The New York legislature recently proposed the “Safe Weapon Storage Act,” otherwise known as Nicholas’ Law, having found that “the presence of unsecured, easily accessible, weapons in homes and other places increases the likelihood of death or injury from accidents and impulsive acts. Guns left unattended must be kept locked or stored securely to prevent access by children and others who should not have access to them. Gun owners and other lawful possessors are responsible for keeping their weapons from falling into the hands of children and other unauthorized individuals.”
Essentially, the law states that a person is guilty of failure to store a weapon safely when he leaves it out of his control without first securely locking it in an appropriate safe storage depository or rendering it incapable of being fired by the use of a gun-locking device appropriate to that weapon.
As proposed “safe storage depository” means “a safe or other secure container which, when locked, is incapable of being opened without the key, combination, or other unlocking mechanism and is capable of preventing an unauthorized person from obtaining access to and possession of the weapon contained therein.”
New York’s state police are to develop and promulgate rules and regulations setting forth the specific devices or the minimum standards and criteria that will constitute an effective safe storage depository. Manufacturers are to provide notice as set forth in the legislation and there is a range of penalties based on whether the failure to store the weapon results in the weapon being discharged and whether an injury to another person occurs. If a child is injured or killed as a result of a violation by the child’s parent, the prosecutor may consider that fact among others in deciding whether to prosecute.
Last year, in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the Connecticut legislature repealed Connecticut General Statutes 29-37i and substituted language that prohibits the storage or keeping “of any loaded firearm on any premises under such person’s control if such person knows or reasonably should know that (1) a person under the age of sixteen year is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of his or her parent or guardian, (2) a resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law, or (3) a resident of the premises poses a risk of imminent personal injury to himself or herself or to other individuals, unless such person: keeps the firearm in a securely locked box or other container or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure, or carries the firearm on his or her person or within such close proximity thereto that such person can readily retrieve and use the firearm as if such person carried the firearm on his or her person.”
We like New York’s proposal better. Connecticut’s law requires too much knowledge by the gun possessor (“knows or reasonably should know”) (“a reasonable person would believe”) (“likely to gain access”), unlike New York’s proposal, which for all intents and purposes addresses conduct. Whether it will ultimately be deemed as a strict liability statute should it pass, be violated and challenged thereafter on appeal, on its face, the only knowledge requirement is that the person charged with the responsibility of safe storage knows that he possesses the weapon. The requirement of safe storage is also not confined to a loaded weapon because if a person can get access to the weapon, he may likely also get access to the ammunition.
More than half of 259 accidental firearm deaths of children aged 14 and younger reviewed by the New York Times last year were not recorded as accidents, the paper said, mostly because of inconsistencies in the way such deaths are classified by authorities. Many are classified as homicides rather than accidents because most medical examiners and coroners “simply call any death in which one person shoots another a homicide.”
Further, they claim that from 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the United States died from unintentional shootings, and more than a third of the victims were under 25 year of age.
Additionally, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the No. 10 cause of death in the U.S. with 38,285 deaths reported. Of those suicides, guns were used in 19,766 cases (52 percent). Restricting access to guns may not impact the suicide rate, but then again it might. So, at the end of the day, let’s wish New York well and follow suit. •