News & Politics

13 of the Most Tragic and Horrifying Gun Accidents in 2014

Why are so many Americans gun crazy?

The NRA’s unofficial motto -- the one about how "guns don't kill people” -- is an argument so unconvincing that it pretty much demands mockery. (As comedian Eddie Izzard once put it in an old joke, “But I think the gun helps, you know?”) What’s more, those most prone to repeating it -- gun nuts, lobbyists, and the NRA itself -- rarely have much else to add to the national conversation when people, inevitably holding guns, shoot other people, killing them dead.

This rhetorically disingenuous mantra -- which pretends responsible gun ownership is the answer to every problem -- is belied just by looking at the number of gun accidents in the U.S. each year. From the ridiculous to the heartbreaking and tragic, what all of these incidents have in common is that they are -- or rather, were -- wholly preventable.

Here’s a look back at 13 of the most tragic and horrifying gun accidents of 2014.

1) Woman Preparing to Shoot Ferguson Protesters Accidentally Shoots Self

The irony of Becca Campbell’s death is surpassed only by its tragedy. While the passenger in a car being driven by her boyfriend in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, Campbell “jokingly” waved a gun around while reportedly exclaiming, “We’re ready for Ferguson!” Her boyfriend ducked, which seems like a perfectly normal response to having a loaded gun pointed at him, leading to an accident. The impact of the collision caused the gun to fire, hitting Campbell in the head and killing her. The boyfriend later told police the two had purchased the weapon days before the Ferguson grand jury verdict, in anticipation of some imaginary, life-threatening “civil unrest.”

2) 3-Year-Old Accidentally Shoots and Kills Mother

In the days just before Thanksgiving this year, Christa Engles was accidentally killed by her 3-year-old son, who’d found the semiautomatic weapon he used hidden “under a couch” in the family’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, home. The 26-year-old mother was in the middle of changing the diaper of her 1-year-old daughter at the time she was shot. According to a neighbor, Engles’ own mother returned home and “found the two children covered in blood.” Engles was an Army veteran whose husband, a truck driver, was on the road at the time. Police said en route to be interviewed, the confused toddler kept repeating two words: “Mommy shot.”

3) Florida Man Threatening to Shoot Wife’s Dog Accidentally Shoots Self in Face Instead

A man in Florida, having just threatened to shoot his wife’s dog, accidentally shot himself in the face, killing himself in the process. Police report that Dennis Eugene Emery was having a fight with his wife, the owner of 13 dogs, over the animals’ barking. He pointed a gun at one of the dogs, going so far as to cock the weapon to prove he would actually shoot. Later, Emery—who for some reason, was holding the barrel toward his face—was trying to put the hammer back in place when the weapon fired. The 57-year-old was dead by the time authorities arrived on the scene.

Emery had criminal run-ins with local police a staggering 34 times since just 2012. In October alone, he’d been arrested three times in six days. When he died, he was facing charges ranging from aggravated assault to resisting arrest. (None of these charges landed him in jail or the cemetery, making him a potential posthumous contributor to #CrimingWhileWhite.)

4) Man Shoots Self in Penis

While sitting in his car at a gas station in Macon, Georgia, a man attempting to put his gun in its holster instead shot himself. In the penis.

Weirdly, instead of calling the police or an ambulance, the unidentified man drove to a friend’s house, where he removed his clothes to find that the bullet had “exited out of his buttocks," an epiphany he probably came to as “[t]he spent round fell onto the floor.” It’s likely he was also disappointed to later learn he’d miss out on the only upside of shooting yourself in the penis, which is having a one-of-a-kind story to tell for the rest of your life. As it turns out, he’s just one of six guys who’ve shot themselves in the penis over the last five years alone.

5) Gun Seller Dad’s 3-Year-Old Shot By 4-Year-Old Neighbor

Michael Holzworth is a father, weapons enthusiast and online gun seller whose 3-year-old was accidentally shot, using one of Holzworth’s guns, by a 4-year-old neighbor. The Lake Stevens father was babysitting his son in late November when he heard a loud “boom” from another room. When he finally got through the locked door to the room the children were in, he initially thought the door itself had injured the boy. Doctors at the hospital later informed Holzworth his son had been shot in the mouth. Holzworth’s estranged wife, who filed for an order of protection months prior to the incident, accused her husband of having “a habit of leaving his Ruger 380 with his 12-year-old daughter. He will leave her in the car with it for protection while he goes into the store.”

News footage of Holzworth’s condominium, where the shooting took place, shows a metal sign on the door that reads, "We don't dial 9-1-1” above a metal cutout of a pistol.  

