In 1990, the State of Connecticut passed a law that makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison for failing to properly secure a gun that is used by a child under 16 to cause death or injury - exactly what happened in the very sad case of 2-year old Wyatt. His father left a loaded gun in a place that was accessible to Wyatt who found it once, had his mother take it away from him with an admonishment of "no, bad boo-boos", and then picked it up yet again as soon as she wasn't paying attention to him and shot himself in the head.
Both parents were arrested and charged with negligent storage of a firearm and risk of injury to a minor, each charge a felony. On June 30th, Wyatt's mother pleaded no contest and received a suspended two-year sentence and two years probation while Wyatt's father was granted acceptance into the accelerated rehabilitation program which is a two-year probationary period for first-time offenders. If he follows the conditions of his probation until July 1st, 2011, his criminal record will remain clear just like the incident and arrest never happened.
When the tragedy first happened I wrote a blog post (Where the True Tragedy Lies) wherein I expressed my opinion about the whole sad situation. Apparently my opinion made me a "self-righteous heartless hate monger" in some other people's opinions but that was okay as I didn't expect everyone to agree with me. There are those people who still contend to this day that the parents of young Wyatt were "great parents" and that they would have done nothing to ever hurt one of their children and those people are certainly entitled to their opinions where the matter is concerned. I think they went a little far in calling my place of employment and wanting to get me fired but sometimes when people feel passionate about something, they can go a little overboard and I simply chalked it up to that.
Now that the courts have spoken and the sentencing has been handed down, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I stand by my opinion of last year ...
"The State of Connecticut owes it to not only Wyatt but to every other child in the State to enforce the law that was designed to keep Wyatt and other children like him alive. If a child's parent has to spend some time in jail in addition to knowing that they were responsible for his or her child's death then maybe other parents will think twice about not locking up a loaded weapon and leaving it somewhere that a child can find it and harm or kill him or herself or perhaps even another innocent child."...however, the part of me that isn't a self-righteous, heartless hatemonger but a parent myself can also understand that perhaps Wyatt's parents are living their own separate hell on earth and maybe - just maybe - they don't need to be spending time in a jail cell wondering what they could have done differently on that tragic August morning. With any luck, they wake up at home every day and think the same thing anyway. Knowing you were responsible for your own child's death has got to be a terrible burden to carry but on the other hand, a mere two years on probation seems like nothing for something of this magnitude.
A friend of mine in California once received three years probation for failing to report income from a small part-time job that helped make ends meet when she was collecting welfare - no one died, restitution was made, and she still got three years probation. My own son made am alleged "threatening remark" out loud in class when he was a Senior in high school - no one died, he got 40 hours of community service, and two years of probation. Two people leave a loaded gun in a place where it can be easily reached - a small child dies and the very people responsible for his death only receive two years probation. Something just doesn't add up here.
I guess the thing that really bothers me the most about the court's final decision is that it seems like the State of Connecticut may as well not even bother to have the law on the books if this is what the outcome is going to be when someone blatantly violates it. Where is the incentive for people to uphold the law? If common sense and the law couldn't save young Wyatt, what's to say that the same thing won't happen to some other innocent child or adult?
If the courts are hoping that people will learn from the mistakes of Wyatt's parents then they'd best think again for if people ever truly learned from other people's mistakes then there would be no more drunk-driving, no more speeding, no more talking on cell phones when you're behind the wheel of a car ... However that sure hasn't stopped so what makes me think other people are going to learn from the tragic death of a small boy whose great parents "would never have hurt him" but ultimately killed him? I don't ... do you?