A Virginia man was convicted this week after leaving a loaded firearm within reach of his child, who unintentionally shot himself, marking the first case prosecuted under a new state law increasing penalties for “recklessly” leaving guns near children.
Radell J. Bolden, 36, who had his gun rights restored less than one month before the incident, was found guilty in Chesterfield General District Court under the new law, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Bolden was sentenced to a year in jail with all 12 months suspended, as well as 24 hours of community service. He must also surrender his firearm and attend a firearm safety class.
An additional charge of possessing a firearm was dropped after prosecutors with the Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney’s Office learned Bolden was pardoned by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in June, restoring his gun rights.
According to the Times-Dispatch, Bolden told authorities he was cleaning his firearm in his bedroom when he had to use the bathroom, leaving his pistol on the dresser.
While in the bathroom, Bolden heard a gunshot. He went back to the bedroom where his 8-year-old son was suffering from non-life-threatening a bullet wound in his hand.
Passed by the Democratic-led General Assembly, the new law makes leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm near children under the age of 14 in a way that endangers their safety a Class 1 misdemeanor. Violating the new law is punishable with up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The offense was a Class 3 misdemeanor with a fine of up to $250 and no jail time prior to the new law.
The main sponsor of the Senate bill that resulted in the new law, Senator Janet Howell, a Democrat from Fairfax, said the change was an effort to decrease teen suicide rates.
Prior to being amended, the Democrat senator’s bill sought to make the offense a Class 6 felony if an unsecured firearms was left around children under the age of 18.
Virginians have been purchasing guns in unprecedented numbers this past year, as firearms sales skyrocket across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread civil unrest.
“I’ve been in the gun industry 40 years and I’ve never seen this before,” Town Gun Shop Inc. President Mark Tosh told 8News. “Nothing comes close.”
Through November, Virginia saw 716,563 background checks for firearm sales conducted in the state. Virginia’s last record-setting year was in 2016, with 505,722.