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Prosecuted for a Negligent Discharge

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NYPD officer Peter Liang, 28, was recently found guilty of manslaughter for the shooting of a man named Akai Gurley in November 2014. Officer Liang, described in most news reports as a rookie, was found guilty in connection with Gurley's death, which occurred in a dark public housing stairway. According to reports, Officer Liang had his weapon out and discharged a round when a sound startled him. That round struck a wall, ricocheted and struck Gurley, who was on a lower floor. He died shortly thereafter. The verdict was delivered after 2 days of deliberation by the jury.

Now, why is this significant? Well, for a number of reasons, but the one we'll address here is gun handling.

Whether you're a law enforcement officer, concealed carry permit holder or someone defending your home, you are responsible for your rounds. As my old Rangemaster used to say, “Make every round count, account for every round. If you throw an airball and hit Aunt Pootie over there walking her dog, it's on you. Doesn't matter why you dragged iron or pulled the trigger.”

It's easy to throw a gun in a holster and walk out the door with it. It's simple to argue on Facebook about appendix carry vs. strong side carry, IWB v OWB, high port v position SUL or whatever else you want to debate. It's not so easy to be truly adequately prepared for the eventualities that might come with going heeled. There are lots of people who haven't been to the range in months or years willing to talk tough and argue tactics.

Thing is though, the responsible half of the term armed, responsible citizen includes doing everything objectively reasonable to prepare yourself to carry a weapon. Training, obviously, is paramount. Negligent discharges (the term “accidental discharge” is a misnomer in the vast majority of situations) can and do happen, thankfully infrequently, even to well trained and highly competent individuals. The likelihood of an ND increases with a lack of good instruction, familiarity with a particular weapon system and/or stress inoculation. Ironically, it can also increase with the amount of time spent handling a weapon — much as those who spend their life behind the wheel might be more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Tragic as this shooting is (one man dead, one career ruined, 2 families bereaved), imagine how much worse it would be if this had been a concealed weapon permit holder (or for that matter an open carrier, if that's your flavor) who lobbed an airball and killed somebody? How would that play out in the court of public opinion, as fueled by anti-gun media and politicians? Tragic as this shooting is, understand also I'm not throwing stones.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Greg Ellifritz recently wrote a great article aimed at LEOs addressing this very case. He too addresses responsible armed civilians.

“If any of you non-cops are still reading, what do you think cases like this portend for the armed citizen?  You don’t get a pass.  If courts are willing to convict on duty police officers for accidental shootings, what do you think they’ll do to a person with a CCW permit?  Yes, expect more prosecutions if you screw up.

Look at it this way.  Police firearms training is certainly inadequate, but it is generally TEN TIMES longer than the average CCW class.  Most police academies dedicate somewhere between 60 and 80 hours to firearms training.  If cops with 80+ hours of training are screwing up, why do you think you will be fine with your four to eight hour CCW class?”

Read Greg's article in its entirety over on Active Response Training.

You can read more about Officer Liang's case here.

You carrying a gun? When's the last time you went to the range? What sort of professional instruction are you seeking to improve your mental acuity and weapon proficiency under stress?

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