WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Tragedy of 4-year-old boy killing wife of Tennessee sheriff's deputy underscores divide over guns

Ironically, as Congress and lawmakers in several state capitals grapple with gun constraints, a tragedy in Tennessee may demonstrate the psychological divide.

A festive cook-out (with alcohol) at a home in Wilson County, Tennessee, was transformed into a scene of tragedy in a few short seconds. A 4-year-old boy apparently picked-up a handgun from a bed - where the weapon had been placed only briefly - and pulled the trigger. Dead: The 48-year-old wife of the Wilson County Sheriff's Deputy who owned the weapon (although it was not his service weapon). The 4-year-old was NOT the couple's child. Unless the initial account changes substantially, it's unlikely the deputy will face any charges. Prosecutors would have to demonstrate negligence or recklessness.

When I read or hear stories such as this one, my mind races back to an incident in Memphis when I was covering news there. A woman had placed a purse on the counter at an ice-cream shop. The gun inside went off, hitting another woman.

I think such episodes underscore the deep, persistent psychological divide over guns in this country, the sort of thing that pits urban/suburban America (particularly in the North and along the Coasts) vs. exurban/rural America. (While acknowledging that a vast overwhelming majority of Americans favor, at least, background checks for all gun purchases.)

Some of us believe we would be safer with FEWER guns. Some of us believe precisely the opposite. It's really that simple.

Let's return to the original story from Tennessee. Despite all the preaching from 2nd Amendment absolutists and near-absolutists about gun safety, tragic incidents happen all the time. Remember the celebratory bullet which killed a girl in Elkton, Maryland, at the start of the New Year?

The Wilson County, Tennessee, story introduces this twist: If a law-enforcement officer (who has received vastly more weapons training, presumably, than a typical gun-owner) let his guard down, by leaving that handgun on a bed within range of a 4-year-old, what hope for the rest of us?

Indeed, as an article (below) from The TENNESSEAN underscores, some of the very same states whose lawmakers flaunt 2nd Amendment guarantees ALSO happen to have the greatest numbers of accidental firearms deaths. The top states in terms of accidental firearms deaths per 100,000 people: Louisiana; Alabama; West Virginia; Arkansas; Kentucky; Tennessee; South Dakota; Montana; Wyoming; South Carolina.

In fairness, a populous state such as Pennsylvania (a big 2nd Amendment state with many hunters) does, in fact, have a lower rate of accidental shooting deaths.

But, ultimately, stories about such tragic, accidental shootings - when coupled with the horror from shootings at schools, college campuses, and other public venues - I believe psychologically sets up the divide between the suburban mom (or dad) who has little concern for the 2nd Amendment (and might even avoid dating or marrying a person who hunted, or collected guns!) and people who are animated by the 2nd Amendment.

Indeed, the first group shudders at the notion of gun owners stockpiling even more weapons and ammo in fear of some new legislative constraints on guns. To them, this worship of the 2nd Amendment borders on (or is) idolatry.

Their mental calculation: More guns = more tragic bloodshed. One day, it may be a child picking up and firing a handgun. Another day, it may be a spouse shooting the other spouse in the heat of an emotional argument. Even normally sane people can temporarily, and tragically, lose their senses.

(And just as I was completing this blog, I saw another such story: A 4-year-old shot and seriously wounded a 6-year-old neighbor with a 22-caliber rifle in Toms River, New Jersey. Of course, background checks will do nothing to prevent such shootings!)

Check out the UK tabloid DAILY MAIL's account of the tragedy from Tennessee...


And The TENNESSEEAN chronicles how accidental shooting deaths have continued to occur in those Sunbelt and Interior states...


Posted at 3:04pm on April 9, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 3:32pm
I just saw a study that more guns = more violence. Not the other way around.

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 3:39pm
This is just one more of an infinite number of examples of why guns are not needed. If guns were banned, that Tennessee wife would still be alive today. If guns were banned, those schoolkids in Newtown would still be alive.

Save the children. Ban the guns today!

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 7:36pm
Reminder: If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns!

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 8:53pm
Was that true in Belarus? In Old Russia? In Germany? In France? In Ireland? In Iceland? In England? In China? In Japan?

That argument is only good for its structural content. The truth really is that the fewer the guns, fewer the gun deaths...

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 9:09pm
"The Wilson County, Tennessee, story introduces this twist: If a law-enforcement officer (who has received vastly more weapons training, presumably, than a typical gun-owner) let his guard down, by leaving that handgun on a bed within range of a 4-year-old, what hope for the rest of us?"

The key word here is "presumably". Anyone who has received competent training, such as for a CCW license here in Delaware, knows that alcohol/drugs and guns don't mix. Nor do guns and children. When I carry I don't drink, and when I drink I don't carry. Period.

The cop who left the gun on the bed is to blame. Of course he won't be charged with anything. If it were me who left my piece lying around, I'd be in jail in a minute. He should be fired and prosecuted.

