True or false: All firearms should be stored in the home and vehicle so that they are not accessible to children or unauthorized persons.
That’s the final challenge on a 50-question exam Elizabeth Saunders administers to people seeking a concealed-weapons permit through her business, DES Training of Rock Hill.
It’s the last question on the test but one of the most important. And, the correct answer is true.
Although South Carolina doesn’t require gun owners to have a permit to keep a firearm at home or in a vehicle, Saunders says proper training and responsibility are necessary. She’s certified by the National Rifle Association and teaches courses in North and South Carolina.
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“The thing I impress on (permit seekers) from the get-go is the responsibility they have as a firearm owner,” Saunders said. “They are responsible no matter where they are, no matter where that firearm is. They need to know where it is, they need to know it’s secure.”
Saunders said vigilance is critical even for gun owners who don’t have children of their own.
Some gun owners can get “complacent” with their weapons over time, she said. A sense of complacency, Saunders said, may have contributed to a Rock Hill 2-year-old last week getting his hands on a loaded gun and accidentally shooting his grandmother.
Days after the shooting, police charged the boy’s 24-year-old great-aunt with carrying the gun unlawfully, accusing her of leaving the loaded .357-caliber revolver in a pouch on the back of the passenger seat in her car. The boy took the gun from the pouch and pulled the trigger, firing a single shot into the passenger seat that struck his grandmother in the back.
During a bond hearing Thursday, Daisha Adawn Ervin, of Greenville, said “it was an honest mistake.” The “media” portrayal of the incident, Ervin said, was unfair.
“I am not the person the media has portrayed at all,” she said. “That’s not me.”
Last week, The Herald and other news outlets reported on the incident based on interviews and police records. Family members contacted by The Herald declined to comment.
Gun storage in vehicles
The Washington Post this week published a story about Ervin’s case. The Post reported there have been at least 43 cases nationwide this year of someone being shot by a child age 3 or younger.
Locally, there have been other cases of children getting their hands on weapons and injuring or killing others. In 2004, a 2-year-old in Rock Hill died after being shot in the head by another toddler who found a gun on a kitchen table.
In 2011, a local 13-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 months in juvenile prison after shooting his younger cousin in the face, causing the victim to lose an eye.
In Ervin’s case, authorities claim better gun safety could have kept the boy from accessing the firearm.
“She wasn’t carrying the gun in the car properly,” said Rock Hill Police Capt. Mark Bollinger. “If she would have followed the law, we wouldn’t even have a story because the young infant wouldn’t have gotten a hold of the gun and discharged it.”
South Carolina law allows adults who legally own a gun to carry it loaded in a vehicle if it is stored in a glove box, console or trunk. If the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, the gun can be legally carried in a cargo area in a locked container.
Saunders says adults with a concealed-weapon permit or CWP can keep their weapon on their body while driving or can store the gun under the seat or in a side pocket. She recently returned from a trip through several states, some of which do not allow people to carry weapons, so she had to lock her guns in a box or safe while traveling.
‘They will find it’
A safe or a gun box is an effective way to keep firearms out of the hands of children, Saunders said.
Some of the “reaction boxes” Saunders urges gun owners to have can be opened quickly by touching the correct combination of buttons on the box. The boxes are convenient for vehicles, nightstands or drawers. One type of box can be programmed so the buttons make sounds when someone, for example a child, tries to open the box.
“You can’t hide (a gun) from children – children will find it,” Saunders said. “If you leave children alone long enough in the house, they will find it.”
Saunders recalled a friend taking one of her CWP classes who thought locking his guns and hiding the keys was sufficient.
“He bucks up and says, ‘My guns are locked up and the boys don’t know where the keys are,’” she recalled. “I saw the youngest (child) kind of rolling his eyes and said, ‘So, Andrew, you got something you want to say?’ He says, ‘Dad, (the keys are) in your underwear drawer.’”
Police Capt. Bollinger also advised against simply hiding a firearm, and he urged parents to unload their gun and store the weapon and ammunition separately. Rock Hill officers, he said, are expected to do the same with personal guns and service weapons stored at home.
An electronic gun safes typically cost around $100 or more, Saunders said. Some larger safes could cost thousands of dollars.
Less expensive locking devices are available to render guns inoperable and to keep children from discharging them, including cable locks and trigger guard locks, Saunders said. Most new guns come with a lock, and many law enforcement agencies, including the Rock Hill Police Department, provide gun locks to residents for free.
Teaching kids about guns
Saunders teaches gun safety courses for children as young as 12. She advises parents to use the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” program, which tells children to stop, don’t touch, run away and tell an adult if they find a gun.
Teaching children about firearms, Saunders said, can help them understand the power and danger of a gun.
“A lot of times, the kids want to get a hold of this because it’s something new that they’re curious about,” she said. “If you take the curiosity away, then they know, ‘That’s Dad’s gun. We know how it operates, but we can’t touch it unless Dad’s here.’”
In North Carolina, state law calls for criminal charges and penalties for someone who lives with a child and leaves a firearm accessible to the child. South Carolina doesn’t have a child access prevention law, but there are two bills pending in the S.C. House of Representatives to address the issue.
One bill, H.3043, would create a child endangerment with a firearm criminal offense in the first or second degree. The charge would apply if a gun owner leaves a firearm in a condition that would allow anyone under age 18 to gain access and discharge the weapon.
Other proposed legislation, bill H.3053, would similarly create two offenses and make it unlawful to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb” of a child under the age of 14.
Both bills were filed last December but have remained in the House judiciary committee since January without a legislative vote.