There's been another horrible, heart-breaking gun accident with a child: A 3-year-old shot himself and died when his family left him in their car while they got gas at a station. Apparently, the child found his father's loaded handgun under the driver's seat. It's unbelievably sad and I feel for the parents. However careless or irresponsible they may have been, I wouldn't wish this on anyone.
Now as a non gun-owning parent, I know what my standard response is supposed to be: We need stricter gun laws! Right? But I can't help wondering what gun-owning parents think. We actually do have some gun laws. Thousands of parents own guns and practice gun safety. What do they think when they hear stories like this?
I asked around the Stir office, and one of us does own a gun for target shooting -- we'll call her "Annie." She grew up handling a gun and learning safety, and says she's used to hearing people blame guns for tragedies. Annie says, "I can’t believe any parent would be so stupid as to leave a loaded gun just lying around." But while she believes most gun owners are very careful about safety, "there's always one careless person in the bunch and it's gonna happen." Annie keeps her gun at her parents' house.
A few of us have family members and friends who own guns, and know that when gun owners hear about other careless parents, it makes them angry. Accidents like this give gun ownership a bad name.
There also seems to be a difference between people who own guns for hunting and people who own hand guns for other reasons. Hunters feel like they are more strict about gun safety and keep their rifles locked up. They're the ones patiently teaching their children about gun safety at an appropriate age. But not all hunters are sensible.
Same goes for police -- they carry a weapon as part of their job, and most practice gun safety. But still, accidents with their children happen. One wife of a cop admits that she worries about the day her husband forgets to hide his gun. One of my colleagues has a friend who carries a concealed weapon license and believes strongly in gun rights. But late one night, when he heard some noises around the house and looked around, gun in hand, the noises turned out to be one of his kids milling around the house. It was a terrifying close call that really shook up the gun owner.
So if most gun owners are responsible, never take the real danger of guns for granted, and keep their firearms safe from children, do they also have an obligation to keep other gun owners in line? I would think at the least it's in the best interest. Annie says, "If I knew someone was keeping a loaded, unlocked gun around their kids, I would go ballistic on them." She would even go so far as to report the parents to the police. Otherwise, she says that gun owners can connect with other owners at gun clubs and shooting ranges and try to influence each other for the better that way.
What do you think? Do careful gun owners have a responsibility to educate and influence other gun-owning parents to be safer?
Image via xiombarg/Flickr