The Tragic Death of Sahil Ahmed

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

The Tragic Death of Sahil Ahmed

by Ari Armstrong, April 21, 2003

As I have previously noted, gun owners need to help educate others about safe gun handling.

On April 18, 11-year-old Sahil Ahmed died after a 15-year-old shot him in the face. Ahmed was with a group of friends at a house in Centennial. Here's how Trent Seibert of the Denver Post described the event in an April 20 article: "About 8:30 p.m., the boys discovered a semiautomatic handgun in the room. The 15-year-old started showing off the gun, and, not realizing it was loaded, aimed the weapon at Sahil and pulled the trigger. The shooting was witnessed by two others, ages 18 and 19... At the time of the shooting, the 15-year-old's parents were downstairs in the living room. The gun was not locked away, [Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson] Robinson said."

While all unintentional shootings are tragic, what makes this case especially heart-breaking is that the boy had moved from India to America for treatment of his leukemia, and his health was just returning.

As of Seibert's writing, no plans were underway to pursue any criminal sanctions. But George Merritt of the Post added April 21, "Robinson... said officers and investigators would meet with the district attorney's office this week to determine whether there was criminal wrongdoing."

We don't know the details of the case. However, as I have pointed out, Colorado's laws against child abuse already provide sufficient means for dealing with irresponsible adults who endanger children. Civil suits are also an option. Nevertheless, some Democrats will likely propose unnecessary and intrusive legislation to score political points.

Both stories described the shooting as an "accident." I prefer to follow the National Safety Council and use the term "unintentional." Seibert did quote Robinson, "This kind of thing can be avoided." And Merritt writes of the "preventable accident." That's a good start.

Obviously this is a horrible tragedy for Ahmed and his family, as well as for the 15-year-old and his family. The older kid will have to live with this for the rest of his life.

At a certain point, though, we have to wonder: what possessed this teenager to grab a gun, point it at his friend's face, and pull the trigger? I mean, what the hell did he THINK was going to happen? He broke every single gun safety rule there is, as well as all constraints of common sense. And what were the two adults in the room doing during all of this?

I have to wonder about the infantilization and dumbing-down of our kids. The government schools, it seems, are not doing much to help children become critical, independent adults. Instead, some kids have no perspective and no sense of history. They seem to imagine we're living in a video game. (I've never been one to harp on video games, but I was recently horrified to see Grand Theft Auto. The goal of the game is to rip people out of their cars and evade the police. You can hire a prostitute to increase your "health," and then shoot her to get your money back! Demented, reprehensible stuff. Where are you, parents?)

What happened to our society of proud, free, independent-minded self-governors? No doubt many will use the tragedy as a pretext to try to further strip people of their independence and make them even more reliant on the state.

Both newspaper writers suggested the problem of unintentional shootings is a widespread one. Merritt wrote, "Ali [the boy's uncle] said the family moved to this country to save their child's life because of excellent medical care - only to lose him a violent way that has become all too common in the U.S." And Seibert claimed, "Accidental shootings are far too common, safety experts say."

Clearly, even a single unintentional death is "too common." But neither writer offers any context whatsoever. Seibert discusses two other recent, local cases: the shooting of a father in Lakewood, and the March 2002 shooting of a 3-year-old by his 7-year-old brother. But, while unintentional shootings are by definition "too common," they are not common relative to other dangers. Yet, because gun ownership is a politically charged topic, the few deaths involving a gun get enormously more media coverage than the much more prevalent deaths involving other items.

Over the past century, unintentional shooting deaths have declined dramatically. The National Vital Statistics Reports for the year 2000 offer additional context. In the United States, 2,403,351 people died that year from all causes (or on average about 6,580 every day). Most deaths involve health-related problems. Unintentional injuries come in a distant fifth place as a cause of death, with 97,900, or 4.1% of the total. (Homicide comes in fourteenth place with 16,765 deaths, or 0.7% of the total.)

