Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, three chickens, striped cat, and too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael has been a senior editor at Mother Jones for eight years, after spending the previous six as an award-winning features editor at the weekly East Bay Express. In addition to editing stories for print and web, he is in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of newspapers and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He originally set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize tropical frog poisons. He also earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was named a finalist for a National Magazine Award for his contribution to MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. (His contribution, "Voluntary Confinement," involved a reality TV show that held contestants in isolation.) He also won a 2014 Society for Professional Journalists award for "It Was Kind of Like Slavery," a photoessay with photographer Nina Berman. Michael lives with his family in Oakland, California, where he sits on his front porch and attempts to play the fiddle.

"Melancholy accidents." That's what 18th- and 19th-century American journalists used to call those senseless, entirely preventable gun mishaps that end up with somebody dead. Peter Manseau has compiled scores of news briefs about these tragedies from 1739 to 1916, many of them involving children, in his new book, Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck. Two examples:

September 3, 1785, Massachusetts Centinel (Boston): The death of Thomas Foxcraft, Esq.; late Postmaster General in Philadelphia, was occasioned by a small coach gun, which he always travelled with, going off half cocked, whilst he was preparing to accompany some friends into the country. A man of more amiable matters or more benevolent disposition never existed.

January 22, 1874, The Eureka Herald (Kansas): A boy in Decatur, Ind., took a double-barrel gun a few days ago to shoot a chicken, and three of his younger brothers followed to see the fun. The boy shot the fowl—then threw the gun with so much force upon the ground as to discharge the other barrel, seriously wounding all the brothers—one it is thought fatally.

Bad luck? Sure, in part. But this is really about stupidity on the part of adults. Today, thousands of Americans are shot accidentally each year, and that doesn't even count the collateral damage—stray bullets that take out a toddler or some other innocent, resulting in an assault or homicide charge—nor does it factor in our 20,000-plus annual gun suicides. All of these unhappy accidents, as it turns out, are very, very costly.

Taken together, Manseau's quaint chronicles serve to illustrate how little the citizens of this hyper-armed nation have learned from our collective blunders. Take this writer, whose comments on recent mishaps in the old country—this was before England took steps to rein in firearms—include a scolding that wouldn't seem out of place today.

February 9, 1792, Maryland Gazette (Annapolis): London—Last week two melancholy accidents happened from fowling pieces. A gentleman of Ellesmere, in Shropshire, accidentally shot his brother-in-law; and a young woman in Worcestershire was killed in the kitchen by a fellow servant, who was ignorant that the gun he was pointing at her was charged. These, with a hundred such like accidents, show the dreadful consequences of leaving loaded guns about a house, and of inattention and carelessness in the handling of them.

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