Child access prevention laws are laws put in place to prevent children from accessing firearms. These can include laws that impose criminal liability when a child gains access to a firearm as a result of a negligently stored firearm, laws that prevent people from providing firearms to minors, and, finally, safe storage requirements. The age that triggers child access prevention laws varies by state and can be anywhere from children under 14 to include all children under the age of 18.

What Laws Exist at the Federal and State Level?

Currently, there are no laws in place at the federal level that generally require gun owners to safely store their guns.  Federal law does, however, immunize a lawful gun owner from certain civil actions based on the unlawful misuse of the handgun by a third party when that lawful gun owner used a secure gun storage or safety device.

Twenty-seven states and D.C. have enacted child access prevention laws.  The strongest ones are specifically written for when a minor gains access to a negligently stored firearm and those apply when the person “knows or reasonably should have known” that a child is likely to gain access to that firearm.  Some include laws that impose criminal liability for negligently storing a firearm, but typically only where a child uses the firearm and causes death or serious injury.

Other states have broader implications and simply limit directly giving a firearm to a minor.  The weakest of laws impose penalties only in the event of reckless, knowing, or intentional conduct by an adult.  Currently, Massachusetts is the only state that specifically requires storing firearms with a locking device. New York is currently among the list of states that do not have child access prevention laws on the books.

Which States Impose Criminal Liability For Negligently Storing Firearms?

Currently, 14 states and D.C. impose criminal liability on anyone that negligently stored a firearm when they knew or reasonably should have known a minor could have accessed a firearm. Those states include: California, Connecticut, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Texas.

California, D.C., Massachusetts, and Minnesota all impose liability if the child may or is likely to gain access to a firearm, while California, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Texas impose liability regardless of whether there was use or injury when a child gains access.

Only 7 states require that a child actually carry or use the firearm before criminal liability is attached to the gun owner. These states include: Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.

Hawaii, Massachusetts, and D.C. impose liability if an unloaded gun is negligently stored.

Which States Impose a Broader Standard of Liability?

Thirteen states prohibit persons from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly providing a firearm to a child. These states are: Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

3 states prohibit handing a loaded firearm to a minor and 4 states prohibit providing a handgun to a minor.

Are There Any Exceptions?

A few states have exceptions to the general rule of criminal liability when a child gains access to a firearm.  The most common exception, and notably the most obvious, arises when a firearm is stored in a locked container.  Other exceptions include when a minor gains access to a firearm via illegal entry on to the property, when the firearm is used for hunting, sport shooting, or agricultural purposes, where the minor uses the gun in defense of themselves or others, where the firearm is used to aid law enforcement, or where the child has completed a firearm safety course.

Which States Impose Civil Liability?

California imposes civil liability on the parent or guardian for damages caused by a minor discharging a firearm when that parent or guardian permitted access to the firearm.  Permitting access can include failing to secure the firearm securely.  Others, like Connecticut, impose strict liability if the minor gains access and causes injury or death.  Some, like Nevada, impose liability if the parent knew or should have known the minor had a propensity to commit violent acts.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

State-imposed gun control laws are constantly changing in response to constitutional challenges. You should consider consulting with a criminal defense attorney if you have questions regarding your rights. Also, a lawyer can represent you in court if you are facing child access prevention charges.