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David Barton Claims That Gun Accidents Just Didn't Happen in the Founding Era -- Yeah, Right



"On Monday the 23rd of October last. Mr. Ira Sweet, being in the house of George Tuttle, of Winchester, who was he neighbor and intimate friend, took a musket in to his hand, which was in the room, and having sat down in a chair, laid the musket across his knees, he then opened the pan, as he says, and seeing no powder therein, imprudently cocked and snapped the piece, which discharged its contents (being loaded with common shot) through the neck and lower part of the head of a sprightly little boy, three years and five months old, the son of Mr. Tuttle, and who sat within a few feet of the muzzle -- An instant period was put to his life.

"On the recital of such shocking occurrences, it is the duty of all people to consider the consequences of the common heedless use of fire arms. View the scene which took place in the above case, and similar the too frequent cases of like nature -- There were several persons in the house; the mother in an adjoining room, hearing the tremendous roar of a gun in the midst of her family, succeeded by shrieks of those present, exclaimed, "somebody is killed, who is it?" She was answered in a frantic tone, "It is your son." She was met in a cloud of smoke by the agent, with the lifeless boy in his arms; his head hanging down with large streams of blood pouring therefrom. The parental agonies in such cases, will admit of no description or consolation.

"The actor of this tragic scene, tho as free as any man from any evil design, cannot acquit himself from gross imprudence, and must feel agonies, perhaps equally keen with parental, tho' of another kind, and which may not forsake him until his dying day. The relations, neighbors, and intimate connexions of the bereaved, must feel the most poignant grief, and the community at large must sympathize therein, and regret the loss on such occasions. And as fire arms, those instruments of death, are promiscuously in the hands of children, and men, of the imprudent, as well as the prudent, the intemperate as well as others; whoever, after such repeated warnings, presumes to use them in a heedless manner, so as to endanger or take the life of man, would do well to remember that they must be accountable to God the judge of all, and who will suitably punish such outrageous conduct."

Gun accidents among adults were, of course, also frequent. Many were hunting accidents, but a surprising number were the result of grown men doing incredibly stupid things like this:

From the Weekly Oracle, New London, Connecticut, April 29, 1797:

"Philadelphia, April 15.

"On Friday, the 7th inst. a sea-faring man, who had bought an old pistol at Gonaives, arrived at his lodgings near Almond-street, and seeing a man snapping a musket at different persons in a jocular way, bethought himself of his pistol, which, taking from his chest, he primed, and affixed to it a new flint -- when, melancholy to relate, after he had snapped at several persons, it went off, and took from society a worthy young man, about 19 years of age, of the name of David Harrington.

"It is to be hoped, this, with the many other instances of a like nature, may prevent the foolish custom of wantonly playing with those dangerous machines."

There were also numerous accidents on militia training days. A good number of these accidents happened during actual training, but many more happened before and after the actual training, and were caused by militiamen playing with their guns and showing off. A frequent cause of these training day accidents was the practice of a group of militiamen going to an officer's house to "give him a gun" or "give him a morning gun," which meant showing up early in the morning to "salute" the officer by waking him up with loud gunfire.