All gun owners dread the thought of a defensive situation that takes a wrong turn and culminates in a murder charge. But that’s not the only legal pitfall of irresponsible gun ownership. One very serious charge that is perhaps a lot more likely is some form of criminal negligence. While the charge is prefaced on likelihood and foreseeability of death/injury, those elements aren’t that hard to show when a firearm is involved. The Tennessee Supreme Court sums it up quite nicely here:
Tennessee courts have sustained convictions for criminally negligent homicide only where a “risk is of such a nature and degree that injury or death is likely and foreseeable.” State v. Gillon, 15 S.W.3d 492, 498 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1997) (emphasis added). For example, in State v. Goodwin, a jury found the defendant guilty of criminally negligent homicide where the defendant had left a cocked shotgun in the woods fifty feet behind a house in a crowded neighborhood. Two children found the gun; it accidentally discharged, killing one child and severely injuring the other. Concluding that the defendant had “exercised extremely poor judgment in his handling of an inherently dangerous weapon,” this Court affirmed the judgment. 143 S.W.3d at 779; see also State v. Clifton, 880 S.W.2d 737, 743 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1994) (defendant guilty of criminal negligence in firing a gun in the general direction of another person); State v. Butler, 880 S.W.2d 395, 396–97 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1994) (defendant guilty of criminal negligence in accidental shooting).
State v. Jones, 151 S.W.3d 494, 501-502 (Tenn. 2004). Keep in mind that those examples only show the criminal liability. That doesn’t include the part where you get sued. Moral of the story: Get some real, professional training; and be safe — be obsessively safe with your firearms. It’s fun to practice shooting, and of course you want to be a competent shot in case you ever need your weapon in defense of your life. But don’t limit your training to marksmanship. If a kid or any other unqualified person gets your gun and wreaks havoc, it won’t matter what a crack shot you are.