Shooting Shows Need for Better Gun Laws

A 9-year-old boy in Washington, described as frightened and crying, sat in front of a judge in juvenile court waiting to see if he would be granted bail for a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. The boy found a gun at his mother’s house, put it in his backpack and took it to school. When he put his backpack down, the gun went off, critically wounding an 8-year-old girl.

This comes from a brief Associated Press article in a local paper. There are questions that went through my mind about this story: How is a nine-year-old competent to stand trial? And, Washington State grants bail for kids? Thee state of California does;t do that–isn’t bail to make sure someone shows up for court? And why did he bring the gun to school?

In follow-up articles on the Internet, it appears the boy had planned to run away after school, so he brought the gun with him. Now he is being charged with three crimes, including third-degree assault.

As an advocate for kids in the justice system, I wonder how much he really understands about what has happened. He is scheduled for a competency hearing in the next few weeks to determine if he understands what he did was wrong. The bigger issue for me is the thought that this situation could have been prevented if his mom had kept her gun locked up. Aren’t there consequences for having a loaded gun in your house where kids have access to it? Apparently, in the State of Washington there are no laws requiring parents to keep their guns locked up and away from children. 

I remember when my son was 6-years-old and I answered a phone call from an agency that was conducting a survey. The one question that stopped me cold was about guns.

“When your child visits friends, do you ask the parents if they have guns in the house, and if so, are they locked up?” 

I realized I never thought about asking parents about that. I did check out the people my son was spending time with, but never asked questions about guns—the thought never entered my mind. After that one phone call, I started asking parents about guns in their homes.

There are now 27 states that have laws preventing access to firearms by children. It appears more states need to pass laws preventing such tragedies from occurring. This article points to two additional grade school shootings: one in Michigan which resulted in the death of a 6-year-old girl, and one in Houston in which three kindergartners were injured. According to the senator who chairs the Washington state Senate Judiciary Committee, “We do not hold people very accountable in this state for leaving guns around the house with small children.”  He said he would consider a bill to address the issue, but was not hopeful it would pass.

I think of this young boy, who at the age of 9 is terrified about his future. It seems that rather than holding the adults accountable for allowing him access to a loaded gun, this child is bearing the brunt of the punishment for an incident that could have been prevented had his mother practiced better gun safety.

I will keep this story on my radar and post updates as the situation unfolds.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.


  1. The problem isn’t the guns themselves, it’s the knuckleheaded parents that keep them around the house.

    My family and guns are long time friends Sparky.  Generation 2 of the Cortese’s sported Ford F-150’s complete with shotgun racks in the windows during the 70’s.

    Thing is though, with today’s thug gangster glorification of violence, I worry about the external influences on my own children..  I made a choice.  I rid my house of all firearms (sans a pellet gun) once my daughter was born.

    It’s a personal choice whether a parent has firearms in the house, but they have to carefully gauge whether that’s appropriate in their society. 

    If I lived somewhere like, Texas, or San Jose of the 70’s, we’d see a huge emphasis on gun safety. I might feel safe keeping guns in the house then(in a gunsafe) if I knew there wasn’t thug wannabe gangsters roaming San Jose. Reed Sporting goods was the premier test center on Alum Rock and white road for the hunters safety course. 

    Kind of poetically funny how after they sold, the building went up in a blaze of glory.

  2. If the measure of a society was simply a low accidental death rate among young people I’ve no doubt we could regulate and legislate our way to Utopia.
    But in spite of the enormous capacity of our legislators to deny it, there are consequences to depriving freedom from all when reacting to senseless tragedies like this.
    I don’t have any magic answers nor do I pretend to know where the line should be drawn. But if the people of Washington do decide to enact stricter gun laws I hope that they at least acknowledge that they are giving up a little bit of something that is quite precious.

