As of press time, it appears that a 15-year-old left his handgun where a seven-year-old picked it up and killed an eight-year-old with it. Given this grim picture, it is not enough to say that Liquarry Jefferson’s death was a senseless, avoidable tragedy. Something must be done. And that something must begin with whoever put the loaded weapon where a child could get to it, and continue right on through to anyone who saw it and failed to act.
It is not too extreme to suggest that, if we are going to be serious about protecting people from death by bullets, then District Attorney Dan Conley should seriously consider bringing charges of negligent manslaughter — or at least child endangerment — against those who allowed this to happen.
Perhaps that will get the message through to the people who casually tote handguns around the city, stashing them in communally accessible hiding places, tossing them onto coffee tables, and tucking them under mattresses. They need to stop. And they need to take seriously the extreme danger that a gun poses in a child’s hands. (Unfortunately, as seems to be the case here, many gun carriers are barely out of childhood themselves; dozens of juveniles have been arrested for gun possession in Boston in the past year.)
It is well and good to talk about laws that cover the sale of firearms. We support such laws. And it is because Massachusetts has some of the strictest laws in the nation that tragedies such as that which took Jefferson’s life are, thankfully, so rare here.
Massachusetts is one of only two states — with California — that requires locking devices on every firearm manufactured, sold, or transferred in the state, owing to the Massachusetts Gun Control Act of 1998. It also has the toughest penalty for unlawful firearm possession, with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison under the 1975 Bartley-Fox law. Not coincidentally, ours is also the only state with more than one million residents in which no child under 15 was killed by accidental gunshot between 1999 and 2004, the most recent set of data available from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
There is room for improvement even in those strict laws. Bartley-Fox applies only to gun possession in public spaces or in a car; those caught with an illegal gun in their home receive only probation. A crime bill introduced by outgoing State Senator Jarrett Barrios, which is currently imperiled in committee, would plug that loophole, among other changes. So would a home-rule petition sponsored by Michael Flaherty, of the Boston City Council.
Federal laws and, even more important, serious enforcement of those laws already on the books would go far toward slowing the black-market trade that makes handguns so readily accessible here in Massachusetts despite the state’s efforts.
All true. But all distracting from the more proximate cause of Liquarry Jefferson’s death: the decision to bring a handgun into a home with children, and to leave it loaded, unlocked, and accessible. That is worse than irresponsible; that is criminal. If we are going to be serious about gun control, punishing such negligence is where it should start.