I knocked on the broken-hearted mother’s door with dread. Every newspaper reporter I know loathes approaching grieving families. The job of safeguarding our own hearts from pain, loss and grief drives our discomfort in carrying out our jobs.
This particular mom opened the door, allowing me to explain my unexpected intrusion: “I am with the local newspaper and had hoped to hear more about your son. Our readers care about what happened.”
Her son, 12, died the day before of an accidental gunshot wound. Discovering an unlocked pistol at a family member’s house, the boy, untrained in gun safety, probably had no idea how dangerous his new toy was. He died quickly. > More
The mother pored through her family photo album, showing photos of happy times, ballgames and Christmases. I toured his room, decorated with sports trophies, ribbons and banners of his favorite sports teams.
She wanted us all to know what a wonderful child and son he was. His was a life worth remembering.
Her son was one of many gunshot victims in Louisiana that year: We’d had a banner year for shootings, street violence and gang-related drive-bys. Accidental shootings were more rare, but in some ways, more tragic.
Accidents leave so much regret in their wake. What if the gun had been locked? What if it hadn’t been loaded? What if the boy had been warned and schooled enough to cure him of curiosity?
I grew up not only with guns in our house, but shooting them. Clay pigeons, tin cans and rotten logs became targets for .22-caliber rifles and .410 shotguns in the rural place I grew up. We didn’t have a gun safe or newfangled trigger locks, but we did have extensive training in gun safety, gun use, gun cleaning and ethics.
Today, I don’t own a gun and have no need to. I’d be less safe with a gun than without one. My kids aren’t around guns much and it’s not part of our life. What about their friends and other homes they go to, though?
Is there a pistol in the bedside table at their friends’ houses? Does the family that hunts keep the rifle leaning in the corner of a closet? Does a problem-child older sibling have a hidden .38-special somewhere under his bed? Are guns accessible, even in “hidden” locations?
Too often the answer is “yes.”
And sometimes, the result is tragedy.
Floridians in record numbers are ready to pack some heat anyway. Florida has received 75,679 first-time concealed weapons permit applications in 2007 and 86,269 in 2008. A story posted on Florida Health News recently said the state is hiring additional workers to handle the backlog of requests.
But the other day a woman in front of me at a home improvement store was buying a large gun safe. She already had a cache of weapons and was more afraid of them getting them stolen than anything. Regardless of rationale, I’m happy she took the time to put the weapons under lock and key.
If you’re a gun owner, think of it like paying the tip at a restaurant. If you can’t afford to tip adequately, then you can’t afford to eat out. If you can’t afford to keep your guns under locks, you can’t afford a gun. For those who want to carry a concealed weapon, think long and hard about who you may be around when you’re carrying a pistol in your purse. Grandchildren, children and purse-snatchers all might think your pistol looks awfully interesting.
Trigger locks are often touted as one method of keeping kids’ safe from accidental shootings and are often free from non-profits or law enforcement agencies. Not a fail-safe cure and no substitute for education, the locks could be one deterrent for a young child.
And if, like me, you are one of those who inherited old shotguns, pistols or rifles you have little use for, your local sheriff’s office is a good place to turn. They’ll take it off your hands, sometimes pay a nice bounty, and dispose of it safely.
If you have a gun, take responsibility for it. If you don’t use it for legal sport, get rid of it. There’s a mother in Louisiana who would do anything for that chance again.
For more information on a free gun safety kit, visit www.projectchildsafe.org/tours.cfm.
Guidance from an elder brother
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