The New Jersey Senate has approved legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10) that increases penalties if a child gains access to a loaded firearm that was improperly stored and injures or kills another person.
“In my hometown of Toms River, a four-year-old shot and killed his six-year-old neighbor with one of the many loaded firearms his father left unsecured around his home within reach of the young child,” said Holzapfel. “As a former prosecutor, gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment, I find it unconscionable that some gun owners could be so irresponsible. As long as the penalty remains a virtual slap on the wrist for gun owners in these instances, we will continue to read about these tragedies.”
Under current law, a gun owner is only subject to a disorderly persons offense if a loaded firearm that was not reasonably stored is accessed by a child resulting in injury or death.
Under the legislation, S-516, the penalty would increase for the adult gun owner from a disorderly person’s offense to a fourth-degree crime if the child’s access to the firearm results in serious bodily injury. The penalty would increase to a third-degree crime if the child’s access to the firearm results in death.
“This legislation doesn’t change the standard for how guns owners must store their firearms under state law or the right to self-defense, nor does it remove the element of prosecutorial discretion that exists under current law to determine if the owner made reasonable efforts to secure their weapon,” added Holzapfel. “It makes clear, however, that if a gun owner fails to reasonably secure their firearm from a child, and that failure results in someone being injured or killed, the gun owner is guilty of more than just a disorderly person offense.”
The Senate approved the legislation in a 31-6 vote.