Accident or Negligent: There is a Difference

 

 

Thanks to the agenda-driven news media, almost every television and digital outlet in America was fed the story of a negligent discharge that shut down a gun show in Raleigh, North Carolina last weekend. According to numerous reports, a shotgun was discharged when the owner was presenting it for inspection at the entry point to the show.  Three persons were injured, none died. Anyone who has ever attended a gun show understands the drill. Private sale guns are brought up to the table for inspection by a police officer or security guard. They run a zip-tie through the chamber or action somehow to keep the gun from operating or being loaded. In the case described above, the shotgun never got to that point and went ‘bang’ before it could be zip-tied. The news agencies, naturally, reported this as an “accidental shooting”.  While it might be a simple and generic description, it was not an “accident” . . .

Many moons ago while attending the Ohio Peace Officer’s Academy, I studied State and Constitutional law. Every suspect act has a corresponding culpable mental state, to include purposeful, knowledgeable, reckless, and negligent. A negligent mental state is one in which a person fails to “exercise due care” or “fails to protect another person…from unreasonable risk of harm.”

Having been a professional firearms instructor since 1990 when I became a Rifle/Pistol Marksmanship Coach in the USMC, I’ve taught the Four Universal Safety Rules that were best enumerated by Col. Jeff Cooper so many decades ago. Treat every gun as if it’s loaded, never allow the muzzle to cross anything you are not willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until you’ve made the decision to shoot and know your target and what’s beyond it. Yes, these have been worded a bit differently, but the purpose remains the same. If you follow all four rules the chances of a person being injured inadvertently are miniscule.

Conversely, any time a person is injured or killed unintentionally by gunfire, you can go back and consider the Four Universal Rules and find at least one — and most often two — that was violated. As bona fide good guys, we cannot simply say “oops, my bad” when a round from a gun strikes someone or something it should not have. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

When it comes to handling firearms, ‘accidental’ and ‘negligent’ are not interchangeable terms. My good friend John Farnam has been preaching that fact for thirty years or more.  An accident is something that could have been prevented by any reasonable means. For instance, a worn, cracked, or weak sear, lever, or component in a firearm breaks and the gun discharges without warning. Though extremely rare, it does happen.  Slam-fires, where the gun discharges just because the action closes are again rare, but they do happen.

A negligent discharge, though, occurs because the person holding the gun did something they shouldn’t have. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred that act is putting their finger reflexively onto the trigger when it has no business being there. In order for a person to be injured, the muzzle needs to be pointed in their general vicinity. That’s two or three broken rules, depending on how you look at it.

The eyes of the entire world are fixed on every law-abiding gun owner in America right now. The other side squeals with delight any time they perceive a mistake has been made. Negligent discharges in public places are exactly the kind of fodder they’re looking for to back up their argument: “see people shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, they’re too dangerous.”

Yes, firearms are dangerous implements. If they weren’t they’d be useless. Chainsaws and welding torches are dangerous too, but we still use them. As lawful, responsible good guys we need to police our own.

If you see someone handling a gun in an unsafe manner, say something. You don’t need to be a jerk, but a quick “hey buddy, would you mind pointing that somewhere else” or “did you know your finger was on the trigger?” might be appropriate. If you slip up and violate one of the rules, be a man (or a woman) about it and correct yourself without getting butthurt.

Folks, it’s as simple as this: if we don’t police ourselves when it comes to simple matters like basic firearms safety, there are those out there who are just aching for the chance to do it for us. It’s already happening on a small scale. When it happens on a nationwide basis, you won’t like it.

 

All of the previously discussed material and much more about safe and effective gun handling are addressed in the new DVD “Armed Living: Concealed Carry in an Uncertain World”.  The DVD is available right now at www.studentofthegungear.com

About the Author

Paul Markel has been a firearms industry writer for twenty years and is the author of the new book “Student of the Gun; A beginner once, a student for life.”  Paul hosts and produces “Student of the Gun” a show dedicated to education, experience, and enjoyment of firearms.  Episodes of SOTG can be viewed by simply going to www.studentofthegun.com and clicking the “play” icon.

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