Local News

Kids, Parents, Guns: Who's Responsible?

Posted April 27, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Themassacre at Columbine High Schoolhas a lot of people talking about kids and guns. North Carolina is one of 16 states that holds parents responsible if a minor finds a parent's gun and uses it to commit a crime.

Even though the state law has been on the books for several years, it has not been used very often. Prosecutors find the cases hard to prove, and many parents say it is unfair.

Parents like Harry Knight, who has been around guns for as long as he can remember.

As a former cop he used them to protect the public, as a parent he uses them to protect his home.

He does not lock his guns up at night for reasons of protection, but he does not think he should be held responsible if his children ever found the guns.

"If I'm in that residence near that weapon and certain times of the night kids are presumed to be asleep, I don't think I ought to be held responsible," Knight said.

A Johnston County man was held responsible in 1998 when his girlfriend's 6-year-old son got a hold of his gun and shot his 5-year-old brother. The man was charged with a misdemeanor.

Lisa Price with North Carolinians Against Gun Violence wants to make the penalty stiffer for adults even though children commit the crime.

"The law treats children differently from adults," Price said. "We don't expect children to have the maturity of adults, that's why we have lots of restrictions on children."

Wake County assistant district attorney Evelyn Hill says the N.C. gun liability law is hard to prove in court.

She also says parents cannot be responsible for a child's actions after a certain age.

"A parent, no matter how good that parent is, cannot prevent a child form committing an irrational act," Hill said.

North Carolina lawmakers are talking about making the gun liability law a little stiffer.

TheHouseJudicial Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would expand the law to all households. Currently, it only applies to homes where children actually live.