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.

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