Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: Joseph McCarthy

Unless a bullet falls afoul of the “two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time” rule of physics (which probably doesn’t apply on the sub-atomic level), the projectiles coming out of your average firearm tend to fly a fair distance. A .22 caliber bullet will travel a good mile before coming to complete stop. Provided its shaped for flight, more power-packed ammunition will fly even further afield, obviously. Which is why one of the prime gun safety rules is “always know what’s behind your target.” It’s not as sexy as “never point a gun barrel at something you don’t want to destroy.” But it’s equally important. Especially for the survivors of St. Michael’s College professor John Reiss, killed as he ate dinner by a bullet fired by one of three plinkers plinking next door . . .

On Sept. 23, 2008, the day Reiss was killed, McCarthy and three other men were target shooting on the range, according to court papers. Three of the men fired rifles with the capacity to shoot a bullet two or three miles. Police could not prove who fired the fatal shot, but McCarthy was charged with manslaughter on allegations of acting “with criminal negligence by setting up a shooting range in a location that was inherently dangerous and allowing for the discharge of rifles in that location.”

burlingtonfreepress.com’s insistence on using the word “range” is absurd. The area from which the fatal shot was fired was clearly nothing like a shooting range. A shooting range is an area designed for safe shooting. This was a bit of Mr. McCarthy’s property that was clearly, obviously, incontrovertibly unsuitable for shooting. Which is a fact that all three men should have clocked. A point not lost on the Vermont public prosecutor.

One of the other men on the range that day, Brad Lussier, 28, of Colchester was also charged with manslaughter, on suspicion of acting with criminal negligence by bringing to the range the semi-automatic SKS rifle that killed Reiss. Lussier was also charged for “loading the rifle and promoting its use in a location that Mr. Lussier knew, or should have known, was inherently dangerous.”

The key qualifier: should have known. There’s a lesson here for the rest of us: if you’re NOT SURE that your bullets will find a safe final resting place, then DON’T SHOOT. Again, firearms safety is everyone’s responsibility. In the same way that you should never take anyone’s word for it when they say a gun is unloaded, you should see for yourself that your bullets won’t cause a tragedy. If you can’t see, don’t shoot. That sucks. But killing someone who doesn’t need killing sucks times infinity.

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