Thoughts by Richard Bleil
For the first time last night (as of the writing of this), I actually slept with a gun by my side. Usually I sleep with a gun in the nightstand, near my side, but not actually beside me.
How many times have I said that I’m not pro-gun so much as I am pro-responsible gun ownership? It might sound irresponsible but let me tell you the circumstances before judgment. See, it will be about a hundred degrees today. We’re in the midst of a heat wave, and I have no central air. Upstairs, in my normal bed where my usual gun is I keep the windows open, in desperate hope of a breeze, but more to let the heat out. As heat rises, the upstairs is unbearably (perhaps even dangerously) hot. Downstairs, in order to give my cat a respite from the heat, I’ve purchased a mobile room air conditioner. It’s not enough; I have it set to shut off at a decent temperature, and yet it has yet to turn off on its own. The only time it did shut off was when I wanted to test its ability to do so. But, it’s enough to at least take the edge off of my dining and living rooms (with the layout of my house these are really like one large room), but not much beyond. Because the living room, however, is at least tolerable, I’ve been sleeping on my couch downstairs. Last night, there was a commotion on the street. I didn’t feel exactly endangered, but neither did I feel safe. And so, I did get a gun.
Now, having told you the circumstances, allow me to go further to explain the precautions. Yes, the gun’s clip was loaded, but no bullet was in the chamber. If I were to need it I would have had to pull the slide to consciously make it capable of firing. Additionally, the gun I chose is the one with the thumb safety. It has a trigger safety, but even that will not fire until the thumb safety is manually disconnected. There is no way this gun would fire without these two conscious acts of arming it, a safety with a safety. If I needed it, I would not have armed it without somebody physically breaking into the house, and with that I would have undoubtedly had time to send an alarm through my security system to summon the police.
Today, a news story was published about an accidental death by shooting in Florida. The victim picked up a handgun, and at six years old, discharged it ending his own life. (Or hers, actually; the article did not specify.) The police charged a fourteen-year-old with negligence for leaving the gun where the six year old could get it. But the gun didn’t belong to the fourteen-year-old, it belonged to his (or her) friend who had given it to her (or him). So, where should I begin my questions?
First, what happened to the friend? This individual gave the gun to the fourteen-year-old, and I’m assuming the friend was around the same age. Where did this person get the gun? Did the parents give it to him (or her), or did she (or he) steal it? Whether it belonged to this friend or was stolen, why wasn’t the friend’s parents charged with some form of negligence? After all, they allowed the gun to be somewhere that their child could get it, and if the gun was “gifted” to the child, it still should have been under surveillance since this friend is not legally old enough to own a gun (I’m assuming, otherwise there might be deeper problems).
I guess I have a hard time blaming the fourteen-year-old’s parents. At that age, things happen that the parents cannot be expected to know of every mischievous action of their teenager. But, again, this could not have happened had a round not been chambered. We have a habit of letting our pride get the better of us when it comes to firearms. I’ve done it. I’ve holstered a gun and walked around with it (usually in my own house, but as the director of a forensic lab I would carry a firearm when the building alarm went off late at night and I was called in to clear it). And I’ve felt this bump of manly (a.k.a. ridiculous) pride when I put one in the chamber. I get it, but there is no legitimate reason to keep a round chambered when the gun is not in use. Chambering a round makes the trigger pressure (the force needed to pull the trigger) significantly less. A six-year-old probably would not have the strength to pull the slide to chamber a round of a found gun (and how would a six-year-old know how to do this in the first place?), but even if the child did have enough strength, the fourteen-year-old would have at least been made aware of the danger by the sound. And yet, here we are, a six-year-old’s life taken away so very prematurely because somebody didn’t properly secure the gun, and because somebody just had to have a round chambered.