Two men went to the hospital Sunday with gunshot wounds after one accidentally fired a gun at the other at an event at the shooting range on Ferry Brook Road in Keene. The men were reportedly volunteer “safety officers” working the annual Cheshire County Republican Shoot event. According to sparse information from Keene police, one of the men, apparently trying to demonstrate something — Technique? Safe handling of a firearm? — grabbed an actual gun from a table instead of a “dummy” weapon, and fired toward the other. In the process, he injured his own hand, and hit the other man in the abdomen.
The incident is then, at a minimum, a very serious and unfortunate one. At worst, it’s tragic.
How seriously the men were injured remains a mystery. Keene police eventually identified them, but said only that they were taken to the hospital. Cheshire Medical Center would say only that they weren’t on a list of people whose information they could give out, a double negative that amounts to: We won’t tell you anything. Police are still investigating.
It’s also unknown how well-trained the two septuagenarian “safety officers” were. Officials from the Cheshire County Shooting Sports Education Foundation don’t have much to say about the incident, as might be expected, other than to assert that until Sunday, no one had been injured in the 91-year history of the organization.
If true, it may be the result of simple blind fortune. Two years ago a Sullivan resident near the range reported finding a bullet on the kitchen floor of her mobile home she believed had come through the back of the home and ricocheted off the refrigerator. She and her husband were not home when it happened. She also told The Sentinel she had seen “multiple bullets” on her property over 40 years of living there, which she believed came from the shooting facility. Police never firmly tied the bullet to the club, though, coincidentally or not, the foundation shut down four ranges the day the bullet was reported, citing “an alleged safety violation” officials would not detail.
Even if the club has an immaculate record of safety, the fact is, as Sunday’s shooting proves: it only takes one; one misstep, one instant of forgetfulness or distraction or whatever caused a presumably trained gun owner to grab and fire the wrong piece of equipment. Several people have noted the “dummy” guns are specifically built not to resemble real firearms, lest this very scenario occur.
And that, as much as anything, is why the debate over guns, public health and realistic safety regulation needs to go beyond thoughts and prayers over mass shootings. The truth is, those high-profile incidents generate outcry and media coverage, but they don’t account for the bulk of gun deaths and injuries in the U.S., according to those who track gun incidents. The Gun Violence Archive says there have been more than four times as many accidental shootings this year as there have been mass shootings.
And a decent portion of those accidents involved people who ostensibly should have known better. Last year, we noted several such incidents locally:
In May, in Athol. Mass., a bystander watching a firearms training by Athol police was accidentally shot in the back of the leg by an officer.
In February, Matthew Brow of Winchendon shot his girlfriend twice in the abdomen with a 9 mm Glock handgun he kept by the side of the bed, after waking up in the night at her Swanzey home. Fortunately, she survived.
Not so lucky was Holden Guyette of Keene, who was fatally shot by his friend Adam Anderson of Westmoreland in May. Anderson told police he was teaching Guyette the proper way to fire the latter’s 9 mm Smith & Wesson pistol.
We can argue about the role of mental illness or “hardening” schools or the failures of the courts and others tasked with flagging those who ought not to have access to guns.
But again we note that when even those trained to use them properly — or who think they are — are shooting innocent bystanders and/or themselves, maybe the problem is larger than dealing with the mindset of mass shooters. Guns are inherently dangerous. They’re built for one purpose only: to inflict damage.
That doesn’t mean they have no legitimate purpose in society. But it may mean that any measure that makes guns safer — trigger locks, safe zones, better methods of determining who should have access to them, limiting magazine capacity, etc. — is worthy of real discussion.