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Iberville Parish mom Ashlyn Melton holds a photo of her son Noah, 13, who died in an unintentional shooting.

BAYOU SORREL — When Ashlyn Melton turned the corner in the early hours that morning, she first saw the police lights piercing through an otherwise dark Addis street.

There were people standing around outside the house, strangers. As she noticed the coroner’s van, she searched, unsuccessfully, for the one face she wanted to see.

“Are you Noah Daigle’s mom?” an officer asked, breaking the news that Melton’s 13-year-old son had died in an unintentional shooting at the hands of a friend two years his senior during a sleepover.

Noah’s death is a statistic in a slew of unintentional shootings carried out by kids — usually young children — who have taken up a firearm irresponsibly stored by an adult. But Melton, a Bayou Sorrel woman who’s been grieving the loss of her son now for more than seven years, is pushing for a specific law in Louisiana that would punish parents who are responsible for securing weapons.

She’s gone back and forth with gun safety groups like the Brady Campaign and Everytown for Gun Safety telling her story. In 2017, she spoke to the U.S. Senate on Mother’s Day weekend about the need for a child access prevention law, and the need to view it as a public safety campaign rather than an attempt at gun control.

Now, she says, with several states having pushed for gun safety reforms in the wake of mass tragedies like the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and the Las Vegas concert shooting, she believes there could be more hope for a shift in Louisiana, a state that’s historically proved an uphill battle for advocates with intentions like hers.

“Noah was a hunter. He was very, very educated in gun safety, but that didn’t save him,” she said. “Noah didn’t die because someone was exercising their right to bear arms. Noah died because an adult wasn’t keeping their kids safe, period. I always wanted this to be a public safety issue, not a Second Amendment issue, but it just so happened that he died in a time when the country was so divided on what we do with our guns.”

Noah’s friend, the 15-year-old, was charged with negligent homicide and spent five years on probation. Melton said she asked the District Attorney’s Office to charge the parents also, but they found no basis to do so.

“People say, ‘Well, charging the parents, how’s that going to help? It’s not going to bring them back.’ Well, creating a speed limit’s not going to stop everybody from speeding, but if you don’t do it and someone’s driving 100 (mph) and hits somebody, you don’t have anything to fall back on and charge them with,” Melton said. “I think that it would make people not so complacent, because complacency seems to be this big thing now, and if you say, 'Lock your guns up,' people are so divided; they’re indignant about it.”

The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, and state Sen. Rick Ward — whom Melton said she spoke to about her child access prevention law push several years ago — did not respond to a request for comment.

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But an analysis The Advocate completed in 2017 of unintentional child shooting deaths shows inconsistencies in how adults are punished.

In some cases, responsible adults were arrested on cruelty to juveniles counts, and others didn’t face any charges. Most law enforcement officials and prosecutors interviewed at the time spoke to the difficulty of pressing charges in those cases, noting how critical individual circumstances are in assessing an adult’s responsibility.

Melton has been working with Victoria Coy, the founder of the Louisiana Violence Reduction Coalition, for several years, hoping to find a way to criminalize improper gun storage if it leads to the injury or death of a child.

Coy said there are similar laws in at least 25 states, including Mississippi and Texas, and the climate around gun safety in 2019 could present an opportunity to revisit introducing such legislation.

“I think the stigma is that you don’t want to charge the grieving parent who’s just lost a child, but I think Ashlyn’s case is unfortunately a poignant reminder that it isn’t always parents,” Coy said. “She had no way to seek justice for Noah’s death because there wasn’t a negligent adult. She did everything she could do; she taught Noah about guns and safety and hunting, but another adult outside of her control cost her child his life.”

Coy said that in 2016, she drafted a child access prevention law policy and spoke to legislators but was told Louisiana wasn’t ready for such a bill.

Ahead of this year's legislative session, Coy is hoping for a law that would allow people in a time of crisis, or who may face a time of crisis, to add themselves to a voluntary gun purchase prohibition list that would bar them from buying a firearm they could use to harm themselves.

With that effort keeping her busy, Coy said she likely won’t be able to take on the child access prevention law push before then, but she and Melton hope with consistent effort, it will gain traction as other states take notice of firearm legislation.

“This is a hunting community. Most people out here are hunting right now. I’ll hear gunshots every morning, and I don’t have an issue with that. My whole issue is gun safety is not gun control; it’s about keeping our kids safe,” Melton said.

“I just want to share Noah’s story and keep his name out there because he’s not here and it’s so senseless. There’s just no reason in the world we should’ve buried him, none.”


Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter, @byemmakennedy.