On Thursday, a Tennessee man accidentally shot himself and his wife in church while attempting to demonstrate that his gun wasn't loaded. The accidental shooting took place while several churchgoers were having a discussion about guns in churches, local police said, just over a week after a gunman shot and killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks told USA TODAY that elderly members of the First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were cleaning up after a Thanksgiving event when the conversation turned to guns. An 81-year-old parishioner, Wayne Reid, pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and told his fellow churchgoers that he takes it with him "everywhere," according to Parks. After removing the gun's magazine, cleaning the chamber and displaying it to other parishioners in his vicinity, Reid put the magazine back in.
"Somebody else walked up and said, 'Can I see it?' " Parks said, according to USA TODAY. "He pulled [the gun] back out and said, 'With this loaded indicator, I can tell that it’s not loaded.'"
But it was loaded, as evidenced by the fact that it fired a bullet when the man pulled the trigger moments later. That bullet sliced the palm of Reid's hand, struck his wife in her abdomen and the forearm, then ricocheted off a wall before landing underneath the woman's wheelchair, according to Knox News.
Fellow churchgoers panicked, according to Parks.
“They had their backs to [the accidental shooting],” Parks said. “Somebody hollers, ‘He’s been shot! She’s been shot! Call 911!’ So someone grabs their cellphone and calls 911, and says we’ve had somebody shot at church.”
The 911 dispatcher who took the call assumed that this meant there was an active gunman in the church, Parks said, and as a result, one hospital and several schools in the area were put on lockdown. The husband and his wife were airlifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in critical condition, according to the Washington Post. Their conditions have both since stabilized as of Thursday evening, Parks said.
The incident occurred just two months after a campus security guard in Minnesota accidentally shot himself in the shoulder. Fearful of losing his job, the man falsely told police that he'd been shot by a black man. This resulted in a 55-person manhunt, which included a state aircraft and four police dogs, according to the Independent. The security guard, Brent Patrick Ahlers, was eventually fired and charged with a misdemeanor after admitting to police that there was no black man and he'd simply shot himself on accident.
After the massacre in Sutherland Springs, some pro-gun politicians argued that churches would be safer if more parishioners had guns. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared after the shooting that "we need people in churches — either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation — so that they can respond, when something like this happens again." The Thursday incident in Tennessee, however, is a reminder that arming churchgoers can sometimes result in more church shootings, not fewer.
Despite accidentally shooting himself and a bystander, Reid will be allowed to keep his carry permit, police said.
"As far as I know, he'll get to keep it," Parks told Knox News. "No one who was in the church is wishing to press charges, and we in the police department think they've suffered enough." The Tennessee Department of Safety told Knox Knews that it only suspends or revokes permits from gun owners if they're arrested or convicted of violent crimes, which Reid was not.