The story claimed headlines early on an August Thursday as a perfect sign of the times. A fourth-grader from Queen Creek, 9 years old, was arrested at Legacy Traditional School for toting a gun to school stuffed in a book bag.
The armed child showed another student a bullet. That kid saw something and said something that night at home. The concerned parents contacted the school. The next morning, school officials searched the child’s backpack and found the gun and an ammunition clip loaded with 16 rounds. The Queen Creek cops were summoned.
The story resurfaced last week when the Pinal County Attorney, Kent Volkmer, announced he would be pursuing two felony charges against the 9-year-old, who told police he brought the gun to school to protect against a “possible abduction” since he traveled from home to school and back solo.
Volkmer charged the student with two Class 6 felonies: being a minor in possession of a firearm and interference with an educational institution.
“Given the inherent danger involved with a gun being on a school campus, PCAO must take this seriously,” said Volkmer in a press release.
It’s a charging decision I agree with, especially given Volkmer’s mention that “the juvenile justice system is focused on rehabilitation and correcting behavior, and that will be our focus.”
That’s where I’ll part ways with the County Attorney, however. Volkmer punted when it came to the parents in this case, deciding not to charge Briana Juarez and Keith Martinez while citing the age-old prosecutor’s excuse for the free pass:
“There is no reasonable likelihood of conviction against the juvenile’s parents for any crime,” said Volkmer
I disagree. So did the Queen Creek Police Department, which in September recommended that the parents each be charged with one misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Their crime? The parents failed to secure the weapon, giving the kid a chance to snatch the gun and endanger an entire school.
The mom, Juarez, told police they kept the weapon locked away in a dresser, a point she later clarified by saying the dresser wasn’t locked, but the gun had a lock on it.
Regardless, case documents indicate the gun lock was missing in action when the 9-year-old grabbed the gun.
Fortunately, the student had no plans to shoot up Legacy Traditional, according to police. The court documents instead depict a boastful child, a kid who showed off a bullet and also told his classmates he could get his hands on pills, wine, guns and booze.
It’s no wonder the incident managed to frighten kids like third-grader Jared Arizmendi, who told AZFamily reporters, “My teachers told me it was all going to be fine. (But) I thought we were all going to die in that moment.”
I believe in the Second Amendment as many Arizonans do. I don’t want to take your guns away – though these parents are a notable exception.
That’s because I believe with equal intensity in responsible gun ownership and responsible parenting. Keeping a loaded handgun in a drawer when you have a 9-year-old in the house? That’s courting disaster.
Queen Creek Police Chief Randy Brice nailed it when he urged “all caregivers with firearms in their homes to secure them in a way that no child in the house will be able to obtain access to the firearm.”
Arizona law defines delinquency with crystal clarity. It “means any act that tends to debase or injure the morals, health or welfare of a child.”
Maybe Volkmer couldn’t have found a jury to convict the parents of contributing to their kid’s delinquency, but it would have been worth having a jury or judge decide if this isn’t criminal bad parenting, then what is?