There's No Such Thing as as Safe Gun


The line has been attributed to Voltaire “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We seem to though. A lot. We have a national debate on firearm safety that seems to be going nowhere. Congress, including Sen. Sanders, has repeatedly voted against firearms control or limitations, while others, including Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was injured by a shooter who killed six people, is endorsing Secretary Clinton who has advocated limited firearms restrictions.

There are two essential challenges to developing a plan to increase firearm safety. One is that there are a large number of people who have a genuine need for firearms and perhaps a larger number who think they do. People engaged in law enforcement, people who live in areas where law enforcement is too far away and have to have firearms for personal protection. For many people, hunting is essential for feeding their families, while for others there‘s a need for protection either for themselves or domestic animals against predators. Finally, target sports are fun. Consider that shooting events have been part of the modern Olympic Games since 1896. Baron Pierre de Combertin revived the competition. There were actually five shooting events, two with a military focus and three with civilian weapons. Perhaps it’s a reflection on the times but the winner of the military rifle competition was the only person to hit the target 40 times out of 40 at 200 meters. The Olympics now include 15 shooting events.

And then there are the most tragic examples of unrestricted firearms, the toddler shootings. In one case, reported by CNN, a 2-year-old boy found a gun on the floor of the family car, and killed his mother. “Though the tragedy may seem shocking, it happens with alarming frequency. In the past week, at least five children across the country have found and fired handguns — with deadly consequences. In one case, a boy killed his mother. In other cases, the children kill themselves.” (Washington Post)

On Oct. 14, 2015, the Washington Post reported that people were being shot by toddlers on a weekly basis. On May 1, 2015, the paper could report that the rate of toddler shootings have doubled. Everytown For Gun Safety , which keeps the best available records on the subject, reports that there have been at least 93 child shootings (this includes teens) in 2016.

The all-purpose answer is that these shootings would have been preventable if the gun had been properly stored, and that’s true enough, but these tragedies may account for the only time a gun owner was careless. Lancaster Online reported, “Woman adjusting bra holster fatally shoots herself in the eye.” A Russian report was headed, “ Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie.” In this case a security guard seems to have left his gun behind, and the 21-year-old woman thought it would be amusing to have a picture taken with the gun.

It’s obvious that with proper storage, these unintentional shootings could have been prevented, but the recommendations of Everytown for Gun Safety call for the gun to be unloaded. Those who rely on firearms for personal protection would never consider an unloaded gun to be much use. In one chat room discussion of gun safety, the contributors concluded that the only way to have the firearm immediately available for self protection at all times was to dispense with the safe and wear the gun at all times.

One obvious approach would be to encourage the use of smart guns, firearms that have a system intended to let only the owners use the guns. There have been a large number of approaches, but none seem to be perfect. Guns with fingerprint readers might not work in the rain, or if you’re wearing gloves, or have one hand bandaged and have to shoot with your opposite hand. Radio Frequency Identification uses a token which might be incorporated in a ring or a watch, and the gun only works when the ring or watch is close to the gun. One of the objections to this is that the government might block all radio signals and the guns wouldn’t function. Other methods use magnets to lock the trigger, or biometric measurements to identify the approved user. Fingerprint readers might take a second to register and delay getting off a shot. In the end, there is nothing so perfect that someone can’t find an objection.

We can imagine the life of a child asking “why do all the other kids have mommies?” Or looking at a photograph with an unfamiliar face and asking who that was – and being told “well, I couldn’t take the chance that I’d have gloves on when I needed the gun.”

Smart guns aren’t perfect, but neither are gun owners, Christopher Ingraham, writing in the Washington Post, said, “Depending on where you stand on gun policy, you may feel that 13 dead toddlers in 10 months is too many. Or, you might reason that stuff happens, and that this is part of the price we must pay to protect our gun rights.” And if you read the New York Times you can get a sentence like “Sha’Quille Kornegay, 2 years old, was buried in a pink coffin, her favorite doll by her side and a tiara strategically placed to hide the self-inflicted gunshot wound to her forehead.”

Decide for yourself.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2016

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