The case of a Louisiana man who accidentally shot a Japanese exchange student to death illustrates graphically how easily a firearm bought for protection against criminals can be used against an innocent.
Too often handgun owners lack the training, knowledge and clearheadedness to avoid tragedy. Too often the targets of their bullets are children, relatives, friends . . . or a carefree 16-year-old looking for a Halloween party.
Although a Louisiana jury acquitted remorseful defendant Rodney Peairs, the killing of Yoshi Hattori last year and the subsequent trial nonetheless reinforce the unfortunate image of the United States as a place that is armed and dangerous. Many in other nations simply cannot comprehend the American attachment to guns, and cases like this one increase their bewilderment all the more.
During the trial, Bonnie Peairs testified that "there was no thinking involved" at the time but that she later wished she "could have thought" when she called out for her husband to get his .44 Magnum last October. In fear and haste, Peairs was unable to make a distinction between a crazed marauder and Hattori, a teen-ager looking for a Halloween event to which he had been invited. Only after the youngster lay dead was it discovered that he was carrying a camera, not a gun, that he had been grinning because apparently he did not understand the command "Freeze!" in English.
This case has been followed with special interest in Japan, where it has generated much perplexity and horror over the American attitude about firearm ownership. The father of the victim, Masaichi Hattori, has led a drive to limit the availability of guns in the United States. His anti-gun campaign collected 1.2 million signatures in Japan; petitions circulated for that campaign in the United States barely topped 20,000 signatures.
Yoshi Hattori was only one of about 1,500 people in the United States who last year mistakenly caught a fatal bullet from someone who thought a gun at home would bring peace of mind. Shamefully, the long list that contains his name will grow even longer.