West Virginia doesn't have an access prevention law regarding firearms. But to the credit of Kanawha County authorities, they recognize when neglect is neglect, whether a firearm is involved or not, and filed charges accordingly.
States who adopt a hands-off approach to such cases should rethink their requirements. Leaving children exposed to deadly weapons is a crime, and should be dealt with accordingly.
The debate over gun control rages on in the United States, and advocates for less regulation of firearms currently are prevailing, citing Second Amendment rights. But with rights come responsibilities. The right to own a firearm does not absolve people from the responsibility of ensuring the welfare of their children.
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