Going Beyond the Usual Arguments About Gun Safety

05/11/2015 09:10 am ET | Updated May 11, 2016

This week a new gun safety campaign was launched by Everytown and Moms Demand Action called Be Smart, and you can usually judge the value of such efforts by the degree to which the pro-gun media weighs in on the other side. They weighed in right away with multiple blogs and, as always, the infantile Breitbart response. And one of the pro-gun bloggers got it right when she wrote that "allowing the anti-gun side to control the gun safety message is a big mistake."

Until recently, the pro-gun gallery has owned the issue of gun safety, which they mostly define as keeping guns out of the 'wrong' hands, i.e., crooks, creeps and other undesirables who want access to guns for no other reason than to inflict harm. The NRA has given a new hip-and-cool look to their Eddie Eagle program which has allegedly distributed millions of flyers although it's unclear whether this effort has had any real impact at all. The NSSF gives away cable locks and has been running a public service campaign with the ATF about the danger of "straw" sales. They also promote a competitive shooter with instructions for talking about gun safety with children, as if being a competitive shooter gives you the slightest credibility when it comes to knowing how to communicate with kids.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against any of the gun industry's safety programs. But opposing background checks for private gun transfers makes it pretty hard to argue that you're all that worried about criminals and other disqualified individuals getting their hands on guns. The new Be Smart campaign, on the other hand, goes beyond the usual arguments about gun safety that you get from both sides, and this is what makes it such an interesting and potentially effective effort which the gun folks better not simply deride or ignore.

The centerpiece of the program is a video narrated by Melissa Joan Hart, which for no other reason than she votes Republican makes it difficult for the pro-gun chorus to simply brand her as another liberal, gun-grabbing, Hollywood star. But aside from the image, what we get are serious comments about issues the gun industry would rather you and I forget. For example, there's a very sober message about teen suicide and how much easier it is to commit suicide with a gun. For another, Melissa actually uses the phrase 'risk factors' when talking about gun-owning families where there is evidence of mental illness or substance abuse. The most important comment, however, is when she notes that "kids are naturally curious," and that a gun is therefore a risk unless it is locked up "one hundred percent of the time."

I'm really happy to see these issues injected into the gun safety debate and let me break it to you gently: Melissa's being perfunctory when she mentions her concern about the 1.7 million kids living in homes where guns are loaded and unlocked. It's children living in every home where there is a gun who are at risk, because sooner or later every one of those guns will be left around. If you haven't figured it out yet, let me break it to you gently: We are human. We are careless. We forget.

The industry's approach to gun safety is they want it both ways. People should own guns to defend themselves, but the reason guns are touted as the best defense against crime is because of their lethality and nothing else. Sooner or later, if you are a gun-owner who believes that owning a gun makes you safe, that gun is going to be left out, unsecured and unlocked, which poses a risk to the kids.

I have a suggestion for trigger-heads who get nervous giving up space in the gun-safety debate to folks who aren't particularly enamored of guns. Stop pretending that guns aren't a risk just because we "always" lock them up or lock them away. Start talking about gun safety in a realistic way. Remember, there's still only one way to guarantee that you can't have an accident with a gun.