One of the top priorities for the gun control lobby this year, at least at the state level, is the passage of storage mandates for gun owners. While the specifics can vary from state to state, generally these proposals look a lot like the one proposed in Michigan that could soon get a hearing in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Gun owners would be required to keep their firearms locked up and inaccessible, and if a minor accesses the gun and uses it to harm themselves or others, the gun owner would be subject to a misdemeanor offense.
While these bills are ostensibly meant to keep guns out of the hands of violent juvenile offenders, the fact remains that they also make it much more difficult and legally dangerous for juveniles to use a gun in self-defense. And while those are relatively rare occurrences, we’re not just talking about hypothetical situations.
A recent homicide at a Columbia [South Carolina] apartment complex has been determined to be justified after a man tried to break into an apartment and was shot by a juvenile, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
On Sunday, February 6, around 5 p.m., deputies responded to Gable Hill Apartments on Ross Road after receiving reports of an unresponsive man.
Upon their arrival, deputies say they found a man inside of an apartment who was deceased. He appeared to have a gunshot wound to the upper body and evidence of a shooting was observed in the apartment, according to investigators.
During the investigation, deputies say they discovered that two juveniles were at home when they saw a man trying to break in. The juveniles hid but when the man entered the apartment, he fired at them. Deputies say one of the juveniles shot back with a weapon that was in the home and struck the intruder.
According to the juveniles, the armed intruder fired at them first, and if they hadn’t been able to protect themselves the police could easily have been called out on a double murder rather than a justifiable homicide.
This is a big issue when it comes to mandatory storage laws, and in Michigan bill sponsor Rosemary Bayer and her fellow Democratic co-sponsors have tried to get around it by including an exception to the measure’s prohibition on allowing minors access to a firearm.
4) This section does not apply under any of the following circumstances:
(a) The minor obtains the firearm with the permission of the minor’s parent or guardian and the minor uses or possesses the firearm during any of the following:
(i) His or her employment.
(ii) Ranching or farming.
(iii) Target practice, hunting, or instruction in the safe use of a firearm.
(b) The minor obtains the firearm through the minor’s unlawful entry of any premises where the firearm has been stored or through the minor’s illegal taking of the firearm from the owner’s premises.
(c) The minor obtains the firearm while lawfully acting in self-defense or defense of another.
The problem here is using a gun to protect a life may be an affirmative defense that could be used in court, but it’s going to be up to police and prosecutors (and potentially a judge or jury) to decide whether or not it was self-defense and not, say, exhibiting “the firearm in the presence of another person in a careless, reckless, or threatening manner,” which would subject the parent or guardian to criminal charges.
Some parents will choose to err on the side of legal caution and forbid their children access to a firearm, even if they believe their kids are responsible and have enough training to be able to use one in self-defense if necessary. The odds are that most of the families that choose to go that route won’t ever have cause to second guess their decision, but there’s no guarantee that will be the case for every individual family.
Juvenile crime is a real and growing issue, but mandatory storage laws aren’t the way to address the problem. A one-size-fits-all storage law removes the ability of parents to decide when their child is mature and responsible enough to have access to a firearm for self-defense in the home, and while supporters undoubtably believe that the law can save lives, the fact remains that it also puts some minors at risk by inhibiting their right of self-defense in the home.