Gun rights advocates are fond of telling us that "guns don't kill people." Well, it turns out that the unofficial mantra of the National Rifle Association (NRA) carries a degree of validity. Guns don't shoot and kill people. Dogs do.
I was shocked to read that, a few weeks ago, a 19-year-old Minnesota hunter was shot in the leg when his dog jumped into his boat, landing on the man's shotgun and discharging it. Fortunately for the man and his four-legged friend, the injuries were not life-threatening and no charges were filed.
What are the odds of such a freak accident? Actually, higher than you might imagine. It turns out a quick internet search uncovered at least 17 shootings by man's supposed best friend since 1980. (Not to be left out, a cat was responsible for knocking over a loaded handgun, causing it to fire a 9 mm cartridge into a Michigan man's torso.)
The vast majority of these shootings (15 out of 17) occurred in Southern and Midwestern states -- jurisdictions with traditionally lax gun laws. Three canine cappings occurred in Florida alone, including one earlier this year in Sebring. In that "accident," an investigating police officer reported that Gregory Dale Lanier's dog "kicked his unloaded .380 pistol causing it to fire and the bullet to strike his leg." To Lanier's surprise, the gun turned out to be loaded after all. (And it came as an additional surprise to Lanier that his firearm was a 9mm handgun, not a .380.)
Lanier caught a break. The injuries he sustained were also not life-threatening. But not everyone is so lucky. Two of the 17 shootings tragically resulted in death.
In January of 2008, Perry Alvin Price III of Texas was shot when he placed his loaded shotgun into the bed of his pickup truck, near his chocolate Labrador retriever, so he could open the tailgate to release the dog. Excited by the impending goose hunt, 'Arthur' jumped on the shotgun, sending the fatal blast straight through the tailgate and into Price's body. In what the sheriff described as "the strangest case I've ever seen," Arthur's muddy footprint on the weapon led authorities to conclude that the dog was the shooter.
Perry's death came nearly one year to the date after a Tennessee sportsman, Thomas Ayer St. Charles III, was killed by his dog. After a day of duck hunting, St. Charles had just hopped out of his boat to collect some floating decoys, when his dog pounced on a loaded shotgun inside the boat. The resulting discharge punctured a hole in the boat, fatally wounding St. Charles.
Commentators tend to have a field day -- no hunting pun intended -- when these types of accidents occur. For instance, St. Charles's unfortunate death led one blogger to quip, "At least the dog made it look like an accident." When Iowa hunter James Harris was wounded under similar circumstances just months after St. Charles, the Guardian had to run an article title that assured readers its story was no joke: "Dog Shoots Man, Honest!"
It's easy to be tongue-in-cheek about animals shooting people. Yet, there's a serious take-away from such unintentional incidents which are largely the result of gun owners' carelessness. Dogs don't kill people. Guns kill people!