Michigan Man Faces Charges Under New Gun Storage Law After Toddler Shoots Herself

A Michigan man, Michael Tolbert, has become the first person to face charges under the state’s newly implemented gun storage law, which requires gun owners to keep their firearms in locked storage containers when minors are present. The case has drawn attention to similar laws across the United States and has sparked a debate among prosecutors regarding the appropriate circumstances to bring criminal charges under these laws.

Authorities revealed that Tolbert, a 44-year-old man, failed to secure a revolver, allowing his 2-year-old daughter to access it and critically injure herself. He now faces nine felony charges, including first-degree child abuse and violation of Michigan’s gun storage law. The incident occurred just one day after the new law came into effect.

Genesee County prosecutors have entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Tolbert, who is currently represented by the county’s office of the public defender. While he is yet to meet with his defense attorney, he will be assigned one in due course.

Michigan passed its gun storage law in response to recent mass shootings in the state, including one at a high school in Oxford Township where four classmates were killed. The legislation, part of a broader package of proposals on guns introduced by Michigan Democrats, requires gun owners to store unloaded firearms in locked containers when minors are reasonably known to be present. The law includes various levels of potential prison time or fines, with more severe penalties if a child uses an unsecured gun, causes harm, or takes a life. Exceptions are made for supervised use and self-defense situations.

While Michigan’s law is not unique, as 21 other states have similar legislation, the specifics of these laws vary. Some states only apply the law if the gun is fired, while others have stricter regulations that encompass situations where no harm is caused. Additionally, the definition of a “minor” differs from state to state, with some excluding teenagers older than 14.

The frequency of prosecutions under these laws is not well-documented nationwide. However, a 2017 investigation by the USA Today Network and The Associated Press found that charges were brought approximately half the time in cases where children under 12 accidentally killed themselves or were mistakenly shot by another child. The circumstances surrounding these cases did not consistently determine whether charges were filed, except in situations where the gun owner had a felony record.

In another notable case, the Virginia mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher initially faced charges of felony child neglect and recklessly storing a firearm. However, the storage charge was dropped as part of a plea deal. Advocates argue that gun storage laws serve as educational tools rather than punishments, aiming to change behavior and save lives, similar to requirements for children to use car seats or wear seat belts.

Even in states without specific gun storage laws, prosecutors have alternative options to criminally charge parents or caregivers. In Michigan, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has consistently pursued charges of child abuse or involuntary manslaughter against parents whose children have killed or injured themselves or others with unsecured guns. The recent case of the 5-year-old boy shot in the face resulted in charges against both parents.

Author: CrimeDoor

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