I grew up around gun culture.
My entire family is from southwest West Virginia, near the borders of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. My great-grandfather’s farm was in some bottomland surrounded by rolling hills, high in the Appalachians, and bordered by the always muddy Brush Creek. It was there that I learned to load a shotgun, how to hold a handgun, and how to carry a rifle across an open field.
The gun was always loaded.
The men in my family all hunted. Each year they hauled a trailer deep into the forest somewhere, and stayed for a week or more to hunt deer and turkey. More often than not, they were successful. They kept their weapons in their homes. 12-gauge pumps, bolt-action long guns, pistols, shells, cartridges… As children we knew to look but not touch.
The guns were always loaded.
Maybe it was different there, because every child learned at a young age how to feed the chickens, how to avoid a bull in the Spring, how to operate a tractor, and how to handle a gun. Some of my cousins and uncles had gun safes, but we knew.
My stepfather was a retired D.C. policeman. After he died, my mother found his service revolver. She asked one of her neighbors, another retired cop, to teach her how to safely and properly load, hold, aim and fire it. She still has it.
Sadly, more and more people are becoming gun owners without the experience that I had growing up and the expertise offered my mother. Their children are likely not taught to respect a weapon.
They’re not taught that the gun is always loaded.
Children do stupid things. It’s a part of being a child. It’s integral to learning. They touch a hot stove. They run with scissors. They jump a bit too high, run a bit too fast, and go over handlebars too often. But with a gun, the learning curve comes to an abrupt end.
In 2015, 489 people died in unintentional or “accidental” shootings. Almost all of them were male, and over a quarter were between 15 and 24.
In 2016, a semi-famous gun rights activist named Jamie Gilt flagged over a Florida police officer. She had pulled her car over to the shoulder of a highway, and was sitting in a pool of blood. Her toddler son, safely in the car seat behind her, had found her pistol in her purse, and had shot her through the back. Luckily for Gilt, she survived.
In 2004 (and recorded in a now-viral video), a DEA agent in Florida was in a roomful of students giving a talk about the dangers of guns. He displayed a Glock handgun, and shortly after saying, “I’m the only one in this room that knows how to handle this gun,” shot himself in the leg with it. He survived.
A few days ago, a teacher in California – who was also a reserve police officer – was teaching his class about public safety when he discharged his weapon into the ceiling. The next day, a school resource officer in Alexandria, Virginia was sitting in his office at a middle school when he accidentally discharged his weapon.
It’s always loaded.
In Arizona last week, a family was sleeping. A 2-year old was sound asleep as a teenager finished homework. The family’s 7-year old autistic son, got his father’s keys from the kitchen, quietly went to the closet in his parents’ room, unlocked a small safe, and removed a gun. He then shot his father in the chest.
All too often, these “accidental victims” are children.
But here’s the thing:
More often than not, incidents like this are declared “unintentional” or “accidental” and we all go on. It becomes a “tragic accident,” or an “unfortunate situation.” Even though many of these incidents occur when guns are not in a safe, or when no safety mechanism or trigger lock is in place, the parents, adults, guardians, and gun owners face no challenge for ostensibly being an active participant.
We read of someone showing off a gun and accidentally shooting someone – “accident.”
A child shoots a sibling while playing – “accident.”
A gun discharges when being cleaned or stored, killing another – “accident.”
Driving a car very, very fast can be dangerous. We know this. Many of us have done it, and there are outlets for us to legally do it. But if you’re out on the highway, driving very, very fast, and cause an accident that kills someone, you can be charged with things like “vehicular homicide” and “manslaughter.”
Most of us choose to drive as if our car is going very, very fast, all the time.
The gun is always loaded, and there are no accidents.