Back in 1999, a fourteen-year old girl named Shannon Smith was killed by a stray bullet. When her parents were informed that the person who fired the gun that killed their daughter was facing, at most, a misdemeanor charge, they campaigned for a change in the law. And in April 2000, after being approved by the state legislature, a new law was enacted. It was called Shannon’s Law, and what it did was make the discharge of a firearm within (or into) the limits of any Arizona municipality a felony.
Granted, there were a host of exceptions carved out in the statute, including one that says the law does not apply where the discharge of the firearm takes place more than a mile from an occupied structure. Nevertheless, it forced gun owners to think seriously before firing their weapons.
But we suppose the gun owners were unhappy with this infringement on what they consider their rights. A bill is now advancing in the state legislature that would effectively take much of the strength out of Shannon’s law. Here are the pertinent changes:
- Instead of the current standard of criminal negligence, prosecutors would have to prove that the discharge was “knowing or reckless.” “I didn’t mean to” would become a defense.
- Instead of a prohibition on discharging a firearm one mile from an occupied structure, the new bill would reduce the distance to one-quarter mile.
The law has passed the House and was transmitted to the Senate about a week ago.
The purported rationale for the change, as stated by Rep. Tony Rivero (R-Peoria), who is sponsoring the bill, is that accidents are “a fact of life.” Another supporter, on behalf of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, says that they “don’t think stupid should be a felony.” It’s a catchy phrase, but it’s simply nonsense, and it ignores the laws now on the books.
The Criminal Code punishes negligent behavior on a regular basis, and in some cases, that mental state will support a felony charge. Examples include negligent homicide, as well as child abuse and vulnerable adult abuse. So much for the arguments of the gun lobbyists.
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