Junior high school math teacher Steve Coburn and his buddy Jeff Reiley, a counselor at the same middle school in Driggs, Idaho, were duck hunting. When they were done hunting they laid their 12-gauge shotguns on the floor between the seats of their extended cab pickup. The shotguns were loaded with safeties on, or so they thought. Coburn’s 6-year old yellow lab, Dexter, wasn’t feeling well and so Reiley lifted him up onto the back seat. Somehow the dog got down to the floor while Coburn was standing outside in front of the muzzle of one of the shotguns. BANG! Coburn took a round of bird shot in the stomach at point blank range. They figure the dog’s paw got in the trigger guard. The safety must not have been on, or it was a cross-bolt safety and the dog’s paw disengaged it as well as causing the trigger to engage.
This is the usual case where two (or three) different gun safety rules are violated at once resulting in disaster. Often, but not always, a violation of only one rule won’t produce a negligent discharge (no such thing as an “accidental” discharge since guns don’t fire unless someone, or someone’s dog, pulls the trigger).
The two rules violated here are putting a loaded long gun in a vehicle and failing to recognize that a safety is a mechanical device that, like all mechanical devices, can fail. Therefore, it must be considered little more than an extra measure of safety but not something to rely on exclusively. The rule of treating all guns as loaded also was violated here because one would not ordinarily stand in front of the muzzle of a loaded shotgun. That’s three violations and most of the time that’s plenty enough to make you have a bad day.
Fate’s alarm bells began to ring when the shotguns were placed in the vehicle without at least emptying the chambers of live rounds. Since they were done hunting the shotguns should have been completely unloaded. The unloading procedure would have been safer out in the woods than it was going to be back in town anyway.
Idaho apparently has no law against loaded long guns in vehicles, as most other states do. In Colorado, for instance, loaded means a round in the chamber. All hunters have to do when putting their long guns back in the truck is unload the chamber. When they exit the vehicle to hunt for game all they need do is run the bolt, lever or pump to be back in the game. I know why hunters don’t want to do that. It makes just the right sort of sound that will spook game, most of which can hear far better than us. Another reason to walk more and not hunt so close to the truck.
In all cases the long guns should be positioned so the muzzles aren’t covering anyone, man or dog, at anytime. That’s why police place their long guns in a between-the-seats rack with muzzle up (above head height), or in the trunk unloaded (supposedly).
Mr. Coburn got lucky. He’s in fair condition in the hospital.