What’s The Difference Between Accidental And Non-Accidental Shootings? No Difference.

When I entered graduate school in 1967, the very first book I purchased was a big, fat compendium known as the Chicago Manual of Style. It was published by The University of Chicago Press and was considered the non-plus-ultra guide to anything having to do with writing or editing scholarly and non-fiction articles and books. And since I was studying economic history, I was going to be writing lots of academic papers which needed to meet the standard for how to do footnotes, end notes, quotations, references and all that other bothersome stuff which writers of academic works need to pretend they understand.
kids and gunsOf course in 1967 there was no internet, for that matter there were no such things as word processors and I don’t recall even putting my fingers on the keyboard of an IBM Selectric typewriter until 1970 or 1971 (although I had actually seen one a few years prior to that date.) Because I come from the Stone Age in terms of communication technologies and skills, I don’t take for granted the degree to which so much of what I had to do by hand when I first started writing is now done online. And one of those online resources which helps me and countless other writers and bloggers get things done in an efficient and orderly way is the AP Stylebook which is an extremely useful reference work containing definitions, topics, themes and other information to be used when an event or an issue has to be quickly understood and described. I just clicked on the topic – hurricanes – and up came a whole list of definitions for every type of tropical storm, the name and address of various federal agencies that deal with hurricane relief, and so on.

The AP Stylebook stays up to date by giving users an opportunity to suggest either new topics and/or content which should be added or revised. In this way, writers who are covering topical events can feel confident that if they utilize a resource from the Stylebook it will reflect the most recent way in which that issue is described or understood. One of our good GVP friends, Ladd Everitt, has just initiated a campaign through his organization, One Pulse for America, to have the Stylebook revise its definition of an ‘accidental’ shooting because, as Ladd says, “’Accidental’ implies that nothing can be done to prevent such shootings, when nothing is further from the truth.” Most accidental shootings, as Ladd points out, occur either because of negligence (the gun was left unsecured) or the owner was acting like a dope. The AP Stylebook team responded by saying they would consider changing the description of ‘accidental shootings’ when a new edition appears next year.

There is no question that referring to unintentional injuries caused by guns as ‘accidents’ gives a misleading impression about whether or not anyone should be blamed when a gun goes off when it’s not supposed to go off. But I also think that making a clear distinction between accidental, as opposed to non-accidental gun injuries can create its own misleading impression for what gun violence is really all about.
Lester Adelson was the coroner for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) nearly 40 years, during which time he saw thousands of individuals who were killed with guns. In 1992 he published a summary article on gun violence, “The gun and the sanctity of human life; or The bullet as pathogen” which for me, ranks as the single most incisive and profound work ever published on this issue, and you can download it here. Here’s what Adelson says is the most salient feature of gun violence: “With its particular lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

Does it really matter if the gun is used intentionally or not? To quote the novelist Walter Mosley, “If you walk around with a gun it will go off sooner or later.”

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3 thoughts on “What’s The Difference Between Accidental And Non-Accidental Shootings? No Difference.

  1. There has been a running discussion in the bike-ped community as to whether we should stop talking about car “accidents” since so many of these mishaps are associated with issues such as speeding, inattention, or forms of impairment rather than the brake pedal falling off or a tire blowing out due to a structural defect. One needs a more neutral term or a finding of causation. Sure, hardly anyone gets in their car with the intention of aiming it at someone and hitting the gas. But a lot of “accidents” might not happen if not for our half-assed attention to traffic safety, which is a human failure rather than an engineering failure. Air bags work but usually after someone screws up.

    Adelson’s quote is surely relevant to having a gun handy when one is in a spat or quarrel and we see enough of that in New Mexico. Mike wrote about one in Huffington, e.g., the Clovis mass shooting. I would ascribe some accidents as more the case of being a dolt, such as using one’s shotgun as a prop when crossing that fence (something we were told never to do in Hunter Safety class) or not clearing the chamber before dry firing the gun. Negligence with a firearm is not acceptable. As the closing statement goes, sooner or later that thing will go off and bullets don’t care what they hit.

    p.s. The Adelson link didn’t save.

  2. Mike, can I use this info to write an article for the Ct news times (and of course give you credit)?

    Sent from Gail Lehmann’s iPad 203-438-7755

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