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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Michigan Toddler’s Shooting Incident Sheds Light on New Gun Storage Legislation and Approaches in Other States


FLINT, Mich. — In a landmark case, a man has become the first individual to be charged under Michigan’s new law that mandates ‍gun owners to securely store their ​firearms in locked containers, especially ⁣in the presence of minors.

This case has sparked a nationwide conversation about similar laws in other states and the⁣ discretion of prosecutors‍ in deciding when to invoke these laws for ‍criminal charges.

The issue is particularly contentious in Michigan, where another county’s⁤ prosecutors recently achieved the ⁣first-ever conviction‍ in the U.S. against a parent whose child perpetrated ⁣a mass school shooting.

Earlier this week, authorities reported that Michael Tolbert, 44, neglected ‌to secure his revolver, which his⁣ 2-year-old daughter accessed and critically injured ‍herself ⁣with. Tolbert now faces nine felony charges, including first-degree child abuse and violation of Michigan’s gun storage law.

The ‍tragic incident occurred just a day after Michigan’s new law on ⁣gun storage around children came into effect.

Genesee County prosecutors have confirmed that Tolbert has pleaded not guilty. According to online court records, he is represented by the county’s office of the public defender. A ⁤spokesperson for the office stated on ​Thursday that Tolbert would be‌ assigned an attorney but had not ⁤yet met with​ his ‌defense.

In response to a 15-year-old student opening​ fire at his high school in Oxford Township, killing four classmates, Michigan Democrats proposed a comprehensive package of legislative measures on guns in 2021.

However, it wasn’t until Democrats took full control of the ⁤Legislature from Republicans ⁢in 2022 that these proposals could be passed. A second mass shooting on the Michigan State University campus in February further propelled these measures to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The new storage law mandates gun owners to store unloaded firearms in a ⁣locked box or container when it is “reasonably known that a minor is or is⁤ likely to be ⁢present on the premises.”

The law also outlines several levels of potential prison time or fines, with higher penalties if a child uses an unsecured gun,⁢ injures themselves or someone ‌else, or ⁤causes a death. The law does make some exceptions, such as supervised use or acting in self-defense.

According to the Giffords​ Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Michigan is‌ one of 21 U.S. states that have laws allowing criminal‍ charges‍ against ⁣individuals who fail to keep a gun inaccessible to a minor.

These laws,‌ often referred to as “child access prevention” laws, vary from state to state. In‍ some states,⁢ the ⁢law only applies if the ‌gun is discharged. Others have stricter laws that apply even if the gun is not fired or does not cause harm.

State storage laws also define “minor” differently. In some states, teenagers older than 14 would not be considered a minor.

There is a lack of comprehensive national data on this issue.

Some prosecutors view these laws as an unnecessary punishment, especially after a ‌child’s death. Others see it as a way to encourage other gun ‌owners⁤ to secure their weapons away from children.

A 2017 investigation by the USA Today‌ Network and the Associated Press ⁢found that‍ prosecutors brought charges about ‌half the time ⁢from ‌2014 to 2016 in ​cases where ‍children under age 12 either killed themselves or were mistakenly‌ shot and⁣ killed by another child.

The investigation analyzed reports from all ⁣states, not just those with laws ⁢requiring⁤ certain types of gun ⁣storage.

The investigation ‍also found that the circumstances often didn’t seem to matter when comparing cases⁣ that resulted in charges to those that did not. But in nearly all cases where the gun owner had a felony record,⁤ prosecutors‍ did ⁢pursue charges.

Michigan prosecutors have stated that​ Tolbert was prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition due to multiple firearms-related felony convictions and drug-related convictions.

In another high-profile U.S.‌ case, the Virginia mother of ​a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher initially ⁢faced charges of⁤ felony ​child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm.‌ Prosecutors dropped the storage charge as part of a plea deal.

Erin Davis, ⁣senior counsel director of litigation at the⁢ anti-gun⁣ violence​ organization Brady, said laws aimed at ⁤gun storage ⁤are ‍educational tools, not a punishment.

“It’s really analogous to requiring children to be in car seats or to wear seat belts,” ​Davis​ said. “The goal is to change behavior to save ⁣lives.”

Kelly Drane, research director at the Giffords Law Center, agreed.

“While we don’t have hard data on ​this, lack of prosecutions doesn’t preclude the law‌ from⁤ working⁤ — it still sets a cultural standard that can help encourage more responsible behavior,” Drane said.

Even in states without laws on gun storage or kids’ access, prosecutors have other options to criminally charge ⁢parents or caregivers.

We can’t measure a negative.

–Kym ⁣Worthy, Wayne County Prosecutor

Michigan’s most notable⁢ example is the involuntary manslaughter charges filed against James and Jennifer Crumbley ⁣after ⁤their son killed four of his high school classmates in 2021.

Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty this‌ month, marking the first time‌ a U.S. ⁣parent was held accountable for a child carrying out a mass school​ attack. James ​Crumbley faces ‌trial in March. He ​has pleaded not ‍guilty.

Experts agree that the circumstances of this case are extreme. Prosecutors⁣ argue that the Crumbleys made a gun‌ accessible to their son, ignored his deteriorating mental health, and didn’t take him‍ home when ⁢school officials called them to the building to show the teen’s ​parents his ⁤concerning drawings the​ day of ​the attack.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy — whose jurisdiction ​includes ​Detroit and is the most populated in Michigan — has routinely brought charges of child abuse or involuntary ⁤manslaughter against parents after their children have killed or wounded themselves⁢ or others with an unsecured gun.

The latest charges were filed in December against the mother and father of a 5-year-old boy who was shot in the face. Detroit Police Chief James White told reporters the boy found the gun on top of a dresser and was jumping on a bed when ⁤it fired.

Worthy said it’s easier to prove a violation of the new law beyond a reasonable doubt compared to prosecuting other potential charges in such cases. But it’s impossible to know​ whether the laws or the charges push more people to secure their guns,‍ she said.

“We can’t measure a negative,” Worthy ⁤said, but she hopes that bringing​ attention to the laws “will be more of a deterrent.”

Truth Media Network
Truth Media Network
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