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 9:51pm
Kavips: In Belarus, the outlaw Nazis from Germany, where guns were outlawed, came in with their guns and slaughtered 75% of the Belarus population. The city of Minsk was completely leveled.

Need I say more?

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 10:21pm
Here's some info on crime statistics in Russia. Note that throughout the 20th century Russia had similar or higher homicide rates than the U.S. I'm assuming guns were illegal in Russia during the same time period.

The one common denominator in all forms of Russian crime is alcohol. Of course, you can try to have alcohol control, but just like gun control, it will simply create a black market.

The more we regulate guns in the U.S., the greater the opportunity for underground dealers to expand their businesses. I would also guess that in these other countries you site a lot more crimes go unreported there than here. And, I can almost guarantee you they have much larger gun black markets than we have here.


Tue, Apr 9, 2013 10:30pm
The bottom line to my post above is that guns or no guns, murderers will murder. They'll just use a different MO.

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 11:14pm
This story is indeed a tragedy for all those involved. The firearm owner who left his weapon unattended (even for a few seconds) is to blame...catastrophe could also have happened if this same unattended 4-year-ld gained access to matches (and set fire to the house) or even played with a gas stove or propane bbq...all these are potentially deadly tools but how many lawmakers think we need to ban matches, natural gas appliances, or propane bbqs? (funny thing is neither matches, natural gas, nor bbqs are protected by the Constitution)

A firearm is a tool just as a fire extinguisher is a tool... I have quite a few fire extinguishers in my house in case of a fire emergency but hope I never need them...yet I have them to protect my family (and I keep them away from little ones who might like to pull the pin and press the button).

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 11:35pm
To add a bit to the fire extinguisher analogy...if I live a decent distance from the local fire department, I am probably more likely to have more extinguishers "stockpiled" than someone living only a few blocks away from the fireman due to the fact that after 911 has been called the person close to the FD is going to receive help much faster than a person in the 'burbs or in the country.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 4:43am
Mr. Pizza... You bring up a good point with the black market. I guess the question is one of degree. Currently 40% of guns have no background checks and could flow towards criminals.

Closing that up, means the black market opens up, but will they still sell 40% of America's weapons? Or will it be more like 4%?

If so, that huge drop of unaccounted guns could make lives safer by counting them....

There will still be guns out there used for crimes. Just that there will be a lot fewer....

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 5:21am
I am impressed that our normally right-wing friends are not blindly opposing gun regulation here. Maybe the NRA and the gun manufacturers which fund it have already lost the war.

Killing people with guns is for the stupid, lazy, and impulsive. You don't have to be any good with a gun to kill at close range (no practice required). The gun makes a lot of noise (attracts attention; better to kill quietly). Guns leave a ton of forensic evidence (all the better to catch you with; what you gonna do when they come for you). Guns are just too easy, which means people can destroy two lives in a rash or careless moment. I guess gun nuts don't watch procedural crime dramas.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 8:07am
kavips: can you please cite your source on the 40% number?

Mike from Delaware
Wed, Apr 10, 2013 8:47am
Dunmore said it well: "The cop who left the gun on the bed is to blame. Of course he won't be charged with anything. If it were me who left my piece lying around, I'd be in jail in a minute. He should be fired and prosecuted."

Cops should not be given a break when that same break wouldn't apply to the citizen. Notice cops rarely, if ever, do the speed-limit; the lights aren't flashing; no siren, and then they pull into a convenience store for coffee. The laws, other than when they are en-route to a crime-scene or chasing criminals in a car-chase, should apply equally to them. THEY are not above the law.

I'd however adjust Dunmore's comment to read something like this: "The cop shouldn't be fired until he's had his day in court, but he should be put on leave-of-absence and put in jail like anyone else, with the same sort of bail everyone else would get in that situation [Obviously, he'd need to be in a special part of the prison, away from the other inmates, for his safety]. If found guilty in a court verdict, then he should then be fired and the punishment of the court enforced. No special breaks because he's got blue-in-his-blood crap.

In terms of the rest of this discussion, I'm totally with the idea that we need serious background checks on ALL who buy guns at stores and gun-shows. The Hipo laws need to be adjusted so that the mental issues can be incorporated into the background check. There's no reason some person with mental issues should be allowed to legally own a gun. So the idea is to keep as many of the nutjobs and criminals from easily getting their hands on a gun, note the word "easily". Someone determined enough will, yes, find one via an illegal means, but it will cut-down the number of nutjobs who have access to a gun. THAT's not a bad thing and doesn't affect or take guns away from legal, law-abiding citizens unless they've got a mental problem; then I say, too bad.

This won't stop all gun violence, but it will help lower the odds and every life saved is a life saved and worth the effort.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 9:56am
I really don't get why background checks are a non-starter for 2nd Amendment absolutists. Yes, you still get to have a gun. We just want to make sure you're not a convicted felon, or mentally unstable beforehand. If you're neither of those, what harm does the background check do you?

