The real gun safety crisis

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted January 15, 2001

The anti-gun lobby has tried every possible approach to attack guns and gun owners. They imply that guns drive human beings to acts of violence, they claim that guns are responsible for suicides and they insist that guns do much more harm than good. All of these charges are easily dismissed with a bit of research, so the gun control crowd has turned to the ultimate weapon. They tell us we must ban guns in order to "save the children" from gun accidents.

Despite the fact that less than one half of one percent of childhood deaths involve firearms accidents, a great deal of attention has been devoted to the relatively new issue of "kids and guns". The visual image of an unsupervised small child handling a pistol is a potent emotional weapon that tends to override the logical filters most people apply to any kind of advertising. The public is led to believe that there is a veritable plague of accidental firearms fatalities, when in reality the number of such incidents has been steadily declining since numbers were first recorded almost one hundred years ago.

One positive result of this attention has been a wave of gun safety programs aimed at younger children who may not know the difference between real guns and toys. The most successful is the Eddie Eagle program created by the NRA. Anti-gun groups, blinded by their hatred of guns and gun owners, often try to prevent this program from being offered, ignoring the fact that the NRA is the world's oldest and most respected gun safety organization.

Stop! Don't touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult!

These words about gun safety are being taught to young children across America and reports from parents indicate that the lesson is being fully absorbed. Many parents can now describe incidents where children came to them to report a firearm that was left unattended and accessible. This is a great accomplishment, but in some cases parents are not able to take appropriate action due to their own lack of training. Indeed, the success of these programs for children is pointing out a growing crisis in adult gun safety.

When America was a more rural nation, almost everyone, men and women alike, had at least a rudimentary understanding of the various kinds of common firearms. The situation is vastly different today, thanks to three decades of anti-gun propaganda. The result is that more people than ever now fear and hate guns. Not only do they know very little about guns, but they are afraid to learn. When a child comes to them to report a firearm, they will not be able to deal with it on their own.

Ideally, an adult would know how to check to see if a firearm is unloaded, make it safe, and store it away properly. Unfortunately, most women and some men do not have this basic level of knowledge and may even be unable to describe the type of firearm to another person.

Perhaps they will call 911, but such a request for service will probably be a low priority and may not justify a quick response. Perhaps they will choose not to bother the police at all and try to find a more knowledgeable friend . Perhaps they will be embarrassed to admit their ignorance to anyone and attempt to handle the gun themselves.

This lack of knowledge is by no means limited to parents. Airline counter personnel are responsible for making sure that firearms in checked baggage are unloaded, but they often have no idea how to accomplish that task. Police officers typically receive little firearms training beyond that necessary to wield their duty weapons.

The long running campaign of the anti-gun lobby to demonize guns is having an ironic and unfortunate consequence. The irrational fear of weapons, known as hoplophobia, actually makes us less safe by promoting ignorance. Who wants to learn safe gun handling practices when they are told by the gun haters that merely touching a gun might drive them into a killing frenzy?

Without proper training, people absorb misleading impressions of firearms from television and films. They become a danger to themselves and others. Firearm safety classes are available almost everywhere. These classes are suitable for parents and for those who must handle unfamiliar firearms on the job.

In many areas, basic gun handling and marksmanship classes are available for teens who are mature enough to begin accepting some adult responsibility. The anti-gun lobby attacks these classes as being a bad influence on young people and have caused many school-based firearms classes to disappear. Their theory is that there is safety in ignorance, much like those who oppose sex education classes; but this theory does not match reality.

Anyone who has lived around guns immediately sees the difference in the way that a person handles firearms after they have had proper training. The unsafe Hollywood- inspired moves exhibited by many young men are replaced by a cautious respect for firearms and other people. The superstitious fear felt by many women changes into understanding and empowerment.

The benefits of structured firearms training are particularly noticeable in teenagers who hunger for guidance and the chance to accept adult responsibility. Many parents who live outside the centers of urban liberal culture still understand the value of formal firearms training in the maturation process of their children.

The attacks on firearms education must cease. We should ignore anti-gun zealots who cause death and injury by promoting safety through ignorance. Knowledge will always be the key to safety and all Americans deserve access to that knowledge. ESR

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws. On the web at

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