Lehigh Valley lawmakers press for gun-storage laws in wake of 3-year-old’s shooting death

Gun Rights

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown-area state representatives are urging local gun owners to make sure their firearms are secured and out of the reach of children — with Harrisburg unlikely to take action anytime soon.

An Allentown toddler picked up his father’s gun and shot himself in the chest March 28, according to police. Three-year-old Elijah Abreu Borgen died later that day.

His father, Jose Hilario Abreu, 29, told police he placed a loaded handgun under a sofa where Elijah and a 2-year-old child were sitting before leaving the room, according to the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office.

Gun owners “need to be aware of the consequences of not storing that weapon properly and not looking out for your child’s life.”

State Rep. Josh Siegel

Abreu heard a loud bang and found Elijah suffering from a gunshot wound, according to police.

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An investigation showed the gun was fired as it rested on a pillow on the couch where both toddlers were sitting, District Attorney Gavin Holihan said.

Abreu is facing multiple charges, including involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children.

But Abreu will face no charge specifically for not locking up his gun, as that is not a crime in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Josh Siegel credited Holihan for getting “creative” by charging Abreu with violating a duty of care which creates a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury for a child age 6 and younger.

“He couldn’t actually charge [Abreu] with leaving the gun out,” said Siegel, D-Lehigh.

He said he hopes Holihan’s decision to charge Abreu for his son’s death “send[s] a message to parents and family members who have guns” — one that state lawmakers are struggling to send.

Gun owners “need to be aware of the consequences of not storing that weapon properly and not looking out for your child’s life,” Siegel told LehighValleyNews.com.

‘Preventable tragedies’

Allentown-area state Rep. Mike Schlossberg is among dozens of co-sponsors for House Bill 1629, which would create new penalties for gun owners who do not secure their firearms when children could be around them.

“The truth is that, unfortunately, tragedies like this happen every day somewhere in America,” said Schlossberg, D-Lehigh.

“Hundreds of children die every single year because of irresponsible gun owners who leave their firearms unsecured and allow toddlers to shoot themselves in the chest.”

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg

“Hundreds of children die every single year because of irresponsible gun owners who leave their firearms unsecured and allow toddlers to shoot themselves in the chest.”

Elijah’s death last month was “a massive tragedy made all the more tragic by the fact that it can and should be preventable,” he said.

Another Pennsylvania toddler in Pennsylvania died from an accidental shooting over the weekend.

A 3-year-old girl in Philadelphia shot herself Saturday after finding her father’s gun while he was cleaning it, according to police. She died Monday morning.

‘Long fight’ ahead

Gun-storage laws such as House Bill 1629 would “save lives,” Schlossberg said.

“I’m not stupid enough to think that a law can protect every child,” he said. “But I do think that if the passage of legislation like Safe Storage can encourage gun owners to think twice about where they keep their firearms, we can save lives.

“That’s the purpose of this bill.”

House Bill 1629 was approved last year by the Judiciary Committee in Pennsylvania’s Democrat-led House, but Schlossberg warned it “could be a long fight” to pass the legislation into law.

Schlossberg slammed some of his Republican colleagues “who just reflexively hear anything that’s gun-related and immediately scream ‘Second Amendment!’ as if every constitutional right is 100 percent absolute.

“The issue, quite simply, is some people are too afraid to touch legislation even though that legislation is clearly safe, legal and will save lives,” he said.

House Bill 1629 would stand little chance of passage in the Republican-led Senate if it could clear the House, he said.

“I wish I could tell you that tragedies like the ones in Allentown and Philadelphia in the last couple of days would be enough to spur action. I don’t believe that it will be.”

State Rep. Peter Schweyer

State Rep. Peter Schweyer is pushing for lawmakers to also pass House Bill 731 to mandate the safe storage of long guns — rifles and shotguns.

“It’s inexcusable” that some gun owners “willfully display it, leave it laying around, unlocked, loaded, sometimes with the safety on, sometimes with the safety off,” said Schweyer, D-Lehigh.

He emphasized his support for new laws to address unsafe gun storage.

“There’s never a situation where a young person should have the ability to even just accidentally stumble upon a firearm,” he said.

“It’s inexcusable.”

Gun owners can spur change: Lawmakers

Schweyer joined Schlossberg in slamming some state representatives for showing no interest in passing gun-storage laws to protect children.

“I have colleagues that genuinely believe all of the bullsh- – that the NRA [National Rifle Association] and other organizations spew,” he said.

“They absolutely believe this, and they can regurgitate the talking points and the one-liners like robots.”

Schweyer said he remains “pessimistic” about the chances of any movement on gun-safety bills in Harrisburg, despite the recent fatal shootings of two 3-year-olds.

“I wish I could tell you that tragedies like the ones in Allentown and Philadelphia in the last couple of days would be enough to spur action,” he said. “I don’t believe that it will be.”

With gun-storage bills seemingly dead in the water, Schweyer, Siegel and Schlossberg each urged responsible gun owners to help “change the conversation” about gun storage and “encourage other people to be more responsible with their firearm.”

“If government is going to continue to be pathetically inactive on the issue of gun safety, which we have been for generations — pathetic — then firearm owners are going to need to help us do better.”

State Rep. Peter Schweyer

“If government is going to continue to be pathetically inactive on the issue of gun safety, which we have been for generations — pathetic — then firearm owners are going to need to help us do better,” Schweyer said.

Responsible gun owners understand the “inherent risk of keeping a gun in their house,” take proper safety precautions and support measures to protect children from them, Siegel said.

But “the sad reality is that the NRA and a very vocal minority of extremists on gun policy have hijacked the conversation,” he said.

“They view any effort to regulate or put standards on the ownership of firearms as one step away from confiscation, and that’s ludicrous,” Siegel said.

“I think gun owners have to be part of that conversation. It’s the only way we’re going to push back and, frankly, give some Republicans in tough districts clearance” to support gun-safety bills.

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