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Published: Saturday, 3/31/2012


Accidental shooting

Common sense dictates that guns should be kept beyond the reach of children. And because common sense is among the most uncommon of virtues, a boy is dead, and another boy likely is emotionally scarred for life.

Craig Johnston of Wauseon is charged with negligent homicide in the March 14 death of 13-year-old Michael Schwartz. Police say that Felipe Villanueva accidently shot young Schwartz with a shotgun that Mr. Johnston had left loaded but unsecured in his home.

In Ohio, nearly anyone over age 18 who is not a convicted felon can own a shotgun, or any other handgun or long gun. No permit or registration is required as long as the weapon stays in the home. It is only when you take weapons outside that the state sets rules about how they are transported, stored, and used.

Inside the home, Ohio law is mute about safety. Gun owners are on their own to decide how -- or even whether -- to secure firearms.

Only when a tragic accident occurs does the law step in to determine whether it could have been prevented. If reasonable steps were not taken, the owner is charged with negligence.

By then, it is too late for victims of fatal gun accidents. In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 40 Ohio children and young adults under 20 years old were killed accidentally or took their own lives with guns.

"Somebody needs to be punished," said young Schwartz's grandfather. Mr. Johnston, like all other defendants, is owed the presumption of innocence.

If he is convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for his alleged fatal lack of judgment. The accidental shooter, who pleaded guilty to delinquency in connection with negligent homicide, can receive no more than 90 days in juvenile detention and a $250 fine.

The National Rifle Association says on its Web site that "a parent must, in every case, assess the exposure of the firearm and absolutely ensure that it is inaccessible to a child." That's right.

Guns in the home should be kept unloaded and stored in a secure location. Trigger locks, locked gun cases, and gun safes are good ideas. People don't think of negligence as potentially fatal, but it is.

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