If a gun owner fails to secure their legal weapon and a child gets access to it, the owner is charged with a disorderly persons offense-even if that child ends up hurting themselves or others with the weapon.

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"The punishment is very nominal, a disorderly offense is not something people on the street know about right away, but it's something like shoplifting or simple assault. It's not criminal," says State Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean County).

A piece of legislation slated to be introduced by Holzapfel Thursday would stiffen the penalty in cases where there are injuries because a gun owner failed to secure a legal weapon within their home and a child got to it. It also covers those who reasonably should know a minor can access their loaded, unlocked weapon.

Under the bill, gun owners can be charged with a third-or fourth-degree offense, based on the severity of bodily injury or death that comes from a child taking an accessible weapon.

A fourth-degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine, while a third-degree offense is punishable by three to five years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.

Holzapfel says while the Constitution protects responsible gun ownership, you need to acknowledge firearms pose a potential for serious danger.

"You then have a higher standard of what you have to do to protect people from inappropriate use of that weapon."

The legislation is targeted towards protecting children, however, Holzapfel says it does target responsible gun owners. While the legal definition of "minors" applies to anyone 17 years of age or younger, Holzapfel says as long as reasonable measures like a safe or trigger lock are taken, then gun owners are protected.

"You're not going to be held accountable because you've done everything possible. You have it locked away and the kid figures out the combination or he finds the keys, then does something, your won't be in trouble."

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