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Parents responsible for gun safety

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June 15, 2007

Thomasville--This is the third time in three weeks that a South Georgia child has been accidentally shot.  These tragedies are usually preventable. It's important for adults to make sure guns are kept out of kids' hands. It's not just a good idea..it's the law.

Investigators say the shooting of six--year-old Elrui Jacob that happened just two doors down from his own home yesterday is clearly a tragic mistake.  "It was an accidental shooting," says Thomas County Sheriff's Investigator Tim Watkins.

But could it have been prevented?  No parents were there, and the boys easily found the loaded gun in the home.  Now, they may pay the price.  "We're waiting now to have ballistics done on the firearm itself and after that we'll confer with the district attorneys office about any possible pending charges," says Watkins.

"They can be held responsible under the misdemeanor statute. Misdemeanor, reckless conduct," explains assistant district attorney, Jim Prine.  Under Georgia law, reckless endangerment is the only charge parents face if children injure themselves or someone else with a firearm.  "Gun laws in Georgia are less stringent than they are in other jurisdictions," says Prine. 

The district attorneys office says in any case like this, they must first look at intent before making a recommendation to the sheriff's office to file charges.  "If there's a degree of negligence that rises to a level to where you have to charge, something has to be done," says Prine.

"According to the father and also the juvenile we talked to, the 11-year-old, the gun was kept in the closet.  It was kept on a lower shelf in the closet but its kept in the closet in the parents room," says Watkins.  Whether that constitutes gross negligence has yet to be determined.

But after three recent accidents involving children and guns in the area, authorities say everyone who owns one needs to start being more cautious.  "If you're going to keep a weapon in the house, first keep it out of the reach of children, second keep it unloaded, and third put a lock on it," stresses Watkins.

Reckless endangerment is a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to a year in prison.