Accidental Shootings, Comedy or Tragedy?

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A Brief History

On February 11, 2006, the sitting Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, accidentally shot his hunting buddy, Harry Whittington, while on a managed Quail hunt.  Although the birdshot loaded in Cheney’s shotgun is not particularly lethal to humans except at extremely close range, Whittington was grievously wounded when one of the tiny lead pellets went all the way to his heart, nearly killing him.  This shocking incident is but one of many accidental shootings that have happened over the years, sometimes embarrassing and sometimes deadly.  Today we look at a few of the accidental shootings you may or may not have heard of.  (We are purposely avoiding tales of children being shot.)

Digging Deeper

Vice President Shoots Lawyer, 2006.

As stated above, Vice President Dick Cheney was on a game farm Quail hunt when he used poor judgement and fired a shot at a low flying Quail between himself and Harry Whittington, a 78 year old attorney.  The pellet that hit or penetrated Whittington’s heart (yes, even lawyers have hearts!) caused Whittington to have a heart attack and go into atrial fibrillation, nearly killing the old man.  In the manner typical of government lying, misleading and failure to report, the incident was not made public until February 12, 2006, and Cheney did not address the public about it until February 15.  When Dick Cheney finally told his story, he claimed Whittington suffered only a “minor” injury (Baloney!) and that the 2 men were close friends.  Whittington later said he was an acquaintance of Cheney’s, and not “close friends.”  Also, some discrepancy about what day the shooting took place with the owner of the 50,000 acre Texas hunting ranch claiming the incident took place on February 12.  The time of the shooting is also somewhat unclear, with the local Sheriff not notified until late afternoon, presumably long after the shooting, though the Secret Service reported notifying the local gendarmes an hour after the incident.  The ranch owner said the hunting party “was not drinking,” but also said they were drinking beer at lunch time!  Normally, it is illegal to hunt under the influence of alcohol or for that matter to handle firearms.  Cheney claimed to have had “1 beer” 4 or 5 hours prior to the shooting, but of course, we do not know because no blood alcohol test was administered as would have been the case if you or I shot someone!  Recreations of the shooting imply that the range at which Whittington was shot was closer than the 30 yards reported by Cheney.  Comedians and news reporters had a field day making fun of Cheney and denouncing his inconsistent accounts, and Cheney’s already abysmal popularity rating of 23% dropped to 18% with 2 weeks of the incident.  Speculation that authorities were not promptly notified in order to allow Cheney to metabolize some of the alcohol in his system were rampant.  Cultural references, mostly comedic, are still popping up.  Cheney has also been criticized for other bird hunts that amounted to mass slaughters, not the sporting hunting of wild game.  Dick Cheney, an infamous grinch, has never apologized to Whittington for shooting the old man with 200 lead pellets in the face, neck, arm, chest and other body parts.

SSGT Barry Sadler, Green Beret and singer, accidentally shoots himself, 1988.

Sadler was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War as an elite Green Beret and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received.  He became famous for his rendition of the 1965 song, “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” one of the truly inspiring military songs of all time.  In 1978, Sadler killed a rival for the heart of a woman, for which he was sentenced to 4 to 5 years in prison.  His sentenced was reduced to merely 30 days.  In 1984 he moved to Guatemala where he wrote books, taught self-defense and rendered medical assistance to the local poor. In 1988 he suffered a serious gunshot wound to the head while sitting in a taxi-cab.  The shooting was ruled that Sadler accidentally shot himself, although friends and family are highly skeptical of that determination.  Sadler suffered extreme brain damage and was a quadriplegic after the incident.  He was moved to a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Cleveland, Ohio and then to a VA facility in Tennessee where he died in 1989, never having made any sort of meaningful recovery from the gunshot.  Sadly, his friends and family had feuded about the guardianship and care of Sadler after his wounding and before his death.  He was only 49 years old.  Accidents do happen, even to those highly trained and proficient with firearms, but the Barry Sadler case reeks of some sort of coverup.

