As reported, a Chandler, Arizona man went out to Fry’s Food Store, with his fiancee’s handgun tucked into his waistband. At some point, the pistol was discharged, sending a round through the man’s penis and leg, at which point his fiancee called 911. The man was treated at a hospital, although the extent and permanence of his injuries are unclear from news reports. My thoughts can be seen below:
Why this was negligence, rather than an “accident”
I will start by saying that the injured man has my condolences. My goal in writing this article is not to assign blame, but rather to discuss the situation out of the hope that others will learn and avoid repeating such a painful and serious error in the future. With that said:
The difference between “accidental” and “negligent” goes far beyond just semantics. “Accident” refers to an event that occurred despite the use of proper care and skill. Accidents are not anyone’s fault. “Negligence” refers to a failure to exercise the proper care and skill that a reasonable person would have exercised. Negligence is the fault of a person. In this case, based upon the facts reported in the news, it appears that one person chose to improperly and unsafely carry a loaded gun in a manner that resulted in that person suffering harm. It is also possible, but unclear from the news reports, whether a second person (the fiancee) was aware of the unsafe practices yet allowed her gun to be so misused.
Regardless of how many individual were at fault, it is clear that error(s) in human judgment caused this incident – not the firearm itself.
Gun safety lessons to be learned
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 protecting the trigger against accidental pulls. Had the gun been in a holster, it would not have discharged. 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 waistband 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 such negligent shootings are a concern for gun rights
When there is a negligent shooting, it is almost always called an “accident” by the news media. Indeed, the reports of the shooting often use a fault-free passive-voice method of describing the shooting, saying that the gun “went off.” Gun owners and those who understand guns can quickly recognize such shootings for what they are – negligence. Unfortunately, a large segment of the population doesn’t own guns and don’t understand why such shootings are entirely preventable. Instead, they take such cases as “proof” that guns are too dangerous to own, and that having a gun is asking for disaster. Making matters worse, the news media often widely reports negligent shootings, while often paying little attention to the many cases of armed self defense that occur every day. It is sad and unfair, but the negligence of a few gun owners reflects poorly upon the millions of responsible gun owners.
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 negligent shooting occurs. These anti gun groups then argue such negligent shootings are proof 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.