Democratic lawmakers push bill to protect children from gun-related deaths

Second Amendment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Disturbing data point to guns as being the leading cause of death for children in Tennessee for the second year in a row. Following the death of an 8-year-old, some democratic lawmakers have been working to get legislation passed to prevent these types of incidents.

Nearly eight years after first being introduced, Democratic lawmakers are still working to get “MaKayla’s law” passed. Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) is carrying the bill currently. Originally introduced in 2016, the legislation would mean more consequences for gun owners who leave a firearm loaded and accessible to a child. It would be a Class E felony if someone was injured and a Class C felony if someone was killed, which comes with the possibility of 15 years in prison.

“This is about responsibility. It’s about consequences for a parent’s irresponsible choice,” said Campbell. “If you are going to have a gun to protect yourself, then you need to make sure that you’re putting it in a place where a child cannot get a hold of it and kill themselves or another child or an adult.”

The bill is named after MaKayla Dyer, an 8-year-old from East Tennessee who was fatally shot and killed by her 11-year-old neighbor in 2015, after refusing to show her neighbor her puppy. The 11-year-old was ultimately convicted of her murder in 2016.

“The boy’s father, the guy who owned the gun, was not charged with any crime. So under MaKayla’s, law this father would have been held accountable,” said Campbell.

There are currently no state laws penalizing someone who leaves a firearm accessible to a minor. MaKayla’s death is part of a growing, disturbing trend. One out of every four kids who died in 2021 was killed by a bullet, according to the latest State of the Child in Tennessee report from the state’s commission on children and youth. However, not everyone agrees with the proposed bill.

One of the most powerful gun rights groups in Tennessee, outside of the National Rifle Association (NRA), said the law would impact gun owners’ Second Amendment rights, pointing to the Supreme Court’s landmark Bruen Decision, which cemented the ability to carry a pistol as a guarantee under the Constitution.

“What the Supreme Court said is under the Second Amendment now, they cannot in the absence of shoring a national and historical tradition that existed as of 1791 pass a law, particularly a criminal consequence law that restricts a constitutionally protected right.”

In an interview with News 2, state Sen. John Lundberg (R-Bristol) also said, “We might fix it with this situation, but at the same time create 15 to 20 situations where someone, who is the potential victim of a home invasion, can’t get to a gun, can’t get a trigger lock opened, and things are going on and they are killed.”

Campbell said she’s going to continue to push the legislation.

“We continue to try to get this legislation passed and every single year that we don’t get this passed, there are children dying,” she said.

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