Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Melancholy Accident

Lately, there's been a lot in the news about gun control. There was a murder of several people by a disturbed person, and though some were killed by means of knives or vehicles, others were killed by means of  guns. I actually have not read any of the accounts of this event, so if I have the facts wrong, then forgive me. I am not naming names, pointing fingers or asking for anything to be done about it. As far as I am concerned it is a tragedy -- or as people in 19th century might have said, a melancholy event.

 I have  noticed people talking about the issue on social media. One person, seemingly on the side of the right to bear arms, started out by saying that she had had guns in the house when her children were growing up, but they never had access to them, and there were no incidents, and it's irresponsible people who are causing all the problems, so she is in favor of gun registration, licensing and mandatory insurance for gun owners.

What would Jean Laffite say? I don't know, but I do know that among the many other clippings in his Scrapbook was this item about a "Melancholy Accident."

"Recently a boy about 11 years of age, and a girl 7 years old, children of Mr. Henry Tryon, of Glartenbury, Conn., returned home from school.  The boy, seeing a gun standing in the corner, took it up and pointed it at his little sister. She exclaimed 'don't shoot me,' and started to run up stairs. The gun was discharged, and the contents entered her side, killing her instantly."

It is a shocking story. But what is more curious, from the point of view of today's newspapers, is the factual way the story is told, without judging the children or the parents involved, without suggesting a remedy, without saying that we should make sure that nothing like this should ever happen again by passing a law, without charging the father with negligence for leaving the gun loaded where the boy could get at it, and without taking the surviving child out of the custody of his parents. The title says it all: it was sad that it happened, but it was just a freak accident.

Here are some of the reasons people's attitude was different then:

  • Children were seen as assets of their parents. The loss of a child was a loss to the parent. As such, when a child died, people felt sympathy toward bereaved parents. They did not blame them.
  • Children were not seen as community assets, so neighbors did not feel that they were aggrieved by the loss of another person's child.
  • Illness in the family was the financial burden of the family, so people did not feel a negligent parent threatened their financial well being.
  • People did not want others judging them for misfortune that befell them, so they did not judge others.
  • Children died frequently back then, and nobody thought it was society's place to try to make sure that no child should ever die.
  • The idea that insurance could somehow solve all of our problems had not yet become a common trope. Nobody thought that if Mr. Henry Tryon had only had insurance, his son would not have killed his daughter. 
It's not that there was less gun violence back then, or fewer accidents or less carelessness. And it's not that life was valued less. It's that freedom was valued more. Murderers were executed, but melancholy accidents were accepted as a natural part of life.


  1. I find your perspective on this interesting. I think we really cannot control the world, as much as we all would like to try.

    1. I agree. We can't control everything. All we can do is try our best to avoid accidents. But they will occasionally happen.