Gun Store Owner Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter

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Unlike the recent high-profile trials in Wisconsin and Georgia, the case involving a South Carolina gun store owner who shot and killed a friend and co-worker doesn’t center around any claims of self-defense. Instead, Jon Whitley, who owns Coastal Firearms in Charleston, South Carolina, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting inside the store earlier this month.

The owner of the store, Jon Whitley, told deputies that he mistook his Glock for a bb-gun and accidentally shot his friend and part-time employee.

A witness said that the men were talking normally when he heard a loud bang and then saw Mrgan fall to the ground. The witness ran to Mrgan, secured Mrgan’s weapon, and began first aid until EMS arrived, according to the report.

Mrgan died from a gunshot wound to the face, but Whitley wasn’t officially charged with any crime until Monday. As of earlier today, the gun store owner was being held on $15,000 bond on one charge of involuntary manslaughter, which is defined in South Carolina law as a fatal shooting involving criminal negligence or a “reckless disregard for the safety of others.” The gun store owner could be looking at a potential five-year prison sentence if he’s convicted, though I wouldn’t be surprised if prosecutors offer Whitley a plea bargain before trial.

We don’t know all of the facts in this case, including what led Whitley to believe he was holding a BB gun instead of a real Glock, but it sure seems like there was some reckless behavior on his part. I would argue that any employee of a gun store should presume that all the firearms inside are actual guns and not airsoft or BB gun lookalikes until they have confirmed otherwise, and that means that the cardinal rules of gun safety need to be followed at all times.

The number one rule of gun safety is to treat every gun as if it’s loaded. Based on Whitley’s first comments to police after Mrgan was shot, it sounds like Whitley didn’t even treat every gun as if it was a gun. Then there’s the whole pointing the muzzle in an unsafe direction (Mrgan’s face) and putting his finger on the trigger; two more violations of basic gun safety rules.

Frankly, even if Whitley was right that he was holding on to a BB gun, he might very well be facing charges of criminal negligence. Shooting someone in the face at close range with a BB gun may be less likely to result in a homicide, but there’s still going to be an injury. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Whitley was wrong about the gun he was holding in his hand, and a friend and colleague lost their life as a result.

The four rules of gun safety aren’t suggestions or guidelines, no matter how much experience you have with firearms. Ignore them and people can and will get hurt or even killed. Adhere to them and you won’t ever have to worry about facing charges of involuntary manslaughter or try to live with the heartache of inadvertently taking another person’s life. As this case painfully reminds us, complacency can lead to tragedy and a moment of forgetfulness or inattention can result in consequences that last a lifetime.