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Gun at Frontier middle a reminder of 2019 law requiring safe storage around kids, advocates say

Gun at Frontier middle a reminder of 2019 law requiring safe storage around kids, advocates say

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A September incident in which a 12-year-old boy allegedly brought a loaded pistol, a loaded magazine and loose rounds to Frontier Middle School led to charges against the woman who owned the gun.

Two weeks after the school incident, a Hamburg woman was charged with failing to safely store the gun.

She is among the first in the state to be charged as the result of legislation passed in 2019 aimed at keeping guns away from children.

The 2019 law is known as Nicholas' Law, named after Nicholas Naumkin, a 12-year-old boy from Saratoga Springs who was killed in 2010 when his friend accidentally shot him with his father's unsecured gun.

"We fought for this for years," said Paul McQuillen, executive director of Buffalo-based Gun Sense New York, which advocates for laws that reduce gun violence and deaths.

The law requires owners of handguns, rifles and shotguns to safely store such weapons, either by keeping the weapons locked up or using a locking device on the firearm if there is a child under 16 who lives in the house or if there is a reasonable chance a child may visit the house.

Before the law was passed in 2019, New York only required safe storage of weapons if there was a convicted felon or other person prohibited from owning a weapon in the residence. That was included in the New York SAFE ACT, which passed in 2013 in a response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The law is rarely used by prosecutors, according to records provided by the Erie County District Attorney's Office. It was applied four times under the older provisions regarding people prohibited from owning guns and for the first time since it was amended in the Hamburg case.

No one was hurt in connection with the incident at Frontier. Students were "held in place" for a little over an hour as a school resource officer, administrators and Hamburg police investigated, Frontier officials said. The boy was arrested but the investigation continued.

"When a kid brings a loaded gun into Frontier Middle School I want to figure out where the kid got the gun and how the kid got the gun," said Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr.

On Oct. 10, following an investigation by Hamburg police, Lynora D. Zylinski-Sowa, 58, was arrested and charged with the gun storage violation and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors. She was given an appearance ticket and was arraigned on Nov. 9. If convicted, she could face up to a year in jail. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 21.

The woman is not related to the boy, Flynn said at a news briefing following her arraignment. The boy, whose name has not been released because of his age, lives in the same house, he said.

The boy's case is being handled in Family Court.

Putting the safe storage law to use could save lives, McQuillen said.

On average, about 210 children and teens a year are treated at a hospital because of an unintentional firearm injury, according to research presented in support of the legislation.

McQuillen is not advocating for the Hamburg woman to spend time behind bars, he said. But, he believes her case should serve as an important reminder that the new law exists.

Zylinski-Sowa is among the first in the state to be charged with the safe storage law as it relates to children under 16, McQuillen said.

"You don't want to make an example out of the first person. But you do want to teach a lesson. This could be one of those," he said.

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Chief of the Breaking News/Criminal Justice Desk

I've worked at The Buffalo News since 2005. I previously worked as a reporter at the New York Daily News and the Charlotte Observer and was a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

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