Under New Jersey law, leaving a loaded firearm unsecured so that it ends up in a minor's hands is a disorderly-persons charge. Legislation that arose after a Toms River six-year-old was shot by his four-year-old friend is halfway to criminalizing it.

Boris Katsman

The state Senate voted 32-0 in approval of shore Senator Jim Holzapfel's (R-10) measure that would elevate it to a fourth-degree crime if injury results and third-degree if it ends in death.

Holzapfel created S-218 in the aftermath of the 2013 death of Brandon Holt, as a result of a gun left out in the open in the house. In 2014, his father was given a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to child endangerment. Holzapfel's bill stalled after clearing the Senate the same year.

"As a former prosecutor, gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment, I find it unconscionable that some gun owners could be so irresponsible," Holzapfel said. "This legislation balances the rights of responsible gun owners with the public interest of reducing preventable deaths from planned and accidental shootings by children."

The bill increases penalties for knowingly allowing a minor access to a loaded, unlocked firearm in a legal gun owner's premises, and includes anyone who reasonably should realize the possibility.

Allowing access to a loaded gun by a minor by failure to secure it, resulting in injury, would carry a prison term up to 18 months and fines up to $10,000 on conviction. If death results, a conviction would mean three to five years in prison and fines as high as $15,000.

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee has yet to act on its version.

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