A Hutterite child was accidentally shot in the chest late Monday morning last week but his condition appears to be stable.

A guided tour of the Pincher Creek Colony
A guided tour of the Pincher Creek Colony (Photo by Bruce Bonta, July 5, 2006)

According to a report in the CBC news and several western Canadian sources, an 11-year-old boy was accidentally shot at the Pincher Creek Colony in southern Alberta by a 13-year-old boy who had obtained a loaded 22 caliber pistol. At about 11:30 a.m. on April 22, the family of the injured boy took him to the hospital in the town of Pincher Creek, a few miles east of the colony. The hospital alerted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP, Canada’s national police force.

The police told the press that the 13-year-old had found the pistol, already loaded, in a colony outbuilding. He started playing with the gun and it accidentally went off, hitting the younger boy in the chest. No adults were present to witness the accident. Once the injured boy’s family had taken him into the local hospital, the staff there stabilized his condition and he was soon on a life flight to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

Cpl. Jeff Feist of the RCMP told the press that the shooting was under investigation since Canada generally has been working to make the ownership and possession of firearms safer. He indicated that the gun had been seized and that the colony members were cooperating with the police investigation. The police were considering pressing charges against the owner of the gun for not storing it securely.

A shop in one of the outbuildings on the Pincher Creek Colony
A shop in one of the outbuildings on the Pincher Creek Colony (Photo by Bruce Bonta, July 5, 2006)

A news story from Tuesday afternoon on CTV News added some additional details and corrected some statements published on Monday. One revision to the original story is that the two children were involved in a water pistol fight when the older boy found the loaded 22 pistol in a drawer in a shop, grabbed the gun, and fired at the younger boy, his cousin. Fortunately, though he was hit in the chest, the bullet missed his important organs. Colony officials told CTV that the boy will probably survive. It turns out that the victim was only nine, not eleven as originally reported.

But one might reasonably wonder why a people who are so well known for their pacifist beliefs have guns in the first place. As Packull (1995) points out in his book on the early period of Hutterite history, the beliefs of the Anabaptists, from whom the Hutterites developed in the early 16th century, were based on the Sermon on the Mount. They refused to bear arms such as guns, swords, or daggers; they were only allowed to carry broken bread knives.

Jacob Hutter
Jacob Hutter (Engraving by an unknown 18th century author)

Packull observes, however, that in 1532, Jacob Hutter, founder of the Hutterites, was noticed carrying a gun, a statement that the author has a hard time accepting since it would have contradicted the basic beliefs of the Hutterite pacifist faith. He posits a possible explanation—that the sighting dates from an earlier period of Hutter’s life, before he converted to Anabaptist beliefs.

Skipping to much more recent times, Hostetler (1974) writes that in general hunting is practiced very little among the Hutterites. “Guns, with few exceptions, are taboo; when permitted, they are used for shooting coyotes (p.175).”

In a still more recent scholarly work, Janzen and Stanton (2010) differ from Hostetler only in emphasis. They write that some colonies permit hunting, even though their church has historically opposed the possession and use of guns. But even though some colonies are strongly against allowing their members to own guns and will destroy them whenever they can, in others they may be used to shoot animals that threaten the livestock.

None of that answers why the loaded pistol was in the workroom at Pincher Creek in the first place, but shooting at local coyotes that prowl around the colony would be the best guess.