Off Duty FBI Agent drops pistol while dancing, shoots bar patron, 2018.

An off duty FBI Agent was engaging in particularly energetic and acrobatic dance moves at a Denver club, when his pistol fell out of his waistband.  When the agent grabbed the pistol, the hand gun fired, striking another bar goer in the leg.  While the widely shared video of the incident shows the agent busting moves that would ordinarily make him proud, the video also shows the accidental shooting.  Special Agent Chase Bishop, age 29, was charged with Second degree Assault.  Bishop lost his job and pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

“Trigger” the Dog shoots owner, 2015.

While out hunting in Indiana, 25 year old Allie Carter put her shotgun down and her dog, ominously named “Trigger,” stepped on the shotgun and fired the big gun, shooting his own owner.  Far from an isolated incident, it seems canines are getting revenge all across the country against owners that fail to provide adequate treats or other perceived slights.  In 2018 a 74 year old El Paso, Texas hunter was shot by his dog, and they had not even yet left the car!  In Oklahoma in 2019, another inside the car shooting left a 44 year old woman shot when a puppy bouncing around the car managed to step on a .22 caliber pistol, sending a round into the unlucky lady.  In 2018 an Iowa man was playing with his Pitbull when the frisky dog jumped on the man’s lap, accidentally firing the pistol the guy had in his waistband.  The 51 year old victim probably considered himself lucky he was only shot in the leg.  In 2015, the Washington Post ran an article detailing at least 6 incidents where a dog had shot a human over the preceding 5 years.  Apparently, guns don’t shoot people, DOGS shoot people!  Maybe Michael Bloomberg should look into requiring dogs be trained and licensed to use a firearm.  Just sayin’…

Botched Assassination kills wrong guy, 1933.

Italian American Giuseppe Zangara attempted to kill Franklin Roosevelt, the President-elect of the United States, in Miami, Florida where Roosevelt was giving a speech from an open car.  The 5 foot tall assassin had a hard time seeing over other spectators, causing him to stand on a wobbly chair, affecting his aim, and the 5 shots he fired his people other than his intended target.  One of the people accidentally shot was Chicago Mayor, Anton Cermak, who died of his wounds.  Zangara later said at his trial, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.”  When given an 80 year prison sentence, he also told the judge, “Four times 20 is 80. Oh, judge, don’t be stingy. Give me a hundred years.”  He died in jail 19 days later.

Armed robber shoots himself in penis, 2017.

Every so often, you can find a story in the news of some unlucky or clumsy individual that accidentally shoots himself with a handgun tucked into his pants, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.  In our featured such incident, a 19 year old Chicago thug was attempting to rob a hot dog stand (strangely Karmic, eh?) when he accidentally shot himself in the penis.  The “tragic” accident happened when the robber shoved his pistol into his waistband at the front of his trousers in order to gather up the money that had fallen to the ground.  Terrion Pouncy was undoubtedly in for a rough time when he got out of the hospital and went to jail!

DEA Agent shoots himself when teach elementary school students “gun safety,” 2015.

Ouch!  Not only did Agent Lee Paige shoot himself in the leg in front of a classroom full of kids, he lost a lawsuit against the DEA in an effort to keep the video from being released to the public.  (Double Whammy!)  Immediately prior to shooting himself, the agent uttered the memorable line, “I’m the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to carry this Glock 40.”  Wrong!

We choose to stop here, but you can click on our links or surf the net to find story after story of accidental shootings, some funny and some tragic.  If you handle firearms, by all means study the owner’s manual and practice proper gun safety practices.

Question for students (and subscribers): Can you tell us of any interesting accidental shooting stories?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Pedchenko, Vitaly. Gun Safety Guide.  Smashwords, 2013.

Sapp, Rick. The NRA Step-by-Step Guide to Gun Safety: How to Care For, Use, and Store Your Firearms. Skyhorse, 2016.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by Tony Webster at https://www.flickr.com/photos/87296837@N00/866388759. It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.