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

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Aug. 6 2013 5:11 PM

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

168159753
This thing can't fire if it's not loaded.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Use Facebook to Reconnect With Old Friends, Share Photos, and Serve People With Legal Papers

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?