Your constitutional right to privacy blankets your bedroom. The right to privacy “penumbras” give you the right to marry, use birth control, have children, and more. These rights are not written in black ink as part of our Constitution. Rather, they have been interpreted (judicially inferred) from the Constitution and are part of the fundamental rights we enjoy as citizens. Our culture and current political environment have produced the expansion of these judicially inferred rights in recent years, with likely more to come. It is ironic that as judicially created personal privacy rights expand, some seek to limit an actual black and white Constitutional right – the Second Amendment.
Recently, a couple in Colbert County, Alabama found their bedroom in the constitutional spotlight after a tragic accident. Like many people, William and Chelsie Whitfield kept a gun in their bedroom, the most private and intimate space of a home. The couple had recently experienced crime in their neighborhood, including having their cars broken into and one of their neighbor’s homes burglarized. In July 2016, family members visited the home, including a 2-year old boy. The boy and his mother found their way to the Whitfield’s bedroom where the child discovered a firearm in or on Mr. Whitfield’s night stand while his mom was on the phone. He tragically shot himself.
As heart breaking as this is, it got worse when William and Chelsie Whitfield found themselves to be the subject of a grand jury investigation. The Whitfields were indicted for involuntary manslaughter. Mr. Whitfield’s attorney, Billy Underwood, stated Mr. Whitfield was not home when the accident happened and did not know anyone would be in his bedroom. The District Attorney for Colbert County, Bryce Graham Jr., said the indictment is about “recklessness and irresponsibility” and not about the Second Amendment or gun ownership. Mrs. Whitfield’s indictment appears to be based on her knowledge that there was a loaded gun in the bedroom but did not do anything about it.
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted “child access prevention” laws. Alabama is not one of them. Thus, it appears Colbert County is attempting to create case law in the absence of legislative action on the issue. States with the CAP laws are reluctant to enforce them, especially on parents who may have just lost their child. The question presented then is, is it reckless and irresponsible to place a loaded firearm in your private bedroom where others are not expected to be present? Should we prepare for any possible nosy neighbor or errant child to rummage through our belongings even in our most private space?
Yes, a loaded gun was in the most private place in a home, the master bedroom. No, the child was not closely supervised. Distractions happen. Children have a remarkable ability of finding their way into gorilla cages, drawers, medicine cabinets, unattended pools or even eating button-sized batteries.
Guns mistaken as toys. Pools left unsupervised. Button batteries or medicine mistaken as candy. Anything from the inherently innocuous to not can be dangerous to an unsupervised child. However, we are not arresting and charging the grieving relatives with a crime when a child dies from eating an a forgotten car remote battery or from accidentally drowning in a pool. Is leaving the battery on the coffee table “reckless and irresponsible”? Are education and awareness better routes than indictment, arrest and prosecution? Would a civil lawsuit make more sense than a criminal indictment?
Despite District Attorney Graham’s “assurance” this case is not about the Second Amendment, it is increasingly clear that gun ownership, use and or advocacy are indeed in the cross hairs. Anti-gun advocates desire stricter controls up to the government removal of citizen-owned guns. One presidential candidate has even questioned if the Second Amendment is an actual “right”. Whether you are pro or anti-gun, Republican or Democrat, the erosion or criminalization of our rights, whether it be one created by interpretation or by original ink, should concern us all.