Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Cases Like This

"It's cases like this that remind firearm owners about the importance of gun safety and making sure their children understand they should never touch firearms without their parents' permission."

The case referenced (Seattle Times, Oct. 26) is that of a four-year-old boy (not in Seattle but in Kitsap County) accidentally shooting his mother with a shotgun. Yes, I said four - not fourteen, but four

How could a four-year-old even hold a shotgun, you might wonder? Well, he wasn't holding it. And it wasn't loaded when he walked up to it. This little boy placed a round of live ammunition in the gun, whose bolt was already "pulled back and locked open" while it lay on his parents bed, ostensibly "under a blanket." 

The boy "slipped a shell" into the gun and "pulled the trigger." 

How did he come to have a shell? According to the police: "the boy's 25-year-old father had, at some point, given his son a shell to handle because he was curious about firearms and ammunition."

Really? He was curious? Well, it's good for children to be curious, isn't it? That's how they learn. And we should encourage healthy curiosity. Most of us don't encourage it by giving children live ammo to play with, or maybe that's just me - and everyone I know. To be clear, my former husband and his family were hunters. His was a lifetime NRA hunting family. I'm a vegetarian pacifist, but I really do believe the best we all can do is to live according to our own conscience. And I lived with it because my in-laws were also conscientious and clear about gun safety. My children's father kept his guns locked in cases, not lying around, and ammunition was locked in a separate case from the guns.  

The Sheriff's Office spokesman was quoted in the Seattle Times article as saying no arrests are expected but that if prosecutors decide to file charges it would be "something along the lines of negligence." He noted that the family "has been pretty shaken up by the incident." 

I'm writing with a lot of italics in this piece because what struck me as I read the Seattle Times article was that it matters very much how we say things. How we say things reflects a great deal about how we live and how we treat one another, how we take or don't take responsibility for our actions. And here we have the authorities who are charged with protecting us all giving this Dad a pass in a situation where he clearly and obviously was not only negligent but put his family in harm's way. The authorities might well say they have not given him a pass, that they are taking all appropriate action.  I hope that is true, but their words are not reassuring in this regard. 

At the time the child shot the gun the father was not at home. I imagine that the father did not intend the child to do what he did, but he made it terribly easy for the child to do. Because it's hard to wrap one’s brain around this, I repeat: the gun was on the bed, the child had his live ammo which Daddy had forgotten that he gave him, the bolt was pulled back and locked open

"All the kid did was drop the shell in the chamber, touch the bolt release and pull the trigger," the Sheriff's spokesman said. "He had probably seen his dad do it a hundred times."

Fortunately for everyone involved in this case there was a chair between the gun and the mother and the chair took a lot of the impact. The pellet wounds were less severe because of that and she was treated and released from the hospital.

That quote at the top of this page? It's from Dave Workman, who the Seattle Times says is the editor of Gun Week and a nationally recognized firearms authority. Experts are doing such a great job of guiding gun owners about safety issues, aren't they? 

In case you're worried about the little family affected this time, to recap: the 23-year-old mother has pellet wounds in her back, the father is, according to the Sheriff's office and the newspaper's headline, "kicking himself" and I'm guessing the little four-year-old boy is scarred for life. In cases like this, though, that's to be expected. 

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