New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Accident or Collision?, Media


March 14th, 2018

Gunfire in the Classroom is No Accident

The story popped up yesterday that a teacher in California “accidentally” fired his gun in a classroom. He was teaching a class in gun safety at the time.

Headline after headline read that way: Accident. Accident. Accident.

No. No. A thousand times no. ‘Twas no accident. It was negligence. There’s a difference, for this was preventable with the exercise of reasonable care.

I covered this ground in 2013 when the NYPD changed its Accident Investigation Squad to the Collision Investigation Squad. According to then Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, “In the pqast, the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event.”

An accident it when a deer bolts into the path of a car. A collision occurs when a second car is following too closely and slams into the first. One may not be avoidable, no matter how much due care you use. The other, very much avoidable.

Accidents do not simply “happen.”

And so it is with guns. Accidents don’t really happen.

As Jim Wright points out at Stonekettle, “there are no accidents with guns.”

For example, if a child picks up a gun to play cops and robbers with a sibling and shoots it, it is not an accident. It was negligence by the gun’s owner for leaving a loaded pistol in an unsecured place.

Part of the problem here is that the use of the word “accident” has been ambiguous. Similar to bimonthly meaning either twice a month or every other month. Or the word “sanction” meaning something has been approved (a sanctioned event) or is a punishment.

Accident has been unfortunately used in both matters where there is fault and matters where there is not. But there is a massive difference in meaning, particularly with news events such as this, where a shot is fired in a classroom.

Media headline writers should recognize this problem. They are, after all, in the word smithing business.

It’s lazy to use the word accident when it doesn’t actually convey the true meaning of what happened. It makes negligent conduct appear as if there was nothing that could be done to stop it.

And that is the media being negligent, for with the use of due care, the persistence of such ambiguous conduct can easily be crippled.



3 thoughts on “Gunfire in the Classroom is No Accident

  1. Eric, You are absolutely correct. The first rule of gun safety is always, always, always treat a gun as if it is loaded, even when you are certain it is unloaded. Always. No exceptions ever. The second rule is always keep the safety “on”, until just before you are ready to pull the trigger. Again, no exceptions ever. Both of these simple rules had to be violated for this unintentional discharge of the weapon to happen. Violating basic rules is not an “accident,” it is pure negligence. And that it was unintentional does not void the negligence in any way.

  2. Curious as to the type of questions you ask jurors to identify those that feel that negligence equates to “accidents and sh*t happen, just deal with it”

    • I don’t ask about accidents in voir dire, but rather, the concept of personal responsibility. A line of questions might include: How do you feel about people/corporations being accountable for their conduct if others are injured due to a lack of reasonable care? Do you think accountability helps/hurts society? Do you think the community is safer if people/corporations are held accountable for their conduct?

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