    • What are they giving up that is so precious? We don’t allow kids to ride in car without safe conditions, should a child be allowed the freedom of not wearing a seat belt? Take your logic further, if you are a parent who physically abuses your child, is that your ‘freedom’ – it is taking away the freedom of the child, it is abuse. Leaving a gun unlocked when there are children in the house is tantamount to abuse. It should be punished, not in an extreme manner of course, but to say it should not even be discouraged or fined is absurd. You get a ticket if you don’t slow down in front of a school for crying out loud! If allowing kids access to guns is a freedom you want to fight for, meanwhile US citizens can be detained without due process, than I am not really sure what freedom means to you. You do have to draw a line somewhere, if in this case that means protecting a child and taking away some parent’s rights than I consider it more than fair.

  3. We need more laws to address this problem because as we all know laws solve problems.

    But we’ll also need to enforce the gun safety law.  So we’ll need to give police the authority to do snap “inspections” of citizen homes to make sure they’re in compliance with the new gun laws.

    And we’ll also need an ultra creepy Janet Napolitano style “see something say something” campaign at school to get kids to inform on their parents gun safety activities.

    Plus we’ll need more bureaucracy to oversee and administer the gun safety program.

    The above will cost money, so we’ll need to create a new tax or fee.

    Sounds like a perfect cause for one of our local, small time social justice tyrants to champion.  Liccardo?  Yeager?  Cortese?  You up for it?

  4. I do not understand how any law passed by the Legislature in Olympia could have prevented this tragedy.  Using personal tragedies like this as a way to promote a thinly disguised hostility towards the 2nd Amendment is quite distasteful.

  5. A law requiring parents to lock up guns might have prevented the 9-year-old boy from picking it up from his house and taking it to school.  Remember, most states currently have some law on the books with this simple restriction.  Washinton State has no such law.  Let’s hold the parents somewhat responsible for this tragic accident but safety laws do save lives.  I, too, grew up with guns, having been raised in the Sierras.  But we kept our guns either locked up or with the firing pins removed.

    • Sparky,

      A responsible parent would have done so without a law, much like I did.  Either get rid of them, or get a gun safe.

      What really needs to happen is guns can’t get into the hands of an irresponsible parent.  One detail left out..

      Was the parent the registered owner of the gun?

      Because if the answer is “no” then we have our answer.  The wrong person owned a gun.

      I agree though, parent should be accountable for leaving a gun somewhere their kid can get it.

  6. The article was sparse.  I detect multiple failures from multiple agencies.  Rather then legislate more gun control how about pass laws that mandate that parents of children who attend public, or private school and are convicted of being in possession with a controlled substance i.e. meth are obliged to report to the childs school and register it…  Sort of like a sex offender but without the ridiculous overkill such as the couple who was skinny dipping at the lake.  At least then the school can pay closer attention to students who are at risk.

    On another note, I’d speculate that the family court system is up to their old antics again.  Same story different state.  Misandry is alive and well.

  7. The parents are the ones who should be arrested if the gun were not locked up.  There bare already laws on the books for that—child endangerment.

    And the kid was going to run away.  What does that tell us about his home environment?

    However, two isolated incidents over a span of many years in a country with , what?, 100 million kids or more , and you want to pass yet another law with little or no means to enforce it?

  8. “…and you want to pass yet another law with little or no means to enforce it?”

    Exactly.  There are a plethora of laws regulating every minutia of our lives and about 1000 cops to enforce it.  Try again Sparky, you fail.

    • I law is a deterrent. Most people don’t blaze through red lights, because there is a law. You are protected everyday by laws and the police, whether you are aware of it or not. Of course laws are broken, but again, it is a deterrent and the person is held responsible. Seems like you don’t want to be held responsible for much, seeing as you didn’t even attach your name on the comment.

      • We are governed mostly by the consent of the governed, which is why most people don’t blow red lights, most peaople file their tax returns, etc.

        For those who do not consent to be governed by our laws, no amount of new laws will stop them from committing their crimes.  We can only punish them after the fact…and that concept is going away as we see all these new court decisions regarding “prisoners’ rights”—the ultimate oxymoron.

        Passing more laws will have zero effect on those prone to break laws; especially since we cannot and do not enforce the gazzillions of laws already on the books.  More laws is NOT the answer, Courtney.  You must be young, and still in the thrall of your college professors in their ivory towers.

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