THE TRAPSHOOTING INCIDENT
A True Story

Okay, I'll admit it. I am a victim of gun violence, having received a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1995. Here's my story...

Part I: Desperation

In order to graduate from Colgate University, you must complete four half-semester physical education courses. I picked up my first credit in my first year by taking a wonderful yoga and stress management course. In my junior year, I notched my second credit by taking American Red Cross CPR and Standard First Aid. I also made numerous attempts to sign up for bowling, but the class was always either completely full or empty save me. I reached my senior fall with only these two credits, and realized that I needed to remedy the situation somehow. On the recommendation of Eric Spaulding, my roommate Rick Bell and I signed up for trapshooting.

Part II: Big Fun

I loved trapshooting. You try to hit a tiny, bright-orange clay target moving at 60 MPH with a 12-gauge shotgun. Although I had no previous shooting experience, I was able to use my yoga techniques to calm down and plink clays with reasonable consistancy. I was a guntotin' Zen master. The salad days continued for a few weeks, until "the incident."

Part III: Ow!

On the night of September 26th, I was positioned at station 3, which is at the center of the firing line. Rick was at station 1, two to the left of me. After three completely normal rounds, I called for the fourth bird with the customary "pull!" I pulled the trigger, noted with annoyance that the bird was intact, and pulled the gun down from my shoulder. I had notice a funny shock coming off of the gun, but I figured it was just a funny vibration that had travelled through the stock.

That was not the case. The gun had exploded where the barrel meets the breech, breaking the weapon into two seperate pieces. While the shot was propelled forward, schrapnel was projected outside the left side of the gun, cutting up my left hand and leaving me with embedded pieces of steel. The escaping hot gases also gave me first- and second-degree burns all over my hand. Funny shock, indeed.

At this point, the range attendant/instructor was rather freaking out. As I have learned from telling this story to "gun people," this type of thing just does not happen with shotguns--the attendant had likely never seen any accident like this in his numerous years of experience. The two people to my left were also in shock, as the pressure wave from the explosion had given them the impression that I had taken a shot at them.

The attendant let out a string of expletives, and I assumed something very wrong had happened. For a second, I assumed I had hit someone. Being a dutiful shootist, I put the safety on and place the gun back in its rack. When the barrel half kinda tumbled off of the stock half, I knew something was not quite right. Hmmmm...my hand is all blackened. Kinda hurts, too. Oh dear.

Luckily, the other range attendant in the trap house was an EMT, so I went up to get attention from him. "Uh, hi, my gun sorta exploded" was my witty line. He wrapped up my hand, took a look at the remains of the gun (a very wise move, since it greatly helped the emergency room people treat my wounds), and drove me to the hospital. Once again, previous PE experience came into play, as I applied my own pressure to the wound and assessed that I had suffered only superficial damage.

Part IV: Community Memorial Hospital

When we arrived at the Hamilton hospital, things got rather chaotic. Clearly, they did not treat gunshot wounds every day, and they were very leery of my "oh, it's nothing, just some scrapes and burns" description. The ER was filled with Colgate students that night, and many of them reacted...badly when overhearing about the "GSW victim." I kept having to tell people, "it's fine, don't worry, you're in much worse shape." They soaked my hand and asked if they should call anybody. I asked to call my parents myself, and after a short arguement ("come on, how would you react if the hospital called and said 'we have your son'?"), I gave the 'rents a call.

While I don't doubt either parent could have handled the news, I did manage to get Dad on the line. Thus, I discussed what had happened for a whole 43 seconds and he was on his way. This was good, since I was already getting bored.

After the call was out of the way, I received my first shot ever of Demoral. Good stuff.

Then Colgate Campus Safety showed up to see what was happening. The officer knew me and my family, so we chatted for a while until Dad appeared. Followed almost immediately by a Madison County sheriff's deputy, who had some questions to ask. Suddenly, I was quite happy I had dragged Dad-the-criminal-lawyer down for this event.

As I found out later, gun accidents naturally attract police, so the questioning was really quite routine. I got a break in the middle to go get X-rays, which was sorta silly since there was no radiologist on duty to interpret them, but the tech gave me the preliminary evaluation of "no breaks." The worst part of the evening was talking to the deputy while my hand was being cleaned out by a PA, although the Demoral made it a strangely pleasent experience.

On the way back to my apartment, Dad and I stopped at the campus safety office to check out the remains of the gun. They had only found about 75% of the material, with the midsection completely missing.

Part V: The Day After

I went back to my apartment that night, and slept just fine. I think the whole event was much more traumatic for roommate Rick than it was for me. But anyway, it was a learning experience. I did end up getting the PE credit, although it took a bit of upper-level arm-tugging by Colgate's excellent-as-usual administration, as well as a full refund.

The press also came a-callin'. It showed up in the local sections of both the Syracuse Post-Standard and the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, but was played as "hurt Colgate student" in the former and "hurt Smyrna resident" in the latter. There was also my first appearance in the Campus Safety blotter section of the Maroon-News (but not my last).

Postscipt

After much investigation, Colgate determined that the accident was caused by a reloaded shell that had gotten a double-shot of gunpowder. They do not use such shells at the trap range anymore, so don't fret if you are reading this because you are enrolled in the course.

Well, that was my third credit. I had a hard time finding another activity that was both fun and lacked any dangerous elements. I almost took woodworking, but saws and stuff could be bad. So I signed up for basic social dance, which went just fine until that kick step in the Lindy...

This page 1996-2000 James Clippinger. All rights reserved. Hey, he needs the money.