Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean) will introduce legislation on Thursday to increase criminal penalties for allowing minors access to firearms.
“We don’t need any more senseless tragedies, such as those in Toms River and Newtown, to teach us that how people store firearms is as important to public safety as how people obtain firearms,” said Holzapfel, a member of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Senator Holzapfel’s legislation increases penalties for knowingly allowing a minor to gain access to loaded, unlocked firearms at a legal gun owner’s premises. It also covers those who reasonably should know a minor can access their loaded, unlocked weapon. If such an offense leads to bodily injury, the penalty increases from a disorderly person’s offense to a fourth-degree crime; if it results in serious bodily injury or death, the penalty increases to a third-degree crime. Holzapfel drafted his bill earlier this month.
“Hopefully, the potential for increased jail time and fines is enough to make parents and guardians attentive and accountable for their firearms at all times,” Holzapfel added. “I will be reaching out to the committee chairman to urge an immediate hearing on this vital child protection measure.”
A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both; crimes of the third degree are punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. The law defines “bodily injury” as physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition. “Serious bodily injury” is defined as bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.