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Quote of the Month

There's considerable human nature in a man. 
                                              --  Artemus Ward, 1862

~ January 01, 2015 ~

One simple, cheap way to reduce the handgun kiddie-carnage 

 


Veronica Rutledge

 

Negligence by any other name is still negligence

Loaded guns and young children donít mix. That fact should be so self-evident that one would have to be certified brain-dead to miss it or to dispute it. But the corollary gets folks upset: Any parent who lets his or her toddler get within reach of a loaded gun is negligent per se, regardless of whether or not the gun goes off.

Unfortunately, the gun went off in the Hayden, Idaho Wal-Mart on Boxing Day, killing 29 year old Veronica Rutledge, a mother of three. Veronica, who loved guns, turned her back on her two year-old son for just a moment, but it was long enough for him to reach into her purse and pull the trigger on the handgun she was carrying there. The bullet hit her in the head, killing her and devastating her young family.

A "tragic accident" is  what it is being called. Itís what theyíre all called Ė thousands and thousands of them every year. But it was also gross negligence, a term less seldom used. If the word "lucky" applies in any way to this tragedy it would be that it was lucky that Veronica Ė the negligent adult, the gunís owner, the person responsible for the child Ė paid the price for her own negligence and not the boy, or one of the other three children with her, or some other person in the store. Usually in these cases it is not the negligent adult that gets hurt or dies; itís the child who finds the gun or the other child he points it at. The negligent adult goes to prison, which is where Veronica would have surely gone if the boy had shot himself or someone else.

From his cold, dead fingers

Idaho is famous for itís gun-toting attitude and population, but it is just a small part of a violent America. Thousands and thousands of children and teenagers are wounded or killed by firearms in America every year and nobody really seems to care, least of all NRA members and other gun loving adults. In 2013  USA Today reported that 15,576 children and teens were injured by firearms in America in 2010 Ė 3-times the number of US service-people injured in combat in Afghanistan. That is insanity by anyoneís definition of insanity. Digging deeper into these data, Childrenís Defense Fund  reported that the overall number of injuries for 2010 was actually 18,270, and 2,694 of those injuries were fatal. By my accounting that is more dead kids in one year than the total number of US war fatalities in Afghanistan from 2001 to the present.

But the sickening numbers donít seem to matter. The reports of "tragic accidents" just keep coming and coming and children continue to get shot at the rate of hundreds per week. Politicians could begin reducing the carnage tomorrow if they had the guts, but having the guts means standing up to the NRA and the firearms industry Ė just ask Colorado ex-state senate president John Morse and Colorado ex-state senator Angela Giron. Both of them supported gun-control legislation and both of them were recalled in 2013  by gun-happy Colorado voters. A political resolution to this shameful, rolling, American tragedy is not going to happen, at least not in my life time. At the current rate, twenty years down the road from here Veronica Rutledge will be long forgotten and 400,000 more children will have been shot, 60,000 of them fatally.

But there is a very simple, non-political, partial solution to this problem that should be readily embraced by both sides of the gun debate Ė a solution that would reduce gun injuries to children many-fold. Let me take the Rutledge case as an example of how these sorts of tragedies could be avoided.

The "safety-blank" concept 

I have not been able to find a discussion of what sort of handgun Rutledge was carrying in her purse, but I think it would be safe to bet it was a semi-automatic, which is by far the most common gun carried for civilian self-defense. It is also almost a certainty that Rutledge had a live round in the chamber, and, possibly, the gun was cocked. And the reason I say that is because a two-year old is almost certainly not going to know how to rack a round, nor is he going to know how to release a safety or have the necessary finger-strength to pull a trigger on a properly de-cocked semi-automatic. Let me explain.

With a semi-automatic, if there is no round in the chamber, the gun is, of course, safer but to use it, it is necessary to manually force the slide to the rear of the gun and release it so that the mechanism strips a round out of the magazine and forces it into the chamber. This is called "racking." Because of the extra effort and time required to rack a pistol, cops and most civilians carry a semi-automatic with a round already in the chamber so that all that is required to fire the gun is to release the safety, if there is one, and pull the trigger. But even if there is already a round in the chamber, generally the trigger-pull is much harder to fire for the first round because the trigger has to cock the gun. Once the first round is fired, the gun cocks itself automatically so subsequent trigger-pulls are much lighter. It is difficult for me to envision how a two year-old could have enough strength to fire a semi-automatic that was not at least partially cocked. And I donít see how a two year-old could fire most revolvers at all, at least not in the short amount of time Rutledge must have had her back turned. So even without the police and reporters telling us the details, we can guess that Rutledge had her gun locked and loaded . . . and maybe cocked.

But my point is this: if Rutledge had had a blank round in the chamber, she would be alive today. She would probably be locked up for endangerment of a child, but she would be alive and her children would still have a mother. If those who feel they have to carry handguns or keep them by their bed would merely chamber a blank instead of a live round, thousands and thousands of childrenís lives could be saved over the coming decades. Once the blank goes off the danger is virtually removed because most children would be startled by the sound of the gunshot and adults would come running. 

There are myriad situations where adults shoot themselves, too.  Pulling a pistol out of a shoulder holster is a common example.  A right handed person will often shoot himself in the left armpit, piercing the brachial artery and quickly bleeding to death.  It is noteworthy that it is almost always the round in the chamber that is the fatal one.   Rarely does a gun accidentally discharge twice, even when it's a fool handling it.  

Some Harry Callahan gun freaks will object to this proposal by pointing out that a blank round in the chamber is never going to "make my day." People carry guns to kill other people for whatever reason, and firing a blank defeats that purpose. Well, maybe if youíre in a High Noon sort of gunfight the blank might make a difference, but not much. For even in a quick-draw situation, there is only a tenth of a second between the blank being fired and the live round that comes next. Even with a revolver there would only be a fraction of a second. And so the trade-off for making the weapon much safer should it fall into the hands of a child is losing a tenth of a second. Could that tenth of a second ever be worth it? Ask Veronicaís widowed husband and her motherless kids.

I am surprised that the NRA and police departments across America havenít promoted this simple, effective way to reduce child casualties. Police departments should be handing out blanks for free. They have been handing out trigger locks for decades but nobody uses them because a gun with its trigger locked is useless. And as for the NRA, it is in their best interest to do everything they can to put an end to the handgun carnage that is endemic to America without detracting from their main message of the right to carry a firearm. This proposal is win/win in every direction I can see.

Veroncia Rutledge is being described by family and work-mates as a beautiful person. That much is obvious from the media photos. Hers was, by all accounts I have seen, a wonderful, perfect life that should have gone on for another six decades. But the NRA is right: she had a constitutional right to carry that gun. And her father-in-law says she loved guns and always carried one.  Too bad she didnít carry it with a safety-blank in the chamber.

 
 

Copyright, 2005- 2015, Denis O'Brien ~ All rights reserved.