And for you Absolutists who scream about changing the 2nd Amendment (or any part of the Constitution, really) even one iota, I submit the following:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes to laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand-in-hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
-- Thomas Jefferson, July 12, 1816

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 10:22am
I don't know if I'm an "absolutist" on the 2nd Amendment because I am actually fine with background checks BUT I am not for these records being put into a Federal database. The current background-check system requires the FFL to check the buyer's background and (once they pass) the background check record is supposed to be destroyed.

Mike from Delaware
Wed, Apr 10, 2013 10:40am
EarlGrey: You mean the gun-shop destroys its copy of the report? I'm not sure if they do. I'd think they'd want to keep some sort of record that they complied with the law of doing a background check. For example: Miller's Gun Shop on Route 13 does a background check on Joe Schmo from Podunk, Delaware; he passes, Miller sells Joe a gun. Next week Joe shoots someone, the Feds and State are going to ask Miller did he do a background check, and he'll need some way to prove that, because let's face it, law enforcement won't take Miller's word for it that, yes, his store did comply with the law. So the gun-shop has to have some record of doing the check, even if it's some sort of reciept he gets from the government along with the background check, saying he did comply on a seperate sheet that doesn't have the background data.

To your other point that data ARE stored somewhere, sure these details are, or how would the gun-shop be able to do the background check? The gun-shop has to be able to access it from somewhere, probably a state or Federal data base [makes more sense if it is Federal, as people easily cross state lines and I don't believe there's any requirement you live in the state where you're buying the gun], as I believe plenty of folks from NJ, PA, and MD come to Miller's Gun Shop along Route 13 to buy legal guns.

If you're worried that the government has a list of who the registered gun-owners are, yeah, the government probably does have that info on file somewhere already [the FBI would be my guess]. Too late for that issue. Just as the state has a list of all the folks who own dogs who have purchased a dog-license for their pet. Let's face it, government probably knows a lot more about each of us than we realize. Hey, the government gets plenty of info from our tax-returns each year too.

If you get Medicare or Social Security, that gives them more info, and on and on. It is what it is. That horse left the barn years ago.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 11:43am
Mike: My understanding is the store is supposed to keep the paper copy of sale/backrgound approval for its records, but no data is supposed to be input into a federal government database. The only data that should be in "the system": Whether or not a person can legally purchase a firearm (no criminal background or other reasons to prohibit possession).

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 7:01pm
Shawn makes a valid point about Thomas Jefferson. He was actually the original progressive, long before Teddy Roosevelt.

The trouble is, today "progressivism" has run amuck.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 7:05pm
EarlGrey: I think Kavips meant to use 40% and 4% as estimates.
I doubt, however, that more regulation would reduce the percentage of black market sales because there are presently enough illegal guns out there to keep the trade alive and well. You could say the "cat's out of the bag" or the "horse is out of the barn."

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 8:10am
Mr. Pizza is half right. The 40% came from Bloomberg after Aurora. It was based on survey data that is rather old. Guns experts still say it is valid, but after looking into it, just from the time apparently, who really knows?

But that is the figure used all over the news, perhaps even on this blog, as the reference-point for how many guns have their buyer checked before purchasing. But because of the NRA, no records on gun purchases have been kept, so this is the only source of information, dubious as it could be....


It could be more; it could be less. Just goes to show how silly not keeping records is....

The 4% was a random figure for a rhetorical question, It was loosely based on the normal average percent of unreported economic activity in the US... roughly $2 trillion on $50 trillion.

I'm glad you asked that. I wouldn't have known about where the 40% came from... I have to reflect at the end here, when you first asked, I was surprised, because that number was all across the media, in speeches, everywhere. That was why I didn't provide the source because like today is April 11, I thought it didn't need to be verified...

Glad I looked. And thanks Mr. Pizza for reminding me. I saw it yesterday and was going to get back to it, ... but never made it....

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 12:05pm
kavips: thanks for the link and for providing your source for that info.
Funny thing is your link calls bloomberg's claim to be a "half-truth".
"...we looked at the statement again, did additional reporting, and changed our rating to Half True on Jan. 30, 2013."

"According to the study, "40% of guns are sold through private sellers." Moreover, the study claims that "these sales—which take place in many venues, including gun shows and, increasingly, on the internet... fuel the black market for illegal guns."
Many parts of this assertion are factually flawed or, at the least, very misleading.
First off, the figure of 40% doesn't represent new guns but guns already in circulation, which are being resold on a secondary basis. The intimation that 40% of new guns are being sold illegally is simply myth-making at best, lying at worst.
What's really happening is that people who think like Bloomberg and Obama are guessing that a certain percentage of firearms in the hands of Americans have no paperwork on them because their original sale predates background checks. Thus, their goal is to seal-off avenues for private sales in order to force Americans to enter those guns into the system.  "

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