Hooray for the Small-Town Cop Who Refused to Call a Child-on-Child Shooting “Accidental”

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Aug. 6 2013 5:11 PM

Hooray for the Small-Town Cop Who Refused to Call a Child-on-Child Shooting “Accidental”

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This thing can't fire if it's not loaded.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

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On Sunday afternoon, a 6-year-old Danville, Va., boy was sitting at home when he somehow got hold of a loaded handgun that had been left unattended by its adult owner. He fired the gun, and the bullet went through a wall and hit a 22-month-old girl. The child was taken to a local hospital. She’s currently in stable condition.

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If you’re familiar with my coverage of unintentional child shootings like these, you know that now’s the time where I usually chide local law enforcement officials for describing them as “accidents.” They might be unintentional, but they’re not accidental; rather, they’re the entirely predictable consequence of a lax, lazy attitude toward firearm safety on the part of these kids’ parents and guardians. This seems clear to me, but the sentiment is not always shared by the cops who investigate these shootings.

Well, three cheers for Cpl. T.B. Scearce of the Danville Police Department, who defied my expectations with an intelligent, accurate statement to the Danville Register & Bee. (Thanks to the reader who sent this story my way.) Scearce told the paper that “there is no such thing as an accidental discharge—it is a negligent discharge. In order for a gun to fire, Scearce said three things have to occur: It has to be functional, it has to be loaded and the trigger has to be pulled.”

Cpl. Scearce is dead right. Using the word “accident” implies that nobody is responsible for what happened. But somebody is responsible, and it’s the idiot who left a working, loaded gun in a place where a 6-year-old could access it and pull its trigger. I don’t know the best way to reduce the number of negligent child shootings in this country. But it surely involves convincing gun owners to accept more responsibility for what happens with their weapons. Striking the word “accident” from the lexicon is one way to start making that happen. Maybe the strategy is starting to catch on.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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