Several of my gun-owning friends have asked me about the (sigh) political side of the “Unintended” project. Have I thought about the risks and dangers of collecting and talking openly about these events? Do I realize that this work could be used against us, politically? Shouldn’t we just … you know … kind of keep quiet about these types of incidents?
Short answers: yes, yes, and NO.
Let’s talk about that.
Not too long after a highly-publicized mass murder awhile back, one of my old friends contacted me. This friend is essentially against firearms ownership for ordinary people, and is very much in favor of laws that make it much harder for people with low incomes to afford owning them. But she is still my friend, and I am still her friend. 1
While we talked, my friend claimed (and boy, did she sound frustrated!) that I should agree with her about making guns more difficult to own. After all, she said, on this website, I talk all the time about the dangers of handling firearms carelessly or irresponsibly. She said that I constantly encourage people who own guns to learn more about them, to become more skilled at handling them safely. She pointed out that I often tell people about the dangers of bad gun-related products, such as “holsters” that do not hold the gun securely or protect the trigger in a solid and reliable way. And, my friend told me, every time I talk about how people can hurt themselves or others by not using their guns responsibly, I am giving more energy to her ideas about keeping guns away from people who want to own them.
This makes sense … on the surface. But look a little deeper: my friend was saying that gun owners’ voluntary (and sometimes expensive) efforts to be responsible and careful with their firearms is really evidence — catch this! — that gun owners cannot be trusted to be either responsible or careful with their firearms.
We should say so, often and loudly. That is an extremely weird and non-rational way to think!
While I am extremely sensitive to all the different ways the anti-rights people can use our attempts to educate each other against us, I’m also not a fan of the type of thinking that would point to this type of conversation as an argument that ordinary people can’t be trusted with tools to protect themselves and the people they love. That’s just not sane thinking there.
More to the point.
My reference files are full of links to news stories about unintentional, accidental, and negligent discharges that happen in public, sometimes with disastrous results. (Did you see the one last week, about the gun that fell out of a guy’s pocket while he was sitting on a couch at Ikea, and a child found it and fired it?) The news stories about situations where people got hurt, or got charged with a crime, are not exactly hard to find and anyone who’s looking for those can easily find them.
At the same time, stories found only in the news are not all that useful for educational purposes, except in very broad terms that may-or-may-not have anything to do with the event as it actually happened.
Clue: when a “news” report starts off with a reference to a “Glock revolver” or somesuch, you know there’s not going to be anything in the details of that story you can trust. And that’s even assuming that the article offers any real information about what actually happened, which generally they do not. They’ll report what the gun owner has been charged with, or how the neighbors felt, or what the police spokesperson said … but the brief sentence (if that) about what actually happened to kick off all those reactions and feelings will be buried well down toward the bottom of the article, as an afterthought, if it’s there at all. And the details in that part of the story are usually about as trustworthy as a wall full of termites.
So if we want to educate ourselves and each other, we have to be willing to talk about our own learning points, and learn from the mistakes others talk about.
By the way, with at least 50 million households in America having guns in them, and more than 16 million people with concealed carry permits, it would be absolutely shocking if we did not see some of these mistakes happening from time to time. In absolute numbers, these are common events. But as a percentage value, for how often they happen vs how many people own guns and handle them on a daily basis, unintentional discharges are extraordinarily rare. It’s easy to get a skewed understanding of how often such mistakes happen just because the stories are so memorable and heart-stopping when they do happen. But they are extremely uncommon.
So people with a political or public policy agenda can easily find headlines to bolster their cause, but the details (that aren’t reported) are where we as gun owners can learn the lessons we need to learn in order to avoid making new headlines. We can learn a lot from these events, but only as long as we’re willing to actually talk about them.
What happened? How did it happen? What factors do the people who were there think are important?
That’s what we need to know. 2
- Which is a good thing. The idea that people can (or worse, should) only be friends with people who agree with them on everything is … harmful. And if you don’t agree, I guess that means you and I can’t be friends, hm? So maybe there’s no point in disagreeing with me about this one. 😉 ↩
- I am still collecting stories about unintended, accidental, and negligent discharges (and close calls). If you’d like to help, please send your story with as many details as you remember and are willing to share to pax at cornered cat dot com. Unless you prefer otherwise and clearly let me know, your contribution will be anonymous. Thanks! ↩