I know we have all discussed this too many times, but I am really tired of this serious mistake. Today we have yet another example of a headline that reinforces the serious gun problem we have in this country. TPM just posted a story regarding a young pregnant woman who was killed by a gun shot to the head. The headline is Pregnant Woman Dies in Accidental Shooting. You may see the piece here:
No, no she did not die from an accidental shot to her head. She died, like hundreds of thousands before her from a grossly negligent act by a person in possession of a gun, period.
Criminal negligence is generally defined as an act that with respect to circumstances surrounding their conduct or the result of the conduct when they ought to be aware of a substantial risk exists and the failure to perceive the risk constitutes a gross deviation from the care an ordinary person would exercise.
So when you leave a loaded gun near a 3 year old you are criminally negligent. When you are such an asshole that you are showing someone your loaded. 22 (why? Are you proud of a .22?) You are criminally negligent.
These people should never be legally able to touch a gun again and the way to do that is charge them and convict them of a felony. Those decisions are not up to us and so we must rely on local law enforcement.
What we can do is every time we see a shooting and the word accident we can complain. Complain to your local editor, TV station manager and the editors of online sites. The only way to change this behavior is to change the perception that these are accidents. Take a page from MADD, they changed the perception of what was acceptable.
I am sorry TPM but you need to correct your head line, this was not an accident.
Mr. Marshall at TPM actually responded which shows that good editors look at what they are doing. I must say that my original note to him was somewhat curt and did not state a cogent argument, just a complaint.
Mr. Marshall reponded by saying "I genuinely don't mean any disrespect here. But I think you're either not respecting the definition of the word or allowing your moral outrage, which I share, to allow you to distort the language. An "accident" is an unfortunate event that happens unintentionally. It's a word that turns on intent. As far as we understand the facts of this case (that could change of course), the shooter had no intention of shooting the women. In other words, it was accidental. Reckless, negligence, possibly criminally culpable, sure. But yes, it is an accidental shooting, assuming the facts are as reported.
Your take on this seems to be rooted in the idea that calling it an 'accident' means is a blameless event, something that happened totally unpredictably and for which no one is responsible. But it simply doesn't mean that. 'Accident' simply turns on intention."
I then responded to Mr. Marshall,
"I do not mean to be argumentative but under Texas law (which obviously may not be the same in other stated) the distinction in determining if a homicide is criminal is not whether "the act is intentional or unintentional, but whether the act is voluntary or involuntary. A person may act unintentionally and still commit a criminal offense, provided he acts with knowledge, recklessness or negligence." See Womble v. State, 618 SW2nd 59.
A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual. 19.01 Texas Penal Code.
To me accident is a concept of civil law not criminal law. Your car wreck is an accident that has civil ramifications, but if thevdriver of the car was intoxicated then we are in the realm of criminal law. When you display a loaded revolver and discharge that gun to me that is an act with such risk that the "failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise ".
In Texas deadly conduct includes a presumption under the law if you "knowingly pointed a firearm at or in the direction of another whether or not the actor believed the firearm to be loaded ". 22.05 Texas Pen Code.
Thank you for reading my email. I would love you reviewing your headlines in these kind of cases because I really believe it would help change perceptions."
I have updated this to show that we really need to open the debate. I believe that these types of conversations can change minds. When you spill a glass of milk that is an accident. When you handle a test tube full of a deadly pathogen the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise has changed because they don't want to infect themselves or others. A gun is no different.
Mr. Marshall has now addressed our exchange with anpiece regarding clarity of language which may be found here
He argues that language must be clear and basically not used to change behavior by the distortion of the words.
I basically agree however I would suggest that once a young woman is dead we have then entered the area of the law where words have very specific meaning. Our everyday use of words such as negligence and accident are defined with particularity through statute and judicial decisions.
A revolver discharging only occurs through a voluntary act (cocking & pulling the trigger) and under Texas law it doesn't matter whether the act was intentional or not it is criminal. A jury may determine that the act wasn't a deviation from the standard of care an ordinary person would have exercised.
As to editors it is time to quit using terms that absolve the actor from criminal responsibility. The perfect title "Pregnant Woman Killed by Shot to the Head". Let law enforcement decide whether itbis a civil "accident" or criminal violation.