Thursday, March 24, 2016

Negligence and Responsibility

I came across a post today on social media about a man who's dog had been attacked by two Pit Bulls.  You can read the article for yourself here.  The man's Cocker Spaniel had been drug under a gate and was being mauled by the two larger dogs.  He initially yelled and ran towards the dogs which had no effect.  He then retrieved his .22 caliber rifle and fired multiple shots in the air to scare the Pit Bulls away.

It's worthy of note that the dogs didn't leave until his neighbor came outside and he fired the second series of shots in the air.  Mr Jefferson was soon after visited by and subsequently arrested by the local police.  He was later charged with Reckless Endangerment.  Why?  Firing shots in the air.  Had he shot the dogs he most likely wouldn't have been arrested.  Let's take a look at Cooper's Four Rules Of Safe Gun Handling and review how they apply to this situation.   



It's unknown from the information provided by the article what state Mr. Jefferson's rifle was in before he retrieved it from his storage location.  For the sake of argument and what appears to be a relatively short period of time we're going to assume that the rifle was loaded and he was aware of it's status.  So far, so good.



Now we're getting into what could be construed as a grey area.  I disagree with that assessment.  As we go through the next few steps in the process I'll explain.  Mr. Jefferson pointed his rifle in the air, or had it in a muzzle up condition.  On one hand he wasn't pointing it at anyone or anything so it's safe, right?  Wrong.  We're all familiar with gravity.  Without delving into the physics let's keep it simple, "What goes up must come down."  The $64,000 question is, where?  Muzzle safety is pretty cut and dried.  If you're not actively in the process of shooting at a target that you're willing to destroy then the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction.  Regardless of the time honored tradition of pointing the muzzle up, that's not safe, it's more along the lines of plausible deniability.



Sights were not used at all in this case.  Mr. Jefferson hadn't the foggiest notion of where his bullets were going on the way out of the muzzle nor where or what they would impact on their way back down.



Finally, Mr. Jefferson had absolutely no idea of what his target was as he had no sight picture.

At face value this seems to be a hit piece about Mr. Jefferson and his irresponsible gun handling.  In fact nothing could be further than the truth.  I chose this situation because it hits home on several personal levels.  First of all I have had Negligent Discharges.  Yes.  Multiple instances although the particular situations were spread apart by twenty five or so years.  In the first I was a kid and lucky no one was hurt and no property was damaged.  The second would have been, as my good friend Claude writes about regularly, a Negative Outcome, had I not adhered to at least a few of the Four Rules.

Secondly, I have dogs.  I fully understand the emotional attachment and bond between humans and dogs.

Finally, I am personally aware of an instance that happened locally in which a similar scenario resulted in the attacking dog being shot and killed, legally.
What could Mr. Jefferson have done that would have resulted in a more positive outcome?

“It’s apparently illegal in Philadelphia to discharge a firearm in the air regardless of the situation which I was unaware of at the time,” Jefferson said.

Know your local and state laws.  Ignorance is no excuse.

Jefferson told NBC10 he thought he did the right thing by sending warning shots instead of shooting and possibly killing the pit bulls.

Again, know your laws.  What seems like The Right Thing may in fact get you in more trouble.

“I honestly had no idea that what I did was illegal and my only objective was to save my dog's life without harming my neighbor's dogs in the process which I actually accomplished,” Jefferson said. “When the detectives came they told me that I should've gunned down the two pit bulls to save my dog and I wouldn't have been arrested but that would've been animal cruelty in my opinion."
The litany of "I didn't know" continues.  The fact that this turns up three times in the same article should be a clue.  Mr. Jefferson's only defense is he was trying to do the right thing and he didn't know.

In my estimation, Mr. Jefferson suffered from situation overload.  First his dog is attacked, then after yelling and screaming had no affect on the Pit Bulls he retrieved his firearm.  Here's where things started to go really wrong.  Dogs are incredibly focused when attacking what they consider an intruder or prey, especially when they are in a pack environment.  They didn't perceive Mr. Jefferson as a threat when he yelled at them and when the gun shots didn't produce an immediate recognizable threat to them, they continued their attack.  It appears to me that he suffered from the common misconception that a firearm is a magic wand that one can wave around and produce results.

Mr. Jefferson was also worried about possible fallout from shooting the offending dogs.  I could belabor the point about knowing your laws but instead I'd like to pursue a different line of thought.

" only objective was to save my dog's life without harming my neighbor's dogs in the process..."

The above statement defines the biggest mistake with Mr. Jefferson's thought process.  He wanted to make the attack stop without hurting the other dogs and quite likely without upsetting his neighbors.  Folks, I can't repeat this enough, outside of responsible target shooting, using a firearm is a life altering event.  If his only objective was to save his dog's life, then the lives of the two attacking dogs should have been forfeit.  Future relations with the neighbor should not have been a consideration until afterwards.  Using a firearm in a defensive situation means we have to be prepared to kill something or someone.  Period. Dot.

We all react differently under stress.  Again, I don't condemn Mr. Jefferson for his actions, I'm merely using them to illustrate a couple of points that is all to often overlooked.  Guns aren't magic wands.  Using one defensively requires hard choices that probably will have negative results later on, which means that we have to be prepared to deal with the negatives and make sure the reason we're using a firearm defensively is worth the eventual problems that will come along later.  

Be prepared.
Get training.
Shoot some matches and learn to use a firearm under a little bit of stress.
Have some broad choices mapped out beforehand.

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