Jackson parents and guardians can soon be fined or jailed if their children commit a gun crime or possess a weapon.
A $1,000 fine and sentence of six months in jail are part of an ordinance the Jackson City Council unanimously approved July 5. The ordinance is set to go into effect in 30 days.
“We are hoping it will be a win-win for the parents, young people and the government,” said Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who had the idea for the ordinance.
He and other council members see the new policy as a way to reduce violent crime, encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s lives and a way to prevent minors from getting access to firearms.
In most cases, children and teens obtain weapons from gun runners who go to shows to get weapons or get them illegally to sell, he said.
A small portion of minors may get a gun at home, but Stokes said most responsible parents have a safe place to keep their guns. He said another small portion of them may find a gun somewhere else, such as one abandoned outside that may be linked to a crime.
The ordinance also fines adults who don’t properly store their firearms. Fines are $500 if access to the firearm results in injury to the child or another person and $1,000 if access results in injury or death. Both situations of improper storage can also result in six months in jail.
“It’s just common sense that you can’t have a gun available to a minor or juvenile,” he said.
The ordinance adopts the same exceptions for minors to possess handguns already included in state law, including hunting or trapping with a valid license, competing in a firearm competition, using a firearm for target shooting at an established range or using a firearm with permission and control of an adult.
It also has exceptions for the gun storage, such as if a minor obtains a firearm and discharges it during a lawful act of self-defense or in defense of another.
Jackson police will be the primary enforcer of the ordinance with involvement from the municipal prosecutor’s office, Stokes said.
Parents and guardians who try to get help for their children to prevent them from getting involved in crime wouldn’t face punishment under the city’s ordinance, Stokes said. He asked about this situation and received confirmation from the city attorney’s office during the July 5 council meeting.
Robert Langford is executive director of Operation Shoestring, a nonprofit that has operated in Jackson for over 50 years and works with parents and mostly elementary school-aged students through after school and summer programs, skills training and more. The organization’s goal is to build spaces where children feel safe, he said.
Langford appreciates the council’s goal to hold people accountable and encourage good parenting. But he sees other efforts to support children and families as more effective.
“My sense is that what would be more effective is to go upstream to create more things that help support children and families earlier on,” he said.
A better investment in time and resources to address youth crime and violent crime would be more support for after school and summer programs, including those for middle and high school-aged children, Langford said.
Another way to prevent children from getting involved in gun crimes and their parents for bearing responsibility would be to address root causes of crime, he said.
Many of those Operation Shoestring helps are from low income and high poverty neighborhoods, he said. Some have likely experienced an adverse childhood experience, which includes experiencing violence, abuse or neglect; witnessing violence and having a family attempt or die by suicide.
These experiences are linked to substance use problems later on in life, mental illness and chronic health issues and also negatively impact performance in school, work and relationships, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, adverse experiences are preventable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they can be prevented by protecting children from violence and addressing factors that put people at risk for violence. In Jackson, Langford said those efforts can look like increasing early childhood experiences and strengthening economic outcomes for children and families.
Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks chairs the Public Safety/Park and Environment Ad Hoc Committee, which crafted the city’s ordinance. During a May 31 meeting, he said the ordinance is just one step to reduce crime. Another long term issue to address would be the state’s gun laws.
At the meeting, some council members said they wanted to insure the ordinance doesn’t have unintended consequences, such as job loss and incarceration. Others wanted to see a plan to support parents through training and education.
Other cities have ordinances that address children’s access to firearms.
In May, the Yazoo Herald reported parents or guardians in Yazoo City can face criminal charges if their child is found in possession of a gun. The Yazoo City police department is seizing guns from juveniles regardless of who owns them, WLBT reported.
In Seattle, Wash., the city has an ordinance that starts with a $500 fine and increases to $1,000 based on whether the person has safe gun storage and reasonably knows a minor, at-risk or prohibited person can access the firearm. The fine jumps to $10,000 if an injury or death occurs as a result of them accessing the weapon.
Following the Nov. 30, 2021 Oxford High School shooting in Michigan that killed four students, the parents of the 15-year-old shooter were charged with involuntary manslaughter. A prosecutor said they ignored opportunities to intervene before the shooting, the Associated Press reported.
The couple also purchased the gun used in the shooting for their son, even though minors in Michigan aren’t allowed to possess guns, the AP reported.
Stokes said having a city ordinance along with community resources to support children and families could have an impact.
During a town hall last year, he brought community members, Jackson police and groups together to talk about solutions to youth crime. Mentorship and activities like sports or music were suggested as potential options for children and teens. Stokes said education is also a key way to keep them out of crime.
“If a child is on the wrong path and they are a juvenile delinquent or criminal, they could become an adult criminal,” Stokes said. “You’ve got to break that cycle, keep them on the right track.”