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.