Rep. Leslie Combs, as the news reports, "accidentally fired her handgun in her Capitol Annex office Tuesday..." Part of her initial response has rightly caused anger and outrage. In her words, "Like I said, I am a gun owner... it happens."
But let's recognize that Rep. Combs' response was simply teaching us a well-known truth -- it does happen. Exactly. And too often. I am sure she intended this statement -- as a responsible gun owner -- to remind us that while she and those around her were lucky to remain unscathed, in so many other instances of it "happening", people are left severely injured or dead. We should all expect her to be on the front lines of innovating more pathways for responsible gun ownership.
I reacted to this story by collecting a sampling of recent and negligent (no, they aren't accidental, even if they were not intentional) firearms discharges and posting them to a Facebook note. Included in the 22 I listed were seven fatalities. I'd like to amplify three noteworthy responses I received from responsible gun-owners that I know and deeply respect:1.
I don't know who is teaching these people. I was raised around guns, they were a huge part of my life from a very young age, and I still own a few. In parts of the country, responsible gun ownership is just part of the culture. You don't keep them loaded, period. You just don't. If you are carrying for defense, you don't flash it around, pass it around for people to see, and even when the gun is not loaded, you are supposed to practice sound muzzle control at all times. People raised with an ounce of respect for the power these tools understand all of this. I cannot fathom how any of the above happened; if people cannot manage them better than this, they should not have them. -- Trevor, MInnesota, Responsible Gun Owner
Part of the problem is that gun safety courses almost all operate on this set of principles: a) Treat all guns as if they are loaded. b) Keep the muzzle up and down range. c) Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. d) Always be sure of your target. These are good principles but more emphasis needs to be placed on storing firearms unloaded. The likelihood of needing a loaded weapon for defense is much lower than the likelihood of harming someone through an accidental/negligent shooting. If there is one thing I remember from my army days it was incessantly clearing our guns. We did empty chamber checks several times a day, even if we hadn't shot that day. That trained me to clear every single chamber of any gun I am looking at, inspecting or cleaning. -- Josh, Los Angeles, Responsible Gun owner
I grew up in a household with firearms. I took a hunter safety course many years after actually handling and firing them only because it was required to go hunting. I own firearms. I teach my children how to handle firearms using the same methods I was taught in hunter safety: The first rule is to treat EVERY firearm as if it were loaded. While I believe in and defend my right to own and bear arms under our constitution, I believe there should be more of a 'requirement' to purchase them other than being 'old enough' and having no criminal record. Background checks are great, but just because I pass a background check does not mean I am capable of handling a firearm safely. You are correct, there is need for improvement. I wonder how much safer we could ALL be if the same requirement for a concealed carry permit was the same requirement to purchase in the first place. Think about that. When a person turns 21, they can legally walk into any store that sells firearms and purchase whichever one they choose so long as they do not have a felony conviction on their record. If this same individual has never once held or fired one, bad things can happen very quickly. However, if this same individual is required to take a firearms-safety training class, that would be a much better start with quite possibly much safer outcomes. That's my two cents from a firearm owner who sees these stories of 'accidental' shootings and gets sick to my stomach for the innocent lives it damages or ruins, while at the same time thinking, 'What an idiot, ruining the reputation of responsible gun owners everywhere.' -- Marcus, South Carolina, Responsible Gun Owner
Negligent, preventable gun deaths may not be statistically satisfying to politicians, but they are hardly negligible in light of the value we ought place on each human life. For instance, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports:
In 2010, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people. From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings. Over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings for the period 2005-2010 were under 25 years of age.
Thank you, Rep. Combs, for reminding us. Now please direct your energy to ensure safety and prevention.