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There are three cardinal rules of gun safety. One negligent Florida police officer outrageously violated all three at the same time and accidentally killed a woman.
Mary Knowlton arrived at the Punta Gorda, Fla., police station Tuesday night to learn how to be a community steward.
The 73-year-old was there as a student in the citizens police academy, a two-hour course intended to give an intimate look at what makes the department in the quaint Florida town work. On this night, the group of 35 would tour the station and talk with officers, an essential part of academy curriculum that has gained popularity across the country amid a heated national debate about police violence.
When it came time to get involved, Knowlton volunteered.
The hosting officers chose two students to role-play a lethal force simulation, a scenario intended to demonstrate how and when officers decide to pull the trigger. Knowlton played the victim, Charlotte Sun photographer Sue Paquin told the newspaper, and a Punta Gorda police officer played a “bad guy.” These scenarios are usually safe, acted out with either fake or empty weapons.
But when the officer’s gun was fired, Knowlton — a mother, wife and career librarian — was hit with a live round.
She was rushed to a local hospital and was pronounced dead.
Her husband of 55 years witnessed the shooting and is “devastated,” her son, Steve Knowlton, told the Associated Press. …
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Lewis shared few details about how the tragedy unfolded but said his department was unaware that live ammunition “was available to the officer” during the class.
Lewis has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent investigation which, the chief said, will determine how the ammunition ended up in the handgun without anyone noticing.
That same weapon has been used in previous simulation classes, which the department holds annually, Lewis said.
This is precisely the reason these rules were developed as best practices and must be followed universally. In no particular order:
- Always check the chamber when you pick up a gun to make sure it is unloaded. Even when you’re sure it is unloaded, take all precautions as if it were loaded. Someday you will be wrong.
- Always point a gun in a safe direction, never at a person, even if you’re sure it’s unloaded. Someday you will be wrong.
- Never touch the trigger until you are pointing at the target you intend to shoot. Never pull the trigger idly just because you’re sure it’s unloaded. Someday you will be wrong.
No exceptions for training, make-believe, or “just this once.”
There are several photos and videos available at the Facebook page of local reporter Corey Lazar, including one which purports to show the officer who fired. It’s not clear who or what he’s pointing at, but it looks like his finger is curled right around the trigger of a loaded gun.
I can’t imagine why a real gun was required for this exercise. Surely they’ll modify that practice now.