If you have a gun…

If you decided to own a gun, you may be certain that you are someone who will store and use it safely, that it will not be used except for (hunting, self-defense, target shooting).  But we are realizing what has probably always been true:  If you own a gun, you really don’t have control over how or when it is used.

We can begin with Columbine.  The weapons used were in a locked gun cabinet broken into by the two teenaged shooters.  I’m sure that the grandfather thought they were safe.  I haven’t seen any stories yet about the Newtown shooter and how he and his mother stored their many guns.  I imagine that she thought they were safe until she was shot with one of them.  Reading the column in the New York Times yesterday by Joe Nocera and listening to the speeches at the NRA convention made me realize that there are parallel worlds here and maybe they will never meet.

Nocera writes about two incidents.  The first happened last year.

On the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2012, Greg Imhoff — a big, friendly 61-year-old construction superintendent from Madison, Wis., who had moved to Florida with his partner, Shari Telvick — went to check on the home of a neighbor.

The neighbor, Richard Detlor, was a friend, someone Imhoff had known back in Madison, where the Detlors still lived for part of the year. Whenever the Detlors went back to Wisconsin, Imhoff would look in on their house, something he did for many of his neighbors.

It is impossible to know whether, on that August afternoon, Imhoff ever saw the stranger in the house with the .22 caliber revolver; all we know for sure is that Imhoff was shot in the head. When Telvick and a friend found him that evening, he was lying in a pool of blood, dead.

The killer turned out to be a man named Billy Ray Retherford, who was on the lam after killing a woman two weeks earlier and was hiding in the Detlors’ empty home. The next day, Retherford was killed in a shootout with the police. He was using the same .22 handgun.

The gun, however, was not his. It belonged to Richard Detlor, who, according to the police report, had left it, loaded, in the nightstand by his bed before departing for Wisconsin several months earlier.

Gregory Imhoff (Photograph from online obituary)

Gregory Imhoff
(Photograph from online obituary)

OK.  So Detlor probably thought the gun was safe even though he didn’t unload it and lock it up.  I know the argument:  If the gun isn’t loaded then it really isn’t any good for self-defense in the case of a home invasion.  Same with trigger locks.  But what about the various technologies that could prevent anyone by Detlor from firing it?  How can one be opposed to that?  Want your wife to be able to use it if you aren’t around?  I don’t know for sure, but I imagine there is technology to allow that, too.  In Florida, safe storage laws apply only when there is a minor in the household so leaving a loaded, unsecured weapon in an empty house is not illegal.  But it is stupid.

And you have the two year old killed by her five year old brother.

Just the other day, in Burkesville, Ky., a 5-year-old boy shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a small rifle that had been given to him as a present. Who gives a 5-year-old a gun? (The rifle is called a Crickett; incredibly, it is marketed specifically to children.) Who leaves the room where their children are playing without checking whether the rifle in the corner is loaded? For that matter, who puts a shotgun within such easy reach of a child?

Gary White, the county coroner, was quick to say that no charges would be brought because it was an accident — and, after all, “accidents happen.” But it was a completely preventable accident. When a passenger dies in a car accident that is the result of negligence, there are usually serious legal consequences for the driver. If we really want to reduce gun violence, there must be consequences for negligent gun owners, too. The entire culture of gun ownership has to begin emphasizing safety in a way it doesn’t now. It is as important as universal background checks, or limits on magazine rounds.

And her family says that it was an accident and that she is with God.  Gun deaths and hunting accidents may be part of rural life, but does that mean things can never be different?

We are clearly living in a parallel universe and I’m not sure what we can do to make the lines meet.  Perhaps beginning with changes in the laws relating to negligence would be a place to start.

2 thoughts on “If you have a gun…

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