Some general knowledge of firearms is important to the public welfare …. The Constitution secures the right of the people to keep and bear arms. No doubt, a citizen who keeps a gun or pistol under judicious precautions, practises in safe places the use of it, and in due time teaches his sons to do the same, exercises his individual right.
– B. Abbott, Judge and Jury: A Popular Explanation of the Leading Topics in the Law of the Land 333 (1880). Cited by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in DC v Heller, 2007.
I ran across an article by Gary Stallard in the Lufkin News today while squandering an otherwise perfectly good day off. It’s a good bit of writing, but what makes his narrative stand out is that it is a confession of his guilt in what was very nearly a Christmas tragedy. The short version is that Stallard, a Marine veteran, negligently discharged his weapon while showing it to his brother-in-law. Fortunately the only damage made by the .45 round was a hole in his bedroom door.
It wasn’t a lack of training. He’d learned gun safety from his father and from the Marines. But he’d grown complacent; he had gone for years without firing the pistol, and he was rusty on the procedures. He did remember to keep the barrel pointed down until he was ready to fire at a target, but the cardinal sins were assuming the weapon was unloaded and pulling the trigger.
So Gary Stallard took to the Internet to call attention to his mistake, hoping that by doing so, at least some of the nearly 1.8 million new gun buyers in 2015 would bother to take a class on how to handle a weapon safely. (For the four basic gun safety rules, click here.)
Some will be quick to say no, that gun owners don’t need training. It’ll just add to the cost of owning a gun, they’ll say. They’ll also point out that Gary Stallard had more training than most civilians ever will, and it didn’t do him much good, but nobody will be quicker to point that out faster than Stallard himself. And Justice Scalia noted that the phrase “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment suggests that militiamen obviously needed some kind of “proper discipline and training.”
Yes, investing in training on how to use a gun will add to the cost of ownership, but it will hardly be crippling. A quick bit of Googling revealed basic handgun courses for as little as $80 to $125, and some institutions offer advanced training for around the same money. Compare that figure to the $500 and up a good gun will cost you, add $50 for a holster, then add the cost of ammo for a year, and the $80 price tag for basic instruction seems like a steal.
The concept of taking a class to learn how to do something that can mean the difference between life and death seems a no-brainer to me, but I’m an educator by trade, and I’ve been in school for half my life. And, as an educator, I also understand that there are plenty of people who don’t want to sit through a class of any kind.
But consider this: most Americans who buy handguns cite personal or family protection as the reason. If you’re one of them, then learn how to use it and practice regularly. Do you really want to find yourself in a situation where you’re the good guy with a gun going up against a trained bad guy with a gun? Intentions will not matter in that case. Are you really willing to put yourself and your family at risk because you couldn’t be bothered to invest a few hours a month on the firing range? If you buy a weapon for protection but leave it in a drawer and never practice with it, you’ve merely bought the illusion of security.
Learning how to use a weapon and staying in practice are two requirements for responsible gun ownership. Once you are trained, teach your entire family in due time how to properly handle a firearm. Proper education can prevent the negligent handling of a gun, either by you or by untrained individuals. Remember, all guns are always loaded. Period.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this thought from The Federalist about when a weapon should be discharged (outside of a shooting range):
Never discharge your weapon unless you believe your life or that of another innocent person is in imminent mortal danger. And then, if you choose to shoot, shoot to neutralize the threat.
After you pull the trigger, the gun will do its job. Do yours: make sure the threat is real and not a door in your bedroom.