HANCOCK COUNTY — Two Hancock County residents in as many weeks have landed in local hospitals with injuries after guns they were cleaning accidentally fired.
Law enforcement officials said these type of accidents don’t happen often in the county, so to have two in a short period of time is unusual. But even the simplest mistakes can have a tragic end, officers say: headlines from across the country tell stories of deaths caused by guns that accidentally discharged. And with more Hancock County residents seeking firearms licenses than ever before — one in every five adults is currently licensed, Indiana State Police records show — that risk has the potential to increase, police say.
Last weekend, a Greenfield man was cleaning a handgun when its slide jammed and fired, police said. About a week earlier, a Spring Lake resident was talking with a younger relative about firearms when his gun went off. He thought the gun’s chamber had been emptied when he picked it up to clean it and the device accidentally fired, police said.
Both men wound up with injuries to their hands, which Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Rasche said is typical for such an incident; many people accidentally shoot themselves in the foot or arm, he said.
Whenever someone suffers a gunshot wound, police are called to investigate, even if the person says it was an accident, Greenfield Police Department Lt. Randy Ratliff said.
When detectives come to scene of an accidental shooting or meet victims and witnesses at the hospital, they ask questions about what happened, examine the person’s injuries and make sure all stories match up, Ratliff said — just like any other investigation.
The person who pulled the trigger could face criminal charges depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident, Ratliff said; and those possibilities increase if someone other the person holding the gun in injured.
Rasche said the victims in the accidental shootings he’s handled are usually experienced gun owners who make a mistake; but he admits an apparent increase in first-time gun owners in the county leaves a lingering concern these accidents could increase.
Indiana State Police statics show 9,614 Hancock County residents had active handgun license in 2014; that number jumped to 10,715 in 2015. The license allows a resident to carry a handgun with them in public places.
New gun owners aren’t required to take firearm safety classes before buying or receiving their license, although police officers recommend such courses, they say.
Whether the gun owner is newly licensed or has handled a weapon for years, when it comes to gun safety, it’s best to stick with the basics, Rasche said.
Police officers are taught to always treat their firearm as if it were loaded; keep their finger off the trigger unless they are ready to shoot; and point the firearm in a safe direction.
Rasche said he recommends any gun owner follow those same guidelines.
“When people cut corners, that’s when accidents happen,” he said. “That’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Tips for safe gun handling:
1. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
2. Leave firearms unloaded when not in use.
3. Don’t rely on a gun’s “safety” mechanism. Operate as though the gun is always able to fire.
4. Be sure of your target, as well as what is beyond it.
5. Use the correct ammunition.
6. If the gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, proceed with caution.
7. Wear eye and ear protection when shooting.
8. Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.
9. Never modify a gun by hand, and have your firearm serviced regularly.
10. Learn the mechanical characteristics for the firearm you use.
Source: National Shooting Sports Foundation