NC Appeals Court Rules Gun Storage Law Doesn't Apply to Unloaded Firearms

Photo Courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

I A North Carolina appellate court has thrown out a woman's conviction on manslaughter and other charges, ruling that she didn't violate the state's gun storage law because the firearm accessed by her teenage son and a friend was unloaded when it was left unsecured. 


The unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel might not be the last word in the case, since prosecutors can still appeal to the state Supreme Court, but for now Kimberly Cable is free from the convictions handed down by a trial judge two years ago.d.

On July 2018, Cable's son had another boy — both of them 16 years old — over at his house for the night, according to case documents. At 2 a.m., her son went in the bedroom of Cable and her husband as they were sleeping and retrieved an unloaded .44-caliber Magnum revolver that authorities say Cable possessed and a box of ammunition, both laying on top of an open gun safe. 

The son showed his friend the revolver and placed it and the ammo on the top of a gun safe in his bedroom. The friend then asked the son if he wanted to play Russian roulette. The friend quickly put a bullet in the revolver, pointed it at himself and fired, dying instantly, the documents said.

What a nightmare for everyone involved. I'm sure that Cable and her husband trusted their teen to be responsible around firearms, given that her husband is a gunsmith. Unfortunately, it sounds like their kid succumbed to peer pressure, and a life was needlessly lost as a result.

While North Carolina law states, in part, that "any person who resides in the same premises as a minor, owns or possesses a firearm, and stores or leaves the firearm (i) in a condition that the firearm can be discharged and (ii) in a manner that the person knew or should have known that an unsupervised minor would be able to gain access to the firearm, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor", the appellate court ruled that an unloaded firearm can't be discharged, and therefore doesn't fall under the storage mandate. 


Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin, who wrote the panel’s opinion, said the appeals court had never interpreted the phrase before and it was ambiguous.

He said past and present criminal law, combined with a legal rule that favors defendants for ambiguous laws, leads to the conclusion that the phrase means the firearm must be loaded.

That means Cable’s revolver was not stored in violation of the law, he wrote. The second similar firearm storage conviction against her also was reversed because there was no evidence to suggest a minor gained access to other weapons, and the involuntary manslaughter conviction was vacated because the safe-firearm conviction involving the revolver was reversed, Griffin said.

It's a heartbreaking case, but I think the panel made the right call here. Under the statute, prosecutors had to prove both that the firearm that was taken without permission from Cable's bedroom was in a condition where it could have been discharged and in a manner where Cable should have known that her son and his friend could get ahold of it. While Cable pretty clearly left the revolver out where it could be accessed by anyone in the home, by leaving it unloaded she kept it in a condition where it could not immediately be discharged. 

I'm not a fan of gun storage mandates, in part because they impose a one-size-fits-all "solution" to a wide variety of gun owners. But while Cable may not have violated the law, she and her husband arguably violated common sense by leaving their revolver next to a box of ammo on top of a gun safe while their son had his friend in the home. 


I've always trusted my own kids to be safe and responsible with firearms, but when my overly social son was in high school and our home was regularly filled with his buddies, I also made sure that my collection of firearms, like my liquor cabinet, was off-limits to them. Not because the law required it, but because I remember some of my own idiotic behavior from my teenage years. 

Cable's decision can be dumb, especially in hindsight, without it being a crimeBut her case will almost certainly lead to demands to change North Carolina's gun storage law even if the state Supreme Court upholds the decision from the appellate panel, and gun owners in the state will have to be on guard against any attempt to impose more heavy-handed mandates this session. 

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