Here's a breakdown of most of the 97,900 deaths caused by unintentional injury in 2000:

  • Transportation: 46,749
  • Falls: 13,322
  • Poisoning: 12,757
  • Drowning: 3,482
  • Fire-related: 3,377
  • Firearms: 776

Of the 776 unintentional shooting deaths in 2000, 86 of them involved children ages 0-14. Here's a breakdown of most of the 5,683 unintentional deaths of children ages 0-14:

  • Transportation: 2,787
  • Drowning: 943
  • Fire-related: 593
  • Poisoning: 91
  • Firearms: 86
  • Falls: 81

So the obvious question is, given unintentional shootings account for 1.5% of all unintentional deaths for children ages 0-14, why do these relatively infrequent tragedies get such disproportionate media coverage?

The death of Ahmed would have made news if he had died in some other way, because he had just battled back from a serious illness. Still, on the whole, deaths involving guns get radically more media coverage than the much more prevalent deaths involving cars, swimming pools, matches, etc. This skewed coverage leads to public misperception about life's dangers. Perhaps the Post's reporters would counter they are merely covering an already-politicized issue. But aren't they in turn encouraging this politicization and public misperception?

Yet in a sidebar the Post also offers incomplete advice that takes into account only the possible risks of guns, ignoring completely their benefits: "Common Sense about Kids and Guns, an advocacy group, has developed six safety tips to protect kids from gun deaths and injuries: * Unload and lock up guns. * Lock and store ammunition separately. * Keep keys and combinations where children can't find them. * Parents should ask how guns are stored at places their children visit or play. * Talk with children about guns. * Teach young children not to touch guns and to tell an adult if they find one."

Many of these tips are good common sense. But, given a child is about 11 times more likely to die by drowning, isn't it a lot more important to make sure your children play in areas with safe swimming pools? Yet I don't remember the Post offering a sidebar explaining safety tips for other dangerous items. Why is that?

At least the language has changed to asking about how guns are stored, not just whether a family owns guns. But the tips are not complete. What constitutes the safe storage of guns depends on the circumstances. If there are never any children around, there's no need to keep the guns in a locked container. And the Post failed to include this useful suggestion: "One way to keep your firearm away from children is to carry it concealed on your body. That way, you know it's never in the wrong hands."

The advice to "lock and store ammunition separately" is in many cases just flat-out stupid and may result in the loss of innocent life. That's because the Post totally ignores the usefulness of guns in defense against violent criminals. Obviously, if the gun and/or ammunition is inaccessible, the gun is useless for self-defense. Any account that looks only at the potential harms of a tool, and none of its benefits, is grossly irresponsible. Gary Kleck explains the usefulness of guns for self-defense in the book Armed. John Lott and others have looked at the harmful effects of passing legislation that renders guns less useful for self-defense.

Yes, the story of Sahil Ahmed is a tragic one. Here's another tragic story, as told by Vin Suprynowicz in The Ballad of Carl Drega:

Jessica Lynne Carpenter is 14 years old. She knows how to shoot; her father taught her. And there were adequate firearms to deal with the crisis that arose in the Carpenter home in Merced, Calif... when 27-year-old Jonathon David Bruce came calling on Wednesday morning, Aug. 23, 2000. There was just one problem. Under the new "safe storage" laws being enacted in California and elsewhere, parents can be held criminally liable unless they lock up their guns... Bruce, who was armed with a pitchfork... had apparently cut the phone lines. So when he forced his way into the house and began stabbing the younger children in their beds, Jessica's attempts to dial 911 didn't do much good. Next, the sensible girl ran for where the family guns were stored. But they were locked up tight...

Bruce killed two of Carpenter's siblings with the pitchfork.

Surely we ought not base all our decisions on the actions of a few irresponsible people. Most others, like Jessica Carpenter, are much more thoughtful and responsible. Obviously, all gun owners should handle their guns safely and help others to do so, just as owners of other objects should be safe. But we should keep things in perspective, and we should remember the huge benefits that come with responsible gun ownership.

The Colorado Freedom