On Gun Safety (an Ongoing Argument)


Soldier demonstrating gun safety by keeping th...

Soldier demonstrating gun safety by keeping the fingers off the trigger and the weapon pointed in a safe direction even while it is safetied. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of the progressive blogosphere is gloating this week because five, count them, five people were injured on 'Gun Appreciation Day' at various gun shows around the country. While there's some irony, there's really no reason to gloat.

On the same day, some dude decided to make a point by walking into a JC Penney slinging an AK 47, and a day earlier, another man trying to make the same point by pacing back and forth in front of the Federal Courthouse in Kansas City carrying an unloaded weapon. And in New Mexico, a fifteen year old kid killed his entire family and contemplated killing random people at Walmart with legally purchased firearms.

There is a huge divide in the country. Either having a gun handy makes you feel safer, or it makes you feel less safe. You are unlikely to be neutral about the presence of a pistol on the coffee table or a rifle slung over the back of the guy in front of you in the checkout line in the grocery store.

A lot of that safe vs. unsafe feeling boils down to demographics and culture. I did not grow up with guns, but in my late teens, I developed a love of sport shooting and became an expert marksman with a small bore rifle.

Then, when I was about twenty, I was repeatedly threatened, in my own home, with guns, at one time pistol whipped, another time with a pistol held against my head, and a third time, a faked suicide used to lure me back into the home for more abuse. Certainly having a gun in my house did not make me safer.

My husband grew up in a gun culture. When he was a teen, there was a trap club at his high school and he brought his shotgun to school once a week (unloaded), handed the ammunition to a school official for safekeeping, and put his shotgun in his locker in preparation for his after school club. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Minister Cadieux learns about gun safety and s...

Minister Cadieux learns about gun safety and shoots at the firing range (Photo credit: BC Gov Photos)

When we started dating, we had no firearms, either of us. I did, however, consistently sleep with a knife under my pillow the entire time I was single. Over the years we gradually brought guns into the house. First a shotgun for sport shooting and bird hunting, then a couple of rifles for deer hunting and more sport shooting, then Husband started buying pistols, and finally an 'assault rifle' (I know, I know, it's a loaded, inaccurate term. Deal).

Here's the interesting part in terms of feeling safe: He started buying pistols after a particularly bad summer about four years ago when a group of neighborhood kids started doing gang tags and shooting up signs and committing burglaries, which culminated in Husband's tools being stolen out of his work truck, and when a neighbor tried to intervene, the thief held a gun on the neighbor.

Husband bought those pistols to feel safer. Meanwhile, each pistol he brought into the home contributed more and more to my personal feeling of lack of safety. Pistols had been used on me, in a marital relationship, to abuse me. We're talking serious trauma here, folks. We're talking about warring safety needs.

We went around and around on the issue. We bought a gun safe, and Husband promised to lock up the pistols, but I would repeatedly find them, loaded, next to the bed because he didn't feel safe without them there. While I understood it (remember, for years I slept with a knife under my pillow), I didn't exactly have a mild reaction to the pistols being there. I yelled, and screamed, and demanded he get them out of the house. He would usually agree, then sneak them back in.

gun safety

We had two warring senses of safety that just wouldn't resolve.

But wait! It gets worse. Husband had surgery last year to correct problems with his shoulders that were causing him major chronic pain. For nearly a year, he was in agony and hopped up on pain pills, before the surgeries and while healing from them. During that time, several incidents occurred to increase my worry.

My youngest son attempted (and failed) to break into the gun safe, breaking off a key in the lock and rendering the safe useless. My son was never able to fully explain why he did this, even to his therapist.

On two separate occasions, Husband fell asleep with a loaded gun in his hand.

On one occasion, a young man got very loud during an argument in a car that was stopped outside our house, and my husband went out to confront the unarmed man about it with a loaded gun, while police, who had responded to an unrelated call, were less than fifty feet away, and already responding.

Not exactly inspiring faith here, is it?

We have since found an effective way to lock up our firearms, and there have been no further incidents of the OMG variety since Husband has healed from his surgery. However, every time I encounter one of my husband's 'toys' (with the exceptions of the shotguns and rifles) I have a visceral fear reaction that is so strong I am left shaking for hours. Hours.

This is not something I have any control over. I have had my PTSD treated and very few situations continue to trigger flashbacks, but encountering pistols and rifles with pistol grips trigger me, big time. No amount of exposure therapy works to make me feel safer.

My fear brain is actually right, and the numbers back it up. I am less safe for having a gun in my house... more likely to be murdered, die an accidental death, or commit suicide. And no, I will not go dig up those numbers for you, because if you're not inclined to believe statistics you will spend all day countering them anyhow. Suffice it to say that I have found sufficient research on the subject to be satisfied that I am less safe with firearms in the house.

None of that matters to Husband, because he is truly terrified that if 'something were to happen' he would need his guns to respond. No matter that we live less than a mile from the police station and that they have an almost instant response time to calls in our neighborhood. No matter that so far, every time he has introduced a gun into a situation he has escalated. What he feels is what matters, and what he feels is that his gun is a safety net from the scary world out there.

There's no arguing with that, any more than it is possible to argue with my lizard brain when I completely freak out when I walk around a corner and see a pistol innocently set aside on its way to the range. Fear is a primal response.

Is there a resolution to this issue between Husband and I? No, just a detente. I would prefer that we have nothing but sporting rifles in the home, but he now keeps all of our rifles and other firearms locked up consistently, which does help.

Is my home an accident waiting to happen? Yes and no. It is inherently unsafe to have a gun in the home. Just last week, here locally, a boy accidentally shot himself after retrieving both rifle and ammunition from opposite sides of a double locked gun safe and loading the rifle while his parents were running errands. The boy was old enough to be left home alone (13) and was in the company of older siblings and friends. He had been taught gun safety. The family had done all the right things, and the boy still died.

So, I don't have a lot of patience for people who want to 'prove' gun safety by prancing up and down store aisles or in front of a Federal Courthouse with a (legal) firearm. You're not making anyone feel safe, asshole, except maybe yourself. You're bullying. You're making an implied threat with a tool that has one purpose: to kill.

If you want to 'prove' gun safety, and choose to own guns, keep them safely stored, separately from the ammunition, make sure all children in the house understand the rules of gun safety, and accept the risk that is inherent to owning guns. Don't wander around in well policed public spaces asking others to accept the risk. It's immature and silly at least, and dangerous to yourself and others at most.

I also don't have a lot of patience for the sort of people who turn posts like this into referendums on the second amendment. I will be deleting comments that go down that road no matter what position they take. Talk about the relative merits of gun safety, fine. Talk about the constitutionality of individual gun ownership? Off topic and take it somewhere else.

Does having guns around make you feel safer or less safe? Why? What can be done when different members of a family have different opinions on the matter? Where is the compromise point?

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About odanu

Maureen O'Danu is the webmistress of Am I the Only One Dancing? where there is a new discussion every day on any one of dozens of topics and ideas, as well as reviews, geekery, family, fun, and enough politics to season the pot.
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