Shooting Deaths are Never Accidents

Hi Joel,

A one year old child–a baby–was killed in a what your local news is calling an “accidental shooting” last week. Not many details have been released yet, but we know that the child was in a home in North Lawrence.

You know what I think about guns: there is no such thing as gun safety and no such thing as a safe gun owner. Some of our readers have considered that statement overwrought, but I think it’s a sensible assessment. Once you decide to own a gun, you decide that you are 1) wise enough to decide if someone else should be killed by it and 2) careful enough to keep it secured at all times except when you think someone else deserves to immediately die.  Even if gun owners are wiser and more careful than the rest of the population (and we have no evidence of that), they aren’t wise or careful enough, every single moment of every single day, to insure that these conditions are met.

And the data leans in my favor: The presence of a gun in a home increases the chance of death by gun significantly.

Half of parents whose children are killed by the parents’ gun are not held legally accountable for their deaths. Forty percent of accidental shootings of children occur in the room where the gun is stored.

The high school sophomore who opened fire in a Spokane, Washington high school just two weeks ago, indiscriminately killing one and wounding three others, took the gun out of his parents’ gun safe. Most children who are mass shooting perpetrators get their guns from home.

You see where I am going with this?

Guns kill kids. Kids use guns to kill kids. Kids use guns to kill themselves.

These are not “accidents.” They are predictable outcomes.

My high school drivers’ ed teacher, Mr. Wissler, killed a man in an auto accident when he was younger. The man had laid down in the road in the night in an attempt to end his own life. He chose a spot where the street lights didn’t overlap, and the young Mr. Wissler was traveling too fast to stop even after his headlights illuminated the man. He ran over him, killing him. The lesson for us? Don’t drive faster than your headlights. Had he been driving at a lower speed, Mr. Wissler told us, he could have seen the suicidal man and stopped in time.

That may seem harsh. I think the whole class’s response was to assure Mr. Wissler that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

But Mr. Wissler was adamant: in driving, there are no “accidents.” There are collisions, with one thing hitting another, sometimes lethally. But all of these can be prevented by safe driving, safe road design, and safe automotive engineering. Lack of intention doesn’t make you less culpable for the harm you inflict with your actions. In other words: someone is always responsible–or should have been. (This was the most important thing I learned in law school, too, fifteen years after drivers’ ed.)

In gun ownership, there are no “accidents,” either. You own a gun, and you decide that you are increasing the risk of your child dying. You decide not to unload it and you are deciding that your desire to kill someone at short notice is more important than the risk of death to your child. You keep it unlocked, and you are deciding that your fear of a break in is more important than the incredible risk you are imposing on a child. You fire a gun and you are deciding that the power you are enacting in that experience is more important than whoever that bullet hits.

Above, data from Everytown for Gun Safety provides evidence that American adults love guns more than children. 

Is that too mean to say to grieving parents? Then say it to parents who own guns but haven’t yet had to grieve, before they do.



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