6) Idaho State University Professor Shoots Self in Foot During Class

Presumably operating under the absurd idea that the best way to stop school shootings is to arm every teacher and faculty member to the teeth, the Idaho State Legislature passed a law in July allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons on college campuses across the state. Just two months later, an unnamed chemistry professor at Idaho State University shot himself in the foot, right in the middle of class, with his legally concealed gun. The professor had been toting the pistol around in his pocket when the gun apparently went off. Speaking to press, Idaho State University president Arthur Vailas took the opportunity to say out loud what we are all thinking, remarking, “When they passed this law, it was bound to happen.”

7) Florida Man Shoots Self in Butt

A man from Hollywood, Florida, accidentally shot himself in the butt, which didn’t cause any life-threatening injuries but was probably not the ideal thing to have to explain to police and emergency care workers. According to a local paper, the man—identified only as a twentysomething —was in the middle of cleaning his .38 caliber weapon when the accident occurred. The man (let’s call him “Butter Fingers”) apparently dropped the gun, which discharged a round when it hit the floor, striking him in his buttocks. He then reportedly “banged on” the door of a neighbor, who called local cops for help.

8) Georgia Waffle House Cook Shoots and Kills Customer Who Won’t Leave

After a verbal altercation with two “unruly” customers came to head with a glass of water being tossed in his face, Waffle House cook Quintavius Martin decided to respond by shooting one of them. According to witnesses, Martin had been arguing with the two men for some time when they began to physically threaten him, and the cook repeatedly told them they needed to leave. The water, apparently, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Martin. In response, the Georgia man grabbed his gun and fired on 33-year-old Adrian Mosley, who died at the scene. Incredibly, the case was the second fatal shooting to take place at an Atlanta-area Waffle House in a two-week span.

Just one month prior to the shooting, the Georgia Legislature passed HB 60, more commonly known as the “guns everywhere” law, which permits gun owners to carry weapons into bars, churches and government buildings.

10) Jose Canseco Accidentally Blows His Left Finger Off

Jose Canseco: Former Major League Baseball star; steroids whistleblower; guy who once shot his own finger off. Earlier this year, Canseco accidentally shot himself in the left hand while attempting to clean a gun at his Las Vegas home. Girlfriend Leila Knight described the (presumably very bloody) scene, saying, “I heard the gun go off and saw his middle finger hanging by a string.” Doctors reattached the digit, and mid-recovery, Canseco gave a teary interview to “Inside Edition” in which he described himself as “kind of traumatized by [the incident].” Later, he tweeted that the finger had fallen off during a poker game, and that he was considering auctioning it off to the highest bidder on eBay, neither of which was true. Canseco’s finger is, at least for now, successfully back on his left hand, though reports state he’ll never regain full use of his hand.

11) Man Accidentally Shoots Self In Hand, Killing Dog in Process

Police in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula received a call from a man who had accidentally shot himself in the hand. He was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for his injuries, none of which were life-threatening. Unfortunately, what at first appears to be the supremely lucky story of a not-so-responsible gun owner did cause one casualty: the man’s poor dog, who was shot and killed by the bullet after it exited the man’s hand.  

12) 9-Year-Old Girl Accidentally Shoots and Kills Her Gun Instructor

Charles Vacca, an instructor at Arizona Last Stop gun range (aka “Bullets and Burgers”), was in the process of teaching a 9-year-old student how to fire an Uzi when the terrible accident occurred that took his life. Footage from moments before the incident shows Vacca handing the gun to the girl and positioning her to begin firing. In the seconds just after the video ends, the girl pulled the trigger but “due to the recoil, the weapon went straight up in the air.” A police report would later quote the girl as saying the submachine gun “was too much for her” to handle. Vacca’s children ultimately issued a heart-wrenching video statement to the girl wishing her peace.

There is no age minimum for firing a weapon under Arizona state law.

13) Iowa Cop Accidentally Shoots Self and Another Officer

In early November, an Iowa City officer in the middle of cleaning his weapon (which seems to be a popular time for guns to go off) accidentally shot both himself and another officer. According to an Intellihub article about the accident brilliantly titled “Oops, My Bad,” Police Chief Sam Hargadine refused to name the officers involved, but did indicate that “both will make 100 percent recoveries.” The incident is, like all incidents of this sort, “under investigation.”

Honorable Mention: Man Leaves Gun with 11-Year-Old Daughter While He Gets a Tattoo

Father of the Year John Ruiz faced the issue we all face when heading out to do some mundane task: What to do with our guns? Luckily, the resourceful father was struck with the idea of leaving his .22 caliber weapon with his 11-year-old daughter, which provided the unexpected benefit of giving her a way to “protect herself while he was away.” Ruiz’s daughter took the gun to a local swimming pool where it was spotted by a neighbor who alerted the police. For Ruiz, who was getting a new tattoo at the time, this wasn’t a rare example of perfect parenting. According to Albuqurque NBC affiliate KOB-4, the father regularly leaves the gun with the girl “when he goes to school or runs errands, for protection in case someone breaks in or something.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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