Accidental shooting of child by 4-year-old stirs debate over application of N.J. law

    The fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy by a 4-year-old neighbor in Toms River is raising concern about children getting their hands on guns.

    New Jersey has a law that allows disorderly conduct charges to be filed against an adult for leaving a gun where a child could get it. That’s apparently what happened in the death of Brandon Holt while he and his neighbor were playing. The 4-year-old had gone into his house and brought out a 22-caliber rifle that accidentally discharged, police said. Brandon was hit in the head and died Tuesday.

    The executive director of Heeding God’s Call, an organization dedicated to preventing gun violence, said he has concerns about a provision in the law that would prevent it from being applied if the gun were kept in a place believed to be secure.

    “I think that means it’s up to the prosecutor to decide whether it fits or not,” Bryan Miller said. “And that’s the sort of thing that should be more clearly defined so that if someone is negligent and a child is wounded or uses a gun, that there’s a charge for it.”

    Miller says prosecutors are reluctant to file charges in those cases because they believe the family has suffered enough.

    But he said it’s important that prosecutors use the law, “thereby making it more obvious to more people so they learn to practice safer storage of guns.”

    “If a prosecutor charges, even if it’s a relatively low penalty, that will get out in the news, and more people will take care with their guns,” Miller said.

    He plans to lobby to strengthen the law as state lawmakers consider a series of gun-control measures.

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