In a recently published decision, January 24, 2017, a Court of Appeal in California upheld a father losing custody of his children in a juvenile court dependency case (Child Protective Service case). His children were a 4-year old girl and a 6-month old boy. The father was a licensed security guard who had a permit to carry an exposed firearm. He had been unemployed for several years and was the children’s primary caretaker. The father stored a loaded 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun with extra magazines and loose ammunition in a closet between the kitchen and the bedrooms. The gun was in a black nylon bag on the third shelf from the bottom about four feet up from the ground. It was accessible to his children.
The father was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He was observed leaving his house. His truck was stopped and the DEA found three pounds of crystal methamphetamine in the truck. During questioning, the father told the police about his loaded firearm in the hall closet. The police found the gun and notified Child Protective Services of the father’s endangering his children by leaving a loaded firearm in a location accessible to his children. A dependency petition was filed in Juvenile Court to remove custody of the children from their father. The court had no problem with finding that a young child with access to a loaded gun is at substantial risk of serious physical harm. The court’s research did not find any published cases in California on this issue, but did find a number of published decision from other states (New York, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia) which also removed children from their parent(s) due to leaving a loaded firearm accessible to children. The court did cite a California case which found that leaving drugs in a location accessible to their children exposed the children to substantial risk of serious physical harm. It manifested a “gross lack of attention to the child’s welfare.”
The court referred to cases from the New York courts which found a parent endangers a child by leaving a firearm within reach of a child. In one of the cases cited the mother left a loaded gun on a bed accessible to her 3-year-old son and next to her 5-month-old daughter who was in a crib, thereby creating an imminent danger that their physical, mental, and emotional health would be harmed. In another published decision, the New York Appellate courts upheld a finding of parental neglect where the parent was storing illegal guns in the home where the children had access to them. In a third case, the court found parental neglect where the father kept “a loaded semi-automatic gun in a plastic bin near where the child slept.”
Please review my prior blog where a father negligently stored a loaded revolver in the garage. His children and a neighbor boy found the loaded handgun while playing in the garage. The neighbor boy was shot and killed. The father was criminally prosecuted for child endangerment. He received a sentence of 4 years in prison. A New Jersey father received a 3-year prison sentence for negligent storage of a firearm. He kept an unlocked, loaded .22 caliber rifle in his bedroom. His 4-year-old son found the rifle, took it outside, and shot his 6-year-old friend in the head. The child died the next day.
I cannot stress enough that both parents have a duty to protect their children and not expose them to substantial risks to their safety and/or emotional well being. It is not sufficient for either parent to say it is not my gun and that the other parent is responsible for it. Make sure any guns in the home are kept in a locked, secure gun safe and your children cannot gain access to them without parental supervision.