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Nevada school shooting: Could parents face criminal charges? (+video)

How did the student in the Nevada school shooting get a gun? That's not yet known. But a police official says there is the 'potential' that parents could face charges.

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In Washington, a non-CAP state, both a 9-year-old boy’s mother and her boyfriend were criminally charged after the boy brought a loaded gun to school and it went off in his backpack, critically injuring a classmate. Prosecutors said that giving the boy access to the gun constituted an “extreme act of negligence.”

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The boy’s mother, a felon, eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm in exchange for having the assault charge against her dropped. Her boyfriend is still appealing his charge of third-degree assault.

Meanwhile in Ohio, also a non-CAP state, the uncle of sophomore T.J. Lane, who killed three students and wounded three others at Chardon High School in February 2012, was never charged with any crime, though T.J. reportedly stole the handgun he used from his uncle. Instead, parents of the three students killed filed a wrongful death lawsuit, charging that T.J.'s parents and grandparents failed to supervise him, and in doing so, “facilitated, contributed to, and otherwise failed to prevent the fatal shooting."

The National Rifle Association has argued that CAP laws have done nothing to improve gun safety, and strict gun-storage laws could leave people unable to defend themselves adequately if their home is invaded.

But gun-control activists suggest that, in many cases, parents should be among those held liable when accidents or intentional violence results.

“There’s no question that parents and gun owners should be held accountable,” says Mr. Lowy. “Gun owners should – and most do – store their guns safely. When you don’t and bad things foreseeably happen, of course you should be held accountable. With rights come responsibilities.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some 1.7 million children and youth in the US lived with loaded and unlocked guns in their home in 2002. But guns, Lowy notes, are the only consumer product in America exempt from authority by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

“Under federal law, if a BB gun does not have a feasible safety feature which would save lives, the CPSC can recall that product,” says Lowy. “But the CPSC has no such authority over real guns.”

He compares the situation to that of seat belts – which at one point weren’t even a standard feature in many cars, before eventually becoming required pre-installed features, before their usage became law, and which were then accompanied by air bags. “In guns, we are at the pre-installed seatbelt stage of technology – a lock that’s not attached to the gun comes with it, and you could throw it in the garbage if you want,” Lowy says.

Newer “smart guns” – which can only be fired by an authorized user – are an even higher level of safety, “more akin to the airbag.”

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