Sometimes a news story comes over the wire that causes you to say, “Now wait just a minute.” Sometimes, when the official police statement is, “We see no need for further investigation,” a mental alert goes off saying: Warning, there could be a cover up here. These are precisely my reactions to a story covered by Reuters news service this week.
Here’s the background. Last Saturday, 35-year-old Gregory Lanier showed up at a Florida hospital with a gunshot wound to his left leg. Since law enforcement is bound to investigate reports involving gunshots, officers were dispatched to look into it. According to Mr. Lanier, he was shot while driving his truck on a highway near Sebring, Fla. He informed the officers that this was not a random drive-by shooting committed by an unknown assailant. He insisted there was no need to look for a suspect as he knew who shot him. He assured the officers there was no crime. It was clearly an accident. It was his dog. That’s right. His dog shot him.
He insisted there was no foul play as he (and presumably the dog) both thought the gun was unloaded. No doubt you could have knocked them both over with a proverbial feather when the thing went off. So how, you may ask, exactly did the dog accidentally discharge this allegedly unloaded weapon? This is precisely the question the investigators asked.
Well, it’s like this. There was this .380 Beretta semi-automatic — presumably unloaded like I said — just sitting on the passenger floor board. The dog, described in the report as “the black and tan English bulldog,” for his unspecified motive, kicked the weapon causing it to discharge. The bullet traveled over or under Lanier’s right leg producing a hole in his left.
As you can see, there are aspects of the story that might cause a police investigator to be — skeptical. First, regarding the weapon’s caliber. According to some reports, Lanier first claimed it was a .380. The firearm found in his truck was a 9 mm. This appears to be an inconsistency, but let’s put that aside. There remains the question of the safety. My Berettas all have safeties. I’m assuming this one did as well. If “someone” left the safety “off,” we’re dealing with another level of recklessness in addition to the “I didn’t think it was loaded” gaff.
If it was “on,” that means the bulldog had to release it and then “accidentally” kick the firearm. The situation is starting to get complicated.
At this point, we have to entertain one of three possibilities. First, the dog didn’t shoot Lanier at all. We might be dealing with a self-inflicted wound — deliberate or accidental. Surely not. Surely Lanier wouldn’t blame an innocent dog for his own foolishness. Surely he’d be adult enough to say, “It’s not the dog’s fault. I accidentally shot my own self.” So, I think we can eliminate a self-inflicted gunshot wound — don’t you?
Maybe it wasn’t the dog at all. Maybe it was someone else. Lanier might be trying to frame the dog in order to protect the real shooter. Maybe some other person (or pet) had or thought they had a good reason to plug Mr. Lanier and, for reasons of his own, Lanier doesn’t want the real shooter to face the consequences. It’s better, according to this theory, to let the dog take the rap than turn the real culprit over to the law. After all, it’s Lanier’s word against the bulldog’s. Possible. But what kind of jerk would let a dog, man’s best friend, take the fall for something he didn’t do?
Finally, it’s possible this was no accident. Maybe the dog meant to plug him. I had occasion to discuss this “accident” with a retired Florida policeman. He wasn’t buying it.
“Let’s face it Hink, there are some breeds that are more likely to pull the trigger than others. If it was a cat in that truck, I’d say it was an open and shut case of attempted murder. But since it was a bulldog, I have doubts. Firearms are just not a bulldog’s weapon of choice. Or, in official police terms, it’s not his modus operandi.”
I read my police friend the official department statement: “We didn’t spend a lot of time investigating it. There doesn’t appear to be any criminal act involved. You don’t have to be licensed in Florida to carry a handgun.” My friend smiled and winked. “That’s right. Let’s hope Mr. Lanier learned his lesson. The dog may have intended this to be only a warning shot.” I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.