- Associated Press - Friday, April 1, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Jacob and Darchel Mohler didn’t imagine three years ago that they’d spend Easter morning putting the finishing touches on decorations for a marathon that memorializes their middle child.

But their lives changed in an instant: Their daughter, 13-year-old Brooklynn Mae Mohler, was shot and killed by her best friend on the second-to-last day of school in 2013.

Since then, the Mohlers have become staunch advocates for policies that would prevent children’s access to firearms and for educating parents to ask about guns at their children’s friends’ houses.

Her school was on half-day schedule that day in 2013, so Brooklynn went to her friend’s house across the street from the school to wait for her dad to pick her up. The Mohlers, who live in Henderson, didn’t know Brooklynn’s friend had access to an unsecured, loaded handgun.

The girl had gone shooting with her father a few times, and he left the gun there for her to protect herself, Jacob Mohler said.



“He left the gun in a kitchen cabinet for her, as if she’d be able to protect herself in the event that there was an intruder and he wasn’t home,” he said. “So he gave her a false sense of security with a firearm and left it in her direct possession.”

The girl was trying to disarm the handgun when it went off, hitting Brooklynn in her lower spine.

“My daughter saw the gun and was trying to walk away, but she didn’t run away,” he said. “There was nothing anyone could’ve done to save her.”

The Mohlers said they knew, that very day, that they would become lifelong advocates for child access prevention and the safe storage of firearms.

CHILD ACCESS PREVENTION

Different states have different laws aimed at preventing child access to firearms, often called CAP laws. And states vary on the ages at which children can handle firearms, and in what circumstances an adult may face a criminal charge if a child gets ahold of a gun.

In California, for example, a parent may face criminal liability even for an unloaded firearm. Massachusetts law requires that all firearms have a lock. The Iowa Legislature is considering a bill that would create an incentive for safe storage by giving a tax break of up to $1,000 for those who purchase a gun safe.

Nevada law says it’s illegal for children younger than 18 to handle firearms, with a host of exceptions for supervised target shooting, hunting and the like. The law allows for children 14 and older to handle firearms in certain situations, but it doesn’t include a mandate for the safe storage of firearms. And adults face criminal liability only if they “aid or knowingly permit a child to violate” the law.

Jacob Mohler said the law seems to be written so that prosecutors could charge “gangbangers” who hand guns to children and send them out into the streets.

“You could keep it (a gun) in the nightstand, you could keep it on a kitchen table, whatever. If you don’t hand it to the child, then they don’t necessarily have to prosecute you,” he said. “They weren’t looking to set any type of precedent in our case, even though, in my opinion, if you tell a child where a gun is, you give them access to that gun.”

The Mohlers waited for five months before the Clark County district attorney’s office told them there would be no charges. Darchel Mohler said gaps in Nevada’s CAP laws prevented her family from getting justice. They couldn’t even pursue charges related to child abuse and neglect, because Brooklynn wasn’t related to the girl who shot her.

“That is where the huge gap is here in Nevada, and that’s what needs to close,” she said.

It’s never made sense to her husband, either.

“I’ve actually had to just let it go, because every time I think about it, I regress, basically, in where I’m at. I just get angry,” Jacob Mohler said.

RECENT CASES

In the last six months, however, two men have been charged with child abuse and neglect in connection with the shooting deaths of small children.

Jeffrey Hamilton is facing a charge of child abuse, neglect or endangerment in connection with the Oct. 10 shooting death of 8-year-old Clayton Singleton.

Clayton’s death was ruled a suicide in November, but the district attorney’s office called circumstances behind Clayton’s death troubling.

Las Vegas police have said Clayton was home alone with his 5-year-old sister when he shot himself at his home in the 9100 block of Wine Cellar Avenue, near the intersection of Pebble and South Fort Apache roads.

It wasn’t the first time he got his hands on the 9-millimeter handgun that killed him. Two years ago, Clayton accidentally fired the same gun, the district attorney’s office said.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in November that there is no clear legal standard for negligence for cases of child deaths from unsecured firearms. But investigators determined that the 9 mm wasn’t the only firearm in the home. There were multiple guns loaded and readily accessible to Clayton, Wolfson said. Hamilton failed to secure the weapons and provide adequate supervision to the children by leaving Clayton and his 5-year old sister home alone.

Hamilton is due in court on April 4.

In another recent case, police responded on the night of Feb. 13 to the 1600 block of Western Lily Street, in the northwest valley near North Buffalo Drive and West Lake Mead Boulevard.

Twelve-year-old Sincere Manuel was found with a gunshot wound to the head, another apparent suicide.

His stepfather, Olin Manuel, was arrested in connection with Sincere’s death. Manuel has a criminal background that includes felony convictions, prohibiting him from owning a gun.

Las Vegas police investigators tracked the serial number to find out that Manuel had purchased the gun for $450 from a co-worker sometime in 2015, according to police records.

A preliminary hearing for Manuel is scheduled for April 6.

TRAGEDY TO ADVOCACY

Jacob and Darchel Mohler said the Brooklynn Mae Mohler Foundation began organically: A talent show benefit with Brooklynn’s gymnastics troupe blew up to include Cirque du Soleil performers, netting about $6,000. Then the family organized a group to participate in a 5K run to benefit the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - Brooklynn loved animals passionately - and about 250 people showed up.

“That was sort of the catalyst,” Darchel Mohler said.

The first Run for Safe Guns was held in 2014, on what would have been Brooklynn’s 14th birthday, and attracted about 400 participants. That number doubled in 2015, the Mohlers said.

The Mohlers use the 5K and fun run event to raise awareness for child access prevention issues and to educate parents to ask the question they never did.

“We were parents for 16 years, and we also had firearms, but we were never asked when we had playdates at our home with other parents or sleepovers: Do you have any unsecured firearms?” Darchel Mohler said. “It never dawned on us, maybe someone else was not as responsible as we were.”

The Mohlers participate in multiple events in southern Nevada, handing out informational pamphlets and gun locks. Their materials have been incorporated into some of the Henderson Police Department’s school outreach programs and can be found in pediatricians’ waiting rooms.

The pair was even invited to Washington, D.C., to see President Barack Obama announce a series of executive actions on gun control. Although they vocally support a November ballot question to expand gun background checks to private party sales and transfers in Nevada, they don’t consider the Brooklynn Mae Mohler Foundation’s message political.

In 2015, 15 children died from gunshot wounds in Clark County, according to the county coroner’s office. Because the laws don’t always protect people or hold people accountable, the Mohlers said it’s up to every parent to do so.

“You don’t have to own firearms to be affected by this,” Darchel Mohler said. “It wasn’t our home. It wasn’t our gun. It can affect anybody.”

The third annual Run For Safe Guns was set for at 10 a.m. April 2 at Henderson’s Cornerstone Park at 1600 Wigwam Parkway. The event was designed for competitive runners - Brooklynn was an accomplished gymnast and a competitive athlete - and also for families. Plans for the event included painting, bounce houses and photo booths.

The event was to start with a live butterfly release.

“Everything we incorporate into our 5Ks are things Brooklynn enjoyed in life,” Darchel Mohler said.

___

Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.lvrj.com

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