Can I get in Trouble if a Child Finds my Gun in New Jersey?
If a minor had access to your firearm in New Jersey, you may face criminal charges for several offenses. Understanding the law on gun storage and the requirements to which you must adhere when keeping a weapon in your home is vital to avoid serious legal trouble.
How do I avoid criminal consequences if I have a gun in my house in NJ?
New Jersey gun owners can protect themselves from prosecution if they store their guns appropriately. For instance, if you store your firearm in a securely locked box or container, you will not be charged criminally. Also, if you secure the gun with a trigger lock, you will not be charged with a crime. Moreover, if a minor gains access to your firearm by breaking into your home or by some other unlawful means, you will not be prosecuted.
For parents and caretakers who have children living in their homes, it is critical to take appropriate steps to insure the firearm is safely secured and the child does not have easy access to the weapon. Appropriate steps such as ensuring that the gun is unloaded and locking the firearm in a compartment and securing it a location where a child is very unlikely to find it, will help you avoid being criminally charged.
What charges can I face for allowing a minor near a weapon in New Jersey?
According to New Jersey section 2C:58-15, anyone who knows or should know that a minor is likely to gain access to a loaded firearm, may be charged with a disorderly person offense. If you are charged with a disorderly person offense, you can be sentenced to 6 months in jail and subject to a fine up to $1,000.00, as well as other mandatory statutory fines totaling approximately $150.00.
It’s also important to keep in mind, if you are a parent, guardian, or just someone caring for a child in some capacity, you may be criminally charged with endangering the welfare of a child if a minor gains access to a loaded weapon while in your care. Alongside the failure to safety store a firearm, our criminal code criminalizes child endangerment. Reckless endangerment or reckless conduct concerning children is outlawed by the Endangering the Welfare of a Child statute. This statute is unique because it incorporates the Title 9 child abuse and neglect law. With that said, let’s break down the statue and discuss what it means. The first element targets sexual misconduct and specifically states that no person shall engage in sexual conduct that would impair or debauch the morals of a child. The law does not provide an exact definition for impairing or debauching morals; however, it has been interpreted to mean any conduct that would tend to corrupt, mar, or spoil the integrity of a minor. This is a very broad interpretation. It would clearly include behavior such as rape or sexual assault. It also has been held to include showing naked pictures or exposing oneself.
The second part of the law is a catchall provision and directs the Court to examine N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 and N.J.S.A. 9:9-3. Those statutes are part of the Title 9 child abuse and neglect laws. Both N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 and N.J.S.A. 9:9-3 provide a detailed list of prohibited conduct but in short, the statutes tell us that a person commits an act of child abuse or neglect if they recklessly injure a minor or unjustifiably place a child at risk of harm. With that in mind, if a child is harmed by a firearm or weapon, the responsible individual could be charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Moreover, even if the minor did not suffer an injury, the person can be prosecuted if the child could have been harmed.
Unlike the minor’s access to a firearm statute discussed above, an endangering charge is a second degree offense. As such, if you are found guilty, you can be sentenced to five to ten years in jail and may also be fined up to $150,000.00. This of course, may also be accompanied by consequences such as losing custody of your children.
Will DCPP be contacted if my child finds my gun?
It is not certain that DCPP will be contacted; however, if the underlying charge or charges touch upon children or were allegedly committed inside the child’s home, it is likely that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency will be notified. Keep in mind the agency was created to protect vulnerable children, not to prosecute and punish parents. Moreover, the child welfare system is designed to help helpless children, not to punish people. Therefore, simply being charged with a crime does not atomically mean that the Division will open up an investigation and it certainly does not mean your child will be removed.
However, if the charges do concern minor children and can be considered abusive or neglectful conduct, DCPP (formerly known as DYFS) will likely intervene. If a referral is given, a caseworker will begin his or her investigation by visiting the home and requesting to speak to the child and the parents. From there, the investigator will also speak to the police and any other person who may have personal knowledge about the case. Additionally, the agency will gather any relevant reports and perform a background check on the parents and other members of the house.
If a caseworker from the Division visits your home or calls you over the phone, do not speak to them. Likewise, if a detective or member of law enforcement contacts you, do not give a statement. Many believe it is best to cooperate and as long as I do what I am told, everything will be dropped. That never happens. By speaking to DCPP and law enforcement, you are simply making their job easier by supplying them evidence they can use against you.
Can police take my firearm out of my home?
There are only specific circumstances under which law enforcement can remove weapons from a home in New Jersey. In the majority of cases, a gun will be removed from a house after police respond to the scene of a domestic violence incident. If you are the defendant in a domestic violence case, you will lose access to your firearm during the legal proceedings involved in your case. This includes any criminal prosecution, as well as a restraining order case. If a final restraining order is issued against you, you will be prohibited from owning or possessing a weapon for the rest of your life. On the other hand, you are generally entitled to the return of your weapons if you are not convicted of a domestic violence offense and the restraining order is dismissed. In certain cases, the prosecutor will elect to file a forfeiture action to permanently confiscate any guns or weapons that you have. You have the right to contest any formal requests to remove your weapon from your possession and should seek help from an attorney with handling this complex process.
Need Help with a Criminal Case for Possession of a Gun with a Child?
If you or someone you love has been charged with a gun related crime involving a minor in New Jersey, call our highly skilled team of New Jersey Gun Attorneys for immediate assistance. Our lawyers are well-versed in NJ weapons laws and we defend clients in weapons cases across the state, including in Bergen County, Morris County, Essex County, Hudson County, and Passaic County. You can reach us anytime, day or night, at (201) 614-2474 or fill out the form below for an absolutely free consultation.