Josh Marshall, TPM, has a post up about gun shootings and language clarity. While I see where he’s coming from, I think he misses the point with these “accidental” gun shootings. Here’s how he explains it:
Over the last 18 months, we’ve made an on-going effort to highlight various cases of accidental shootings – sometimes leading to grave injuries, other times to minor ones, but usually illustrating the straightforward fact that guns are dangerous and people often do stupid things with them. Like showing them off to friends while they’re loaded, or showing them off when the gun is loaded and the gun-shower is also loaded, or leaving them unsecured where 3 year olds can find them and blow their heads off. But frequently, and increasingly of late, we get emails from readers criticizing our decision to call these shootings ‘accidents’ because that is not, in their view, what they are.
But, of course, that is exactly what they are. Of course, shooters may have fooled authorities into believing an intentional homicide was unintentional. But that’s a different issue.
Here’s an example I just received from TPM Reader, in reference to this about a pregnant Florida woman shot dead by a friend who was showing her some of his new guns …
Please, I am tired of this misrepresentation. She was not accidentally shot in the head. She was shot in the head by a grossly negligent gun owner. These are not accidents.
I am always a little mystified by these emails because at one level they seem to show a simple lack of understanding of what the word ‘accident’ means. The primary meaning of ‘accident’ is an unfortunate and usually unexpected event that happens without anyone intending it. Most of us know this. So I assume there’s no need to be belabor the point. Calling something an ‘accident’ doesn’t mean it is blameless or doesn’t involve negligence. In fact, most accidental shootings almost by definition involve some level of negligence, whether or not authorities decide it rises to the level of criminal culpability. Indeed, calling something “grossly negligent” basically requires an ‘accident’ since a person cannot be negligent about something if the outcome is one they intended.
I see what he’s saying, but I disagree – mainly because we don’t apply this sort of reasoning to our daily life. When my kids were younger they use to think I was psychic, that I could see the future. I always seemed to know when the glass of milk was going to spill. Now, I wasn’t psychic, I simply saw, due to their behavior, what was going to happen. And while they had no intention of spilling the milk, their actions resulted in spilled milk.
Texting/talking on a cell phone while driving is a similar example. Does the person texting/talking on their phone intend to cause a car accident? Of course not. Are they more likely to cause a car accident due to their behavior? Yes.
So there are degrees of accidents. Driving carefully and having a deer dart out in front of you is a very different accident than driving while using a cell phone. And that’s the difference when it comes to “accidental” gun shootings. The introduction of a gun into these situations makes the tragic outcome more likely. If the gun isn’t brought out to show off (and, really, that’s why it’s brought out) then no one would be shot.
So while technically these shootings are “accidents” they aren’t accidents in the way of “who could have known that would happen?” These gun shootings deserve their own category, because “Oops!” doesn’t cut it, and pretending these shootings could happen to anyone simply isn’t true. Introducing a gun into a room full of people isn’t an accident. It’s a deliberate act with dire consequences. When these shootings happen no one is surprised – and surprise at the outcome is one of the major components of an accident. If you aren’t surprised that someone is shot when a gun enters the room then that isn’t really an accident.