In November of last year, in McMinn County, Tennessee, a 13 year old boy was attempting to unload a rifle and accidentally shot and killed his 17 year old sister. Incidents like this frustrate me terribly because they are 100 percent preventable. There is no reason that this should ever happen. As a gun owner and parent, gun safety is something about which I am passionate. I demand safe gun handling in my house and anywhere else that I go where firearms are being handled. Its actually very easy to handle modern firearms safely. Its almost impossible to make one fire without actually pulling the trigger. And yet we still have accidents. I think that’s unacceptable.
The good news is that incidents of unintended injuries and deaths caused by firearms is at an all-time low. According to the 2016 report on firearms related injuries issued by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (nssf.org/PDF/research/IIR_InjuryStatistics2016.pdf), the incidence of unintended fatalities involving a firearm have decreased 57 percent over the last 20 years. In 2013, 586 unintended fatalities out of 136,053 involved a firearm, or 0.4 percent. Keep in mind that there are approximately 350 MILLION guns in the U.S., but only 586 unintended fatalities involved a firearm. Only 0.6 percent, or 400, of the 69,500 unintended fatalities that occurred in the home involved a firearm. The news is also good when it comes to unintended fatalities involving children (14 years of age and under). In the last 20 years, the incidence of unintended deaths of children involving a child decreased 73 percent. Only 1.3 percent (50) of the 3,857 unintended fatalities of children involved a firearm. Almost every other sport is more dangerous than shooting. A cheerleader is 29 times more likely to be injured than a hunter with a firearm!
Those numbers are undeniable proof that, by and large, gun owners are safely handling and storing their firearms. Modern firearms are manufactured to be as safe as possible and still be useable. Training programs provided by the NSSF and the National Rifle Association are working to make people safer. This is great news, but we can do better. These numbers should be zero.
The way to accomplish this is training. Training takes many forms, from formal classes to a parent instructing their child to all of us correcting people that we see at the range doing something unsafe. Parents, it is incumbent on you to teach your children how to behave around a firearm. I don’t care if you think guns are inherently evil and should be eradicated from the earth. If you pretend like they don’t exist and that your child will never be around them, you are drastically increasing their odds of injuring themselves or someone else. Children are naturally curious and you simply can’t control their environment all the time. You do have control over your firearms and it is your responsibility to control access to them. It takes some thought, but there are ways to keep them away from your kids but accessible to you. The other way to tame that curiosity is to familiarize your kids with firearms. If you aren’t comfortable doing that or don’t have that knowledge yourself, then find a trusted friend that can. If you ask me to help you with this process, I will not say no. At a minimum, your kids must know that they are never to handle a firearm without you present and that they should tell an adult immediately if they find one.
As for formal classes, I am not for mandatory training. “Mandatory” requires some form of governmental involvement. We’ve got plenty of that already. But I would like to see gun sellers offer free classes on basic gun safety with the sale of every firearm, especially those buying their first gun. New shooters should seek out a formal class or consult with a friend that has experience with firearms. Again, if you ask I will help you.
Being safe with firearms comes back to the Four Rules of Gun Safety. Many of you will know them by heart, but for those that might not be familiar, they are: 1. All guns are always loaded; 2. Never point a gun at anything that you aren’t willing to destroy; 3. Do not touch the trigger until your sites are on target and you are ready to shoot; and 4. Be sure of your target, what is around it, and what is beyond it.
If everyone would follow these four simple rules, there would be no negligent discharges, and therefore, no unintended injuries or deaths involving firearms. But break just one of these rules, something bad can happen. Break more than one and it’s almost guaranteed. Anytime that I hear of a negligent discharge because “the gun went off”, my immediate thought is “bull”! Guns do not, will not, CAN NOT go off unless the trigger is pressed or there is a major mechanical malfunction. Given the quality of modern firearms, the latter seldom happens. People get injured because other people break one or more of those four simple rules.
If you don’t know, I’m a competitive pistol shooter and I carry concealed every day. I handle a pistol a lot. I took a training class a few years ago with a Grand Master level shooter. At the end of a drill, I was preparing to holster my pistol and I forgot that I still had a round in the chamber and I failed to clear it. We always drop the hammer before we holster, as another layer of safety. When I pulled the trigger, it went bang, much to the chagrin of my instructor and my embarrassment! Fortunately, I was obeying the other rules and no one was injured and no damage was done, other than to my nerves. I tell you this to emphasize that even those of us who handle firearms every day need to be aware of our safety. It takes one lapse of attention to make a major mistake.
The bottom line is that the shooting sports are some of the safest activities in which you can participate. But when injuries do occur, they tend to be serious and often involve innocent bystanders. American gun owners do a great job of keeping themselves and those around them safe. I’m very proud of that. But we can do better. Every single negligent discharge is preventable. Let’s work to make the number of unintended injuries involving a firearm zero.