Monday, January 21, 2013

Gun owners and safety: we can do better.

I think that the "responsible" part of "responsible gun owners" is important.  I also think that those of us who are or have been part of our country's gun culture are aware that sometimes gun owners fall short.  I would like to suggest that we, the community of gun owners, have some self-policing to do.

Here are some mishaps from personal memory:

1) A reloader intentionally overcharged his ammo so much that the ejector rod had to be banged on a picnic table to remove the shells after firing.
2) A shooter at a range, holding an automatic pistol that was loaded but not chambered, pulled the slide back, observed the empty chamber, declared "Yep, it's empty!" and released the slide (thus chambering a round.)
3) Two hunters were sighting in their rifles at an outdoor range.  One fired the rifle while the other stood downrange, about 6-10 feet to the right of the target, and hollered back "a little to the left!", etc.
4) I picked my weapon up off of the nightstand, ejected the magazine and opened the slide to verify what I already knew with 100% certainty: that the chamber was empty.  A bullet tumbled out of the chamber.  I'm still not sure how it got there.  I couldn't have been more shocked if a tiny motorcycle had driven out of it.
5) A man in my childhood trailerpark neighborhood devised a scheme to garner sympathy from his wife.  He would put an empty gun to his head and pull the trigger in a feigned suicide attempt.  The gun was not empty.
6) A WWII vet believed in a "common sense" approach that defied gun safety standards: a gun that had been verified empty could be handled as though it were not a dangerous thing.
7) The grandchild of that vet, having been raised with his philosophy on guns, would later dryfire an empty revolver out of a 2nd story window towards a grocery store parking lot to check the direction of cylinder rotation.
8) A person who had never fired a gun before took, as their only training, the 8-hour concealed carry course offered in South Carolina.  Though eager to learn, this person was still not familiar with firearms at the end of the course, but was about to be licensed to carry one in public.
9) At about 15 or 16, I would fire a weapon while someone was downrange because no one explained the range rules to me and in my (poor) judgment, everyone was sufficiently clear of my target (45-60 degrees away) for it to be safe to shoot at.
10) A police officer, thinking to make it safe to leave my gun in my car with me while writing my ticket, took the magazine out of it, did not clear the chamber, and left the other 2 magazines sitting there in the holster with the gun.
11) I accidentally reloaded a round with primer but no powder.  It lodged in the barrel; fortunately I noticed.
12) I accidentally reloaded a round with double powder.  That was hard to not notice.

Some of these have a single, simple answer:  The gun is always loaded.  I don't wish to trivialize this with a bumper-sticker phrases, however.  What I am suggesting is that rather than a gun culture, what we need is a gun safety culture.  Human error will never be eliminated, which is why safe procedures must not rely on perfect operators.   That doesn't mean that we should be tolerant, as a community, of less than perfect adherence to safety standards.  I don't think that we have to be judgy about it, but I do think we need to work to improve this, ourselves, and each other.

Most of the above were just near-incidents; no one was hurt except in the unintentional suicide.  But we cannot rely on luck to get us through these mistakes.  This gun that I'm about to pick up... this is a thing that kills people.  In my opinion, safety starts with that thought, with that level of respect for what we're doing.

Rather than shrug off the... what was it, 8? people who were accidentally shot at gun shows on "Gun Appreciation Day", we should be embarrassed, as a community, that this sort of ineptitude is present in our ranks.  I submit to you that we should be pushing to raise that bar.  It can only come from us, because for people outside of our community, the answer is actually simple: "I can't have a gun accident because I don't have or want any guns."  It's an approach that works, but it's not an approach that works for gun owners.  Our answer requires education, training, and care.

The question is: How do we do it?  What can we do to improve the safety awareness of the entire gun community?

The comment range is hot; fire at will.

Friday, January 11, 2013


I'm in the throes of flu and blogging about one of the most contentious political issues in our country.  What could go wrong?

I'll start by giving people an idea of where I'm coming from, and then I want to make a proposal that I think would address a lot of concerns on both sides while also pissing everyone off.  I submit this more as a discussion point than as a proposal that I think would seriously be implemented in the near future.

First, some of my views and assumptions, as well as criticisms of some common talking points:

