Thursday, April 08, 2004

12 year old shoots 8 year old with Grandfather's Gun

A good friend send me this very serious message today. I post it so that others may benefit.

A bad thing happened in NJ that I know about from working with the teacher of one of the two kids involved. It raises questions for me I'm not sure how to answer.
Situation: 12 year old boy was visiting his grandfather. His 8 year old cousin also was. (There may or may not have been other people but it doesn't matter.) The 12 year old came upon a 38 calibre handgun. He shot his cousin in the back, above the kidneys. Kid went to the hospital and eventually died.
That's all we know about the situation. First reaction of most adults, including me: why did the grandfather have a loaded 38 calibre handgun lying around where a kid could get it?
Then, for me, after some thought, I came upon this dilemma: Assuming the grandfather keeps a handgun around in case of self defense, how much use would it be to him if it was locked in a cabinet separate from another cabinet in which was locked the ammunition? Wouldn't he need to have it in a place where he could get it quickly and use it quickly? And, if that is the case, how can he insure that a person visiting would not get it?
Would you entertain this dialog with me please? I am trying to have a more sophisticated understanding of guns and the right to have them. I also know accidents happen. Please let me know what you think about this above situation. I'd appreciate your comments.

Here is my Reply
Great question. Thank you for asking.
It is true that people, especially elderly, weak, and infirmed, should be allowed to have a gun for self defense. It is also correct that in a self-defense situation, a gun in a safe with ammo in another location is useless.
The fact is that gun owners need to be responsible. It is the responsibility of gun owners to practice gun safety at all times. Many folks I know always have a loaded gun accessible within a few steps or a few seconds. BUT, I if they leave a gun in their car, they LOCK the car so someone will not find the gun and possibly hurt themselves or someone else.
In their home, all adults in the home know where all loaded guns are. All loaded guns are where they are inaccessible to children. Also, most of my loaded guns could not be fired by my 4 and 5 year old kids or any of their friends because of the strength needed to chamber a round. As an additional safety, guns are stored in "safe" position.
When I am in a car with others who might not be as knowledgeable about guns and gun safety, I either lock the gun in glove box or keep it on my person - in my control. In Utah, CCW holders are required to do this when non-CCW holders are in the car with them. Many people keep lots of guns in an officer or work area. These areas should be secured with a deadbolt and lock when away. This also keeps the guns away from babysitters.
The bottom line is that the grandfather was probably raised at a time when everyone was familiar with guns and they were a part of life. Children were taught proper gun safety and knew that they were to never touch a gun and CERTAINLY never point it at anything they did not wish to kill (destroy).
The media may milk this for everything it is worth and suggest that guns must be in safes, kids shouldn't be permitted to watch movies that have gun violence, all gun owners need to pass safety exams yearly, or some other knee-jerk nonsense.
The truth is that if gun safety training were still taught in schools, this would never have happened. The truth is that it is always easy to point the finger after a tragedy. The truth is that grandpa will probably commit suicide over the guilt he feels (but he won't use a gun because the police probably stole every gun the guy had).
I am very sorry for the parents, the kid and the old man. Unfortunately, tragic accidents happen. If this were a case where a kid pushed his friend in a pool and the friend drown, it would barely make the news. However, the anti-gun crowd prays for events like this to point out how evil guns are and that they must be stopped for the sake of the children - you have heard the rhetoric. The fact is that hundreds of children drown every year, but very few are shot accidentally - even though there are FAR more guns than there are pools.

Your initial response is a good one - "why did the grandfather have a loaded 38 caliber handgun lying around where a kid could get it?"
He shouldn't have. If his son or daughter knew that he had a gun, they should have reminded him to put the gun away - or remove the bullets while grandpa watches the kids - or carry the gun concealed - or, take the kids out and give them a demonstration of the power of a .38, the damage it can do to a coffee can, the safe handling of a gun, and explain why an old man feels the need to have it and why children must NEVER touch a gun except under the permission and supervision of a parent or gun instructor. I'm sure that the kids parent is also beating themselves up and wondering what they could have done differently too.

Because I have guns in my home, I have given my wife and kids safety lessons on gun handling. I have NEVER ONCE, had my kids touch any of my guns even when they had the opportunity. I have two BB rifles in the kitchen cabinet so that they are familiar with seeing guns. I take them out in the back yard to shoot them every couple of weeks and give the entire gun safety lesson each time. I make the girls tell me the answers. They never forget, have never once shown bad muzzle control, and love to shoot. They are both very good shots. Guns are a part of my life. They will be a part of my kids life.

I have heard so many people say, "...if it would save just one life...".
Here is a suggestion that I believe could save a lot of lives. Teach children basic gun safety.
1. All guns are loaded. There is no such thing as an empty gun. Always check the chamber and magazine of a gun when you pick it up.
2. Never point a gun at anything you do not want to kill. (I never let any kids point toy guns at other kids. I tell their parents that if I see it, I will take the gun away and teach the kid gun safety. The parents think I am nuts, but the kids learn muzzle control. My girls come to me immediately and inform on anyone who is not handling a toy gun safely.)

Here is a web page with a list of safety training aids.
If a 15 minute video could prevent 30 kids from having a similar accident, why not show it. OR, Get some material for the school library and send a note to parents saying, "Due to the recent tragedy involving a gun accident, we have purchased some gun safety videos for the library. If you own guns, or believe that your children may enter a home where they own guns, we urge you to show these videos to your family. Thank you."

We can't undo the tragic event, but through proper education, other accidents could be avoided.
Keeping kids in the dark is not the answer. Blaming guns is not the answer.

Thank you for asking my my opinion. I am happy to discuss this further. Was this helpful? Do you agree with me?

Here is another link.
1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
When holding a gun, rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger.

3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Whenever you pick up a gun, immediately engage the safety device if possible, and, if the gun has a magazine, remove it before opening the action and looking into the chamber(s) which should be clear of ammunition. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.

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