Texas school shooter’s family likely not liable under gun access law

Texas school shooter’s family likely not liable under gun access law
Dimitrios Pagourtzis/Facebook
Facebook page of Dimitrios Pagourtzis.

The 17-year-old who allegedly shot and killed 10 people and wounded 13 others at a Texas high school used his father’s legally owned shotgun and revolver during the rampage.

The Santa Fe school shooting Friday has prompted a lot of debate among state politicians about the causes of the violence, which they attribute to everything from violent video games to the many ways people can get in and out of schools.

“Be sure that your kids and grandkids or anyone who might have access to your home cannot get your guns,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told CNN, citing yet another reason for the bloodshed.

Texas already is one of 27 states — along with the District of Columbia — with child access prevention laws on the books. There are no such laws at the federal level. The age in which the laws apply varies from state to state, ranging from children under 14 to those under 18.

Under Texas law, prosecutors can file a misdemeanor charge against a gun owner who failed to secure a weapon and a child under 17 gains access to a “readily dischargeable” firearm from that person’s property.

That law, however, may not apply in the case of the alleged Sante Fe shooter, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who is 17.

In addition, 11 states have laws mandating firearm locking devices — with Massachusetts the only one requiring that all firearms be stored with a lock in place.

During the interview with The Wall Street Journal, the suspect’s father, Antonios Pagourtzis, wouldn’t discuss how his son came to acquire the weapons used in Friday’s attack, the paper reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott has told reporters the alleged shooter used his father’s legally owned shotgun and revolver. A law enforcement official told CNN that authorities are still trying to determine whether that’s the case.

In a Saturday interview with Greece’s Antenna TV, Pagourtzis said he owned the guns used in the attack and Dimitrios took them from his closet.

“I’m just saying that every parent out there needs to understand, every gun owner, if you are not a parent, you need to understand … you must control your guns at home and be sure they are locked up and kept away from others getting your guns,” Patrick told CNN on Sunday.

Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law, said the country’s child access prevention laws are minimal, and only 11 states require that some firearms be stored securely.

“Safe storage laws can, and do, make a difference,” said Winkler. “Studies show that requiring guns to be stored safely reduces suicide and accidental shootings. Nearly 15% of American children live in homes with unsecured firearms, but only a handful of states require guns to be locked up at home.”

Massachusetts has the strictest safe-storage laws in the country, according to experts. The state requires all firearms be stored with locking devices.

“Gun owners have a responsibility to store their guns safely,” Winkler said. “Texas’s laws, which impose liability after a shooting, are not as effective as laws requiring guns to be stored safely in the first place.”

More than half of gun owners do not safely store their firearms, according to a survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The survey of 1,444 US gun owners, published in February, found that 54% of gun owners reported not storing all their guns safely.

A new systematic review of US gun policy found “credible evidence” that child-access prevention laws reduce unintended firearm injuries to children. The laws requiring guns to be stored safely also reduce self-injuries and suicides, according to researchers at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Access prevention laws reduce unintended firearm injuries to children and also reduce self-injuries and suicides, the researchers at Rand found.

“A lot of data shows that the vast majority of school shooters and others … gain access to their weapons either at their parent’s homes or that of another relative,” said Ari Freilich, staff attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“There are a lot of important policy solutions that work together and try to make mass shootings less frequent and less lethal. And one key component of that is ensuring that parents … store guns responsibly.”