Florida’s gun storage laws under scrutiny after charges filed in Hillsborough teen’s death

By The Numbers

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – More than two months after the December shooting death of a 15-year-old at a Tampa police officer’s home, a charge has been filed against the teenager who investigators say pulled the trigger.

The case has brought up questions about Florida’s gun safety laws after deputies say Bradley Hulett was shot and killed by another teenager in possession of a firearm belonging to Tampa police officer.

A statement from State Attorney Andrew Warren says that, while at the home belonging to the police officer, the son and two friends noticed the father’s gun in a safety holster sitting on a table in a previously locked bedroom. The state attorney says there was no magazine in the gun but there was a single round in the chamber.

“The boy who lived at the house mistakenly believed the gun to be unloaded and engaged the safety release to remove it from the holster,” Warren’s said in a statement. “He took the gun out of his father’s room and along with the two other boys returned to his bedroom, where the fourth teenager – the victim – was sitting at a desk playing video games.”

In response to Friday’s update, social media was flooded with questions as to why the police officer wouldn’t face charges for potentially violating Florida’s safe gun storage laws.

According to Florida Statute 790.174 , a person who leaves a loaded firearm is required to keep the firearm in a securely locked box or container or “in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or shall secure it with a trigger lock.”

Based on that law, a gun owner who violated it would only face a misdemeanor – even if there is a resulting death – with up to 60 days in jail and up to six months of probation.

There are currently no federal standards for locking firearms.

According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Urban Health, it’s estimated that 4.6 million children live in homes with unsecured guns.

More recently, a 2019 survey conducted by APM Research Lab found that nearly 8 in 10 Americans – both gun owners and those who don’t own guns – support laws with more blatant language requiring gun owners to store their firearms with a lock in place.

According to Warren’s office, the father’s belief that the gun was secure was arguably mistaken and ill-advised. But Warren’s office says that, under Florida law, that is insufficient to establish a violation of the safe storage law.

“Instead, the minor’s access must have been ‘likely’ – not just possible or foreseeable – and the father’s belief that the gun was secure must have been unreasonable—not just mistaken or ill-advised,” Warren said.

Hillsborough County Sherriff Chad Chronister released a statement Friday afternoon calling for his fellow law enforcement officers to hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to firearm storage.

“While the statute as written and the lawyers who interpret it may not differentiate criminal responsibility based on familiarity with guns, as law enforcement officers, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard in order to prevent such tragic consequences, and ultimately, we must answer to a higher authority when asked why we didn’t do more. Our kids deserve better, he said.

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