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Boy who carried gun that injured classmate receives sentence

If a young child is accused of a crime, how should he or she be prosecuted? If the child is convicted of a violent crime, what kind of sentence is appropriate? Some would argue that everyone, no matter what age, should be held accountable for their own actions. Others say it depends on the child's age or the type of crime. These issues are hammered out on a daily basis in juvenile court cases across the country, and the answers never seem to get easier.

A 9-year-old boy was recently found guilty of misdemeanor charges of unlawful possession of a gun and bringing a dangerous weapon to school. According to prosecutors, he took the gun from his mother's home and brought it to school, where it went off as the boy slammed his bag on a desk in a classroom. The bullet struck a girl in the midsection and arm. The 8-year-old remains in serious condition at a hospital, sedated and unable to breathe on her own.

At his sentencing Tuesday, the boy said softly, "I'm sorry" as the judge sentenced him to 12 months of probation and 48 hours of counseling. He must also write a letter of apology to his classmate. Prosecutors dropped charges of third-degree assault, which could have resulted in a harsher sentence.

Authorities in the case have focused their scrutiny on the boy's family. His mother, a convicted felon who is not allowed to own firearms, and her boyfriend are accused of leaving several guns out in their home where the boy could easily access them. Their arrest warrants include charges of unlawful possession of a firearm. The couple is on vacation in Las Vegas, according to the boy's attorney, who expects them to return home later this month.

Although the boy's parents have a criminal and drug abuse history, they are not his legal guardians. The boy's grandmother adopted him years ago but died of cancer in 2010. His current guardian is his uncle, who apologized again to the victim's family in court. As part of his sentence, the boy is not allowed to contact his mother or her boyfriend.

Although this case happened in another state, North Carolina is one of dozens of states with laws preventing child access to firearms. The Child Access Prevention and Safe Storage Law says that no person shall store or keep any loaded firearm on premises under their control if a minor is likely to gain access to it without permission unless the firearm is properly stored. A person can be fined if the minor uses the firearm in a reckless or threatening manner, uses it to commit a crime or causes personal injury or death.

This case is tragic on many levels, for both the victim and the boy who caused her injuries. Firearm access laws are designed to protect children on both ends of a gun barrel. When those laws are broken, courts are left to make tough choices about who should pay for a crime that most children aren't mature enough to handle.

Source: WECT.com, "Wash. boy apologizes for wounding classmate," Manuel Valdes, March 6, 2012

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