SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah woman won't be charged with reckless endangerment after leaving a loaded gun on a baby changing table in a suburban Salt Lake City aquarium bathroom, authorities said Monday.
The misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail doesn't apply because the woman didn't consciously put people in danger by leaving the weapon behind, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
She told police she put the .380-caliber pistol on the folded-up changing table to use the bathroom at the Living Planet Aquarium July 10, but forgot it while chasing after her children after they crawled under the stall door. Another mother found the weapon when she went to change her newborn baby, and patrons were frustrated when police originally said they didn't plan to press charges.
"It was a very close call but at the end of the day it's not about what we feel emotionally, it's about what the law requires us to prove," Gill said. The weapon had a round in the chamber and the safety off, though it was on a ledge high enough that it couldn't immediately be reached by a child, he said.
The case exposes a shortfall in state law, Gill said. His office handles serious cases, and he said there's no charge they can prosecute if a weapon is accidentally left where could hurt someone.
"I think this demonstrates there is a gap, and I think everybody would recognize that even being negligent with a weapon whose sole purpose is very inherently dangerous, we ought to be concerned about that," Gill said, adding that he is also a concealed-firearm permit holder who typically carries a gun.
City prosecutors could still file a lesser charge, like a citation for trespassing by bringing a weapon to the aquarium despite a posted gun ban.
In 2014, a Utah teacher faced a lower misdemeanor charge after she accidently dropped her weapon in an elementary school bathroom and it fired.
The teacher was injured when the bullet struck a toilet and caused it to explode. No faculty or students were around, but the teacher resigned from her job and city prosecutors charged her with discharging a weapon within city limits.
She eventually paid a fine and took a firearm-safety class as part of a plea deal.