We are handling a case involving a suicide. But it’s not just any suicide. A 12-year-old girl killed herself.
There is a theory in the law that certain people will have a duty to prevent others from committing suicide. This is usually applied to psychiatrists or psychologists. But it only arises when there are obvious warning signs.
In this personal injury case there were no obvious warning signs. The grandparents – who are being sued – had no reason to know that their 12-year-old granddaughter was going to kill herself or was even unhappy. We are not suing them for failing to prevent her suicide.
What we are suing them for is their decision to leave a loaded handgun, that didn’t have a safety and didn’t have a trigger lock, under the pillow on their bed where it could easily be found. Typically gun cases involve adults making firearms available to children who then shoot other children. In this case there is a small variation in the fact the child involved shot herself. It is our contention that that shouldn’t matter. The problem arose specifically because the grandparents failed to follow the ten commandments of gun safety. The ten commandments as expressed by the Remington Company are as follows:
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.
- Don’t rely on your gun’s safety.
- Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
- Use proper ammunition.
- If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care.
- Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.
- Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.
- Don’t alter or modify your gun and have it serviced regularly.
- Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.
The second commandment is particularly applicable to this case:
Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.
Load your firearm only when you’re in the field or on the target range and ready to fire. Never let a loaded gun out of your sight or out of your hands. Unload it as soon as you’re finished shooting – before you bring it into your car, camp, or home. Remember, unloading your firearm means unloading it completely, so there is no ammunition in the chamber or in the magazine.
Before handling a firearm or passing it to someone else, visually check the chamber, receiver and magazine to be certain they do not contain ammunition. Always keep the gun’s action open when not in use. Never assume a gun is unloaded even if you were the last person to use it. Always check for yourself.
Let common sense rule when you carry a loaded gun. If you’re in any situation that could risk accidental discharge – such as crossing a fence, wading through a stream, or climbing a tree – always unload your gun. Never pull or push a loaded firearm toward yourself or another person. And never carry a loaded gun in a scabbard, detached holster or gun case
Safe storage of firearms is just as critical as safe handling. Never store guns loaded and be sure to keep your firearms in a secure place where no one can get their hands on them without your knowledge.
Take special care if there are children around. Kids are fascinated by guns. It’s a natural curiosity that can have tragic consequences when not properly supervised. Store your firearms in a locked gun safe or some other location that physically bars a child from gaining access. Ammunition should be stored and locked in a location separate from your firearms. Never leave an unsecured firearm or ammunition in a closet, dresser drawer or under the bed. Remember, it is your responsibility to make sure that children and others unfamiliar with firearms cannot get access to your firearms and ammunition.
The ten commandments aren’t simply something made up by the Remington Company. The idea that children shouldn’t have access to loaded guns is a central part of the Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act of 2009. Every time someone buys a handgun they receive a pamphlet that warns specifically not to do what the grandparents did in this case.
The grandparents broke rules regarding gun safety and access. In their depositions they expressed profound loss and profound sadness about the loss of their granddaughter. They seemed unrepentant about keeping a loaded handgun, without either a safety or trigger lock, in an area where it could be discovered by a 12-year-old.
It seems apparent to me that there is "but for" relationship between their decision making and their granddaughter’s death. There is no indication that the granddaughter would have hung herself, slit her wrists or ingested poison if the gun hadn’t been there. We don’t like young people to have guns because they make bad decisions. They’re immature and impulsive. In this case immaturity and impulsiveness led to the rash decision by the 12-year-old to shoot herself.
Should responsibility be hung on the 12-year-old or her grandparents? The grandparents are adults. The grandparents purchased the gun. The grandparents elected to keep it loaded under their pillow. I’d be interested to know what you think.