Accidents vs. Preventable Tragedies


One of the most difficult moments after any death is knowing the appropriate thing to say. A recent article after the shooting of a 29-year old mother by her two year-old,  had comments by her father-in-law, which seemed to say, “Can we please focus on mourning the loss of life, and not try to make political capital out of my family’s tragedy?”

Certainly as someone in the “inner-circle” of this tragedy, he’s going to be more focused on the individuals at this point, but I wonder if this reflects a general tendency after something like this occurs where there is a conflict between community values (in this case, gun ownership and gun-carry laws) and tragic outcomes that can result from tolerating that level of risk as part of the culture. This can lead to folks handing over any agency which to outsiders, is baffling.

As an example, look at this piece about year after the fertilizer explosion in West, TX, where a local folks seemed to classify the accident as part of “God’s plan” and not the result of lax regulations, poor training of local emergency response personnel, and dangerous conditions, as seen here:

Muska’s view is widespread in West: that nobody can know the mind of God, and no rational person could have seen it coming — and therefore, nobody is really to blame. The explosion just happened. There’s less emphasis on accountability and more on being supportive of the victims.

That quote is obviously heavily steeped in Christian thinking, and least you think I’m going all Bill Maher, I have no way of knowing what religious world-view influenced Mr. Rutledge’s thinking in the case of the Idaho shooting. I can also think of an example of this sort of willing away of consequences among the liberal and college-educated with the anti-vax movement, and the childhood illness epidemics it leads to.

While Mr. Rutledge should be focused on his family at this time and may be too close to the situation to see the larger implications. Without belittling  those involved, we owe it to that poor mother, that truly unfortunate toddler, and the many others unnecessarily killed by guns each year to look at this situation.  First, we need to be doing epidemiological research into this subject that is unfettered by the gun-lobby, so we can have an informed, research-based discussion on the subject. I know, good luck on that, but I needed to put that out there. Currently there is a conflict occurring between how these sorts of deaths are classified, because they are often not tracked as “accidents”. This reflects the desire of those who want to hold folks like adults who have guns accessible to children accountable for the deaths that result from this. I’d suggest a new category to capture unintentional but preventable gun deaths involving children, but we need both accurate information, and more accountability for owners. For more on the accountability, Justin Peters at Slate has written on the topic extensively.

I grew up in a household with guns stored in what was considered to be a “safe” way for the time, high on a rack in my parent’s bedroom. This is no longer considered safe, just like we don’t let kids sit loose in the back of a truck or station wagon. Still, my parents did not feel it a necessary part of our culture to carry a hand-gun with them everywhere they went. The guns stayed in the closet until they were brought down for a trip out to do target practice (I was given my turn with a friend of the family’s 22 caliber). Our gun culture has changed. More households used to have guns, but now fewer homes have more weapons and seem to want to have these guns on them at all times.

One Comment to

“Accidents vs. Preventable Tragedies”

  1. January 3rd, 2015 at 6:43 pm      Reply Jenny Says:

    I found the New York Times piece on what is and isn’t considered an accident absolutely fascinating. But also, painful. I have to admit to having no patience for most of the gun owning desires. Any weapon a young child can use that easily has no purpose in a home. I don’t buy the self defense argument and hunting can be done with other, less easy to use weapons, including other types of guns.

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