A recent negligent discharge case, in which a concealed carry permit holder shot himself in the leg, teaches several important lessons:
The facts of the Wayne Meredith Latham negligent shooting
Based upon news reports of court proceedings, the facts can reportedly be summarized as follows: Wayne Meredith Latham, a Virginia concealed carry permit holder, was sitting down at Waterstone Pizza on Jefferson Street in Lynchburg, VA on September 11, 2010. In his pocket (without a holster) was a Glcock 36 pistol, with a round chambered, according to court records. In that same pocket was his wallet. As Mr. Latham reached into his pocket to pay the waiter, his finger or some other object in his pocket pulled the trigger of the pistol, causing it to fire one round into his leg. At that point, Mr. Latham is said to have left the restaurant, only to be found by police a few blocks away. On November 1, 2010, Latham was convicted of recklessly handling a firearm, stripped of his concealed carry permit for a year, order to pay a $500 fine, surrender his pistol, and stay out of any further trouble on pain of a 30-day suspended jail sentence.
A quick review of “accidents” versus “negligence”
As a threshold matter, it is important to define the word “accident” and the word “negligent,” as the difference between these words goes far beyond mere semantics.
An “accident” refers to an event that occurred despite the use of proper care and skill. Accidents are no one’s fault. An example of an accident would be an apparently fit and healthy 18 year old suddenly suffering an unexpected heart attack while driving their car, and crashing as a result of that heart attack. Since the 18 year old could not have reasonably foreseen the risk of a heart attack, and as a result could not reasonably have been expected to take action to mitigate the unknown risk, such a crash would be an accident.
“Negligent,” on the other hand, refers to an event that is the result of a failure to exercise the proper care and skill that a reasonable person would have exercised. Sticking with the heart attack example, it would be negligent for a 95 year old person who has suffered three heart attacks that month to get into their car and drive though a school zone, knowing full well that they stood a rather high chance of suffering another heart attack at any moment. When that 95 year old suffers a heart attack and runs over a child, that crash is the result of negligence, rather than accident.
Gun safety lessons to be learned
This shooting involving Mr. Latham was a negligent shooting, rather than an accidental shooting, due to Mr. Latham’s failure to act responsibly with his gun. In the interest of demonstrating that this is not an “accident” that could be repeated by any of the millions of responsible gun owners, and in the interest of helping others to avoid making the same error, I offer the following commentary. This is in no way intended to be a personal attack upon Mr. Latham.
1. Guns belong in holsters. Holsters have many purposes, including holding the gun in a single place so that it can be quickly drawn, protecting the gun from scratches, and – most relevant in this case – protecting the trigger against accidental pulls. Had Mr. Latham’s pistol been in a holster, reaching into his pocket would not have brought his hand anywhere near the pistol. Also, had the pistol been in a holster, the trigger would have been covered by the holster, preventing Mr. Latham’s hand (or objects in his pocket) from pulling the trigger. For a more detailed discussion of why guns belong in holsters, see this article.
2. Grip safeties are nice. I’ll start out by saying that this point is going to be controversial, especially among those who own Glocks or other pistols without a grip safety. While I personally believe the following, I do also believe that there is room for difference of opinion on this matter. With that preamble out of the way: One of the reasons I prefer the Springfield XD is because it has a grip safety. Unless the webbing of the user’s hand is firmly pressing against the backstrap of the pistol, it will not fire even if the trigger is pulled. While this feature is not foolproof (e.g. an object in one’s pocket could conceivably depress this safety, allowing the pistol to fire), I would hazard to guess that many negligent discharges could be prevented by grip safeties. Note that a grip safety is no substitute for good judgment, and I don’t suggest that anyone rely upon a grip safety (or any other mechanical safety device) as a means of preventing a negligent discharge.
3. Think carefully about whether to chamber a round. I also note that this point is just as controversial, if not more so, than my previous point, and I again recognize that opinions will differ sharply. With that said: Carrying with a round in the chamber is beneficial in that it allows for the shortest delay between recognizing a threat and being able to fire the gun in self defense. On the other hand, a gun with a round in the chamber is much easier to negligently discharge. I, personally, carry with a full magazine and an empty chamber, and practice quickly drawing my pistol while racking the slide to chamber a round. I find this to be the most comfortable trade-off between readiness for self defense and safety. On the flip side, there are those who insist that the only worthwhile way to carry is with a round in the chamber. Depending upon the specifics of one’s guns, having a manual safety engaged or disengaged, or the striker/hammer cocked or decocked, can also be additional options. When it comes down to it, each person must decide which approach is right for their situation.
Why this negligent shooting doesn’t mean concealed carry is a danger to the public
Those opposed to gun rights like to seize upon the (quite rare) cases, such as this, where a concealed carry permit holder does something wrong with their gun. These anti gun groups then argue that concealed carry is just too dangerous to the public, and that we would all be better off without it. Such arguments are without merit.
Firstly, cases such as this are quite rare. Every day, millions of Americans lawfully carry a concealed firearm for self defense without incident. Indeed, the Million Mom March has tried to put together data on the “misdeed” of concealed carry permit holders, but their own data disproves their proposition. Instead of being able to point to many cases like that of Mr. Latham, the Million Mom March came up with only a few dozen “misdeeds” perpetrated by concealed carry permit holders – most of which were non-gun-related infractions such as drunk driving.
Secondly, the use of guns in self defense is quite common. The statistics show that Americans use guns in self defense about 2.5 million times each year, which works out to about once every 13 seconds (and note that this study was performed before the dramatic rise in concealed carry that has taken place in recent years!) Turning to real life armed self-defense examples, I personally write about just a tiny fraction of the self defense gun uses that occur, yet that tiny fraction dwarfs the number of negligent concealed carry discharges that seem to occur. Given the propensity for the news media to widely report negative gun-related events, and ignore positive gun-related events, I would hazard to guess that the there the ratio of socially beneficial to socially harmful concealed carry gun uses is even higher than one would expect from reading the news.
Finally, research shows that concealed carry permit holders are some of the most law-abiding members of society – more law abiding on average than police officers. Research also shows that concealed carry permit holders are over 5 times less likely than the police to shoot the wrong person.
My thanks to John for pointing out the news article which addressed the court proceedings which followed this negligent shooting.