Gun owners who allow their children access to firearms could face up to five years in prison if their kid uses a gun to harm themselves or to commit a crime under legislation slated to be introduced in Congress today by Michigan congresswoman Elise Slotkin. The Democrat, whose district includes the Michigan town of Oxford where a 15-year old student shot and killed four classmates and wounded seven others two weeks ago, says the “Safe Guns, Safe Kids Act” is a “reasonable” response to the shooting.
“What really stood out in Oxford was the role that the parents played,” Slotkin, who is a moderate Democrat from a swing district, told CNN. “We came up with this bill, building on good work that others have done — both in the state of Michigan and also federally — and created a bill that would make it against the law for a person to keep an unsecured firearm if it’s reasonable the child could access that firearm.”
Is this bill “reasonable” or even necessary? I’d argue no. After all, the parents of the school shooting suspect are currently facing involuntary manslaughter charges, which carry a potential 15-year prison sentence. That’s three times longer than the penalty proposed by Slotkin. States have plenty of tools in their criminal justice toolboxes available as it is to charge parents if they believe their negligence contributed in any material way to a crime of violence, so I’m not sure why there’s supposedly a need for federal legislation requiring parents to keep their guns locked up away from their children.
There’ve also been plenty of folks (me included) who’ve pointed out that defensive gun uses among minors are not unheard of. In fact, Dr. John Lott recently documented several recent incidents.
The national media rarely covers instances where young children use guns to save someone’s life. I found 11 cases that got local news coverage where a juvenile used a gun to save someone’s life. On June 30, a 12-year-old Louisiana boy used a hunting rifle to stop an armed burglar threatening his mother’s life during a home invasion. On Feb. 13, after two masked men broke into a North Carolina house and shot a 73-year-old woman in the leg, another 12-year-old shot the intruders in self-defense, causing them to flee. In St. Louis on June 16, a 13-year-old shot his father as he was choking his mother. And the news media also misses the vast majority of defensive gun uses.
I can think of one other case that, while not happening this year, shows the problem with trying to impose a one-size-fits-all standard on parents who own firearms. In 2018, a 16-year old girl was able to shoot a knife-wielding attacker in her own home because she was able to access her mother’s pistol.
A 16-year-old girl managed to scare off an armed intruder in her home Friday morning when she fired a shot at him, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department deputies said.
The incident actually began about 90 minutes earlier just before 6 a.m., when a woman called 911 to report her ex-boyfriend had threatened her with a knife at her home in the 17200 block of 11th Ave. Ct. East. She told arriving deputies she and the man had been involved in several recent domestic violence incidents incidents. Friday morning, he had come back to pick up his belongings that were left in the front yard when he barged into the woman’s home and got into an argument. The man pulled out a knife, threatened her with it, then went outside and slashed the woman’s tires, deputies said.
Deputies used police dogs to search for the man but came up empty.
About 90 minutes later police got another 911 call, this one coming from the 16-year old.
The teen told returning deputies that after the first incident, she and her mom had gone across the street to check on the woman involved in the first incident. The girl returned home first to find the power had been shut off and grabbed a .22 pistol, deputies said.
Moments later, she heard a noise coming from the backyard and saw the man from before standing in her door.
The teen said the man told her “she was going to die” and tried to stab her with a knife several times. He managed to cut her shirt and give a light wound to her home before she kicked the man away and fired one shot at him. The man ran off.
Police were able to track the man down a short time later and arrest him on a variety of charges that thankfully didn’t include the murder of a woman or her 16-year old neighbor.
I’m sure that Slotkin, who narrowly won re-election last year and could face an even tougher fight next year thanks to redistricting, wants to assure her constituents that she’s “doing something” in response to the murderous actions of the teenage suspect in the Oxford shooting, but as Lott says, creating a new federal felony offense for parents who don’t keep their guns locked up at all times isn’t the way to do it.
According to my research, which has been published in the Journal of Law and Economics and elsewhere, such laws make it more difficult for people to defend themselves and their families successfully. As a result, criminals became more emboldened to invade people’s homes. There have been 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes occurring each year in states with these laws. Burglaries are also dramatically higher.
… In truth, gun-lock laws didn’t even reduce accidental gun deaths among children or teenagers. Few accidental gunshots occur in law-abiding homes. In fact, most accidental gunshots that result in the deaths of minors are fired by adult males who have criminal histories. Many are drug addicts or alcoholics.
Unless you send your child to play at a violent criminal’s home, your child is exceedingly unlikely to get shot at a gun owner’s home. It makes much more sense to check for a criminal history than to learn whether they own guns.
We see news stories about the horrible deaths and injuries from school shootings. And rightly so. But we don’t hear about the deaths that occur because people can’t readily access a gun to protect themselves and their families. These latter deaths are no less horrific.
But apparently they are less important, at least to politicians like Slotkin who can’t use them to push for new gun control laws.
The parents of the Michigan school shooter may very well be culpable for their role in the killings, but the law already allows for criminal charges to be imposed if that is indeed the case. If Slotkin truly wants to do something to improve student safety and reduce the threat of school violence, she should start listening to the recommendations of folks like Ryan Petty instead of taking her cues from the gun control lobby.