1) "2nd Amendment advocates who think they need guns to protect against a hypothetical tyranny are delusional."  I disagree.  All political power and law ultimately comes down to force or the threat of it.  An armed populace has more power, is harder to oppress.  I acknowledge that the group who believes this (including me) intersects with people who believe that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Anti-Christ who wants to use the U.N. to implement a New World Order, but let's not generalize by the nuts.
2) "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."  I'm suggesting a ban in almost no cases, but I still want to say that this statement ignores that flooding a market with legal guns makes them readily available to an illegitimate market.  It's also an assertion that we're essentially incapable of affecting the availability of guns to criminals, and I don't think we're as impotent as all that.
3) "If liberals think we can't effectively control drugs, then why do they think we can succeed at controlling guns?"  A great question, one that I think has to do with a difference in who provides the demand for each.  I will assume that we are able to be at least somewhat effective (I mean, there are countries that have done this.  It can't be impossible.)
4) There is basically no evidence that gun control, education programs, or concealed carry laws have any discernible effect on gun violence.  More data is required.
5) One of the concerns of 2nd Amendment advocates is that there should not be a registry of all of their guns, so that a tyrannical government could not go door to door and round them up.
6) The crime rate among concealed carry holders is low, and the rate of gun crime is lower yet.  This isn't too surprising since concealed carry means registering with the state and submitting fingerprints in most places.  I suggest extending this model.
7) Long rifles are sufficient to defend against a tyrannical government.  (Imagine occupying Iraq.  Now imagine 10x the people and 20x the geographical area to secure.)
8) Current concealed carry laws are a tapestry of varying regulations that is honestly very annoying if you're trying to legally bring a firearm with you on a road trip.  I have literally had to stop the car at a state line and transfer my weapon from one location to another to meet the law.  Not to mention all that research if you're crossing a lot of states.  Ugh.
9) Rifles are rarely used in crimes.  This may change as the availability shifts, but lack of concealability is a major issue.
10) Many gun deaths are associated with a gun that is owned by someone in the household (suicide, domestic violence.)  I leave it to individuals to opt in or out of this risk.
11) Handguns create the lion's share of the problem.
12) Gun violence is mostly an urban issue.

In a nutshell, I propose almost no restrictions on long-rifles (what we have now) plus anonymity, I propose a registry for basically everything else similar to existing concealed carry requirements, closing the private seller loophole, and a federal (states must recognize) concealed carry law with more stringent requirements than current concealed carry regs.  I rely on the assumptions that people who are registering their weapons will be infrequent offenders, that handguns will become less available to the black market over time, and that long-rifles are a poor tool for urban crime.  Gun security requirements might decrease domestic shootings some, but owning a firearm will continue to be a risk factor.

A)  All sales, private or otherwise, must obtain a background check for the buyer through someone licensed to do that.
B) For long-rifle sales (not of concealable length, semi-automatic, capacity of 10-rounds or less), these queries shall be anonymized and no record kept of who the weapon was sold to after transferring possession.  This is to partially relieve registry concerns.  Requirements are 18+, basic background check, 3-day waiting.
C) For handguns and semi-automatic rifles (including "assault" and without restrictions to magazine capacity) 21+, background check, basic gun safety course certification, detailed registration (see below).
D) What I mean by detailed registration is:
      a.) Name, address, fingerprints, dna sample, a ballistic profile if that is a useful thing (I have no idea, I may have watched too much CSI here.), serial number of the weapon.
      b.) If the weapon is lost or stolen it must be reported within a reasonable timeframe, and there is a small to moderate civil fine regardless.  False reports carry criminal liability.  Knowingly failing to report carries criminal liability.
      c.) Reasonable precautions must be taken to guard the weapon against unauthorized users.  Failure to do so can result in modest criminal sanctions against the registered owner if the gun is used in a crime.  (But not if reasonable precautions have been taken, and also not if the weapon was reported lost/stolen before it was used in a crime.)
      d.) Household members can be authorized as a user if they meet the requirements to own such a weapon themselves.  Responsibility for safe-keeping of the weapon in this case is shared but not diminished, but a crime committed by an authorized user does not impart criminal liability onto anyone else.  An exception is also made for gun sharing during hunting, sportsmanship, at the shooting range, etc.
      e.) Sale of the weapon requires a change of registration and for the buyer to meet all requirements.
E) Optional anonymous buyback for anyone who does wish to register a weapon.
F) Automatic/burst weapons are banned.  (Like, actually banned, not "effectively banned.")  Mandatory buyback compensates the owner for the fair market cost of the gun (these weapons are very expensive.)  Nobody uses spray-N-pray, anyway.
G) Federal Concealed Carry Permit.  25+, evaluation for stability, detailed registration as above plus a more extensive course, one that would take a pure novice into competency with a weapon.  The course will be good for any weapon and the license will be "shall issue" and respected in all 50-states.
H) Firearms Trust.  A situation may arise where a person owns a weapon, perhaps through inheritance, that they are not qualified to possess. Such weapons may be placed into a trust for safe keeping, and the owner may sell or will or assign the weapon to someone else normally, or just keep it in trust until they are qualified to possess it.  Automatic weapons may be held in such trusts (if the owner is hopeful that the law will one day change, for example.)
I) Antiques and permanently disabled weapons are subject to basically no restrictions (or whatever it is exactly that we have now.)
J) Provisions for legal transport shall be made for people without concealed carry permits who are traveling to engage in hunting, sportsmanship, etc.
K)  No carry in public of any kind, with the exceptions of J), without the Federal Permit.