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The Cynic Express(ed) 1.05: Legislating Firearms Safety

      I will begin this week's column with a quote from Washington State's Initiative 676, awaiting a vote from the citizens of that verdant state:

Sec. 1. The sovereign people of the state of Washington declare that:

  1. Handguns are a leading cause of death and serious injury. In recent years more people have been murdered in Washington state (population 5.5 million) than in the entire countries of Canada(population 26.9 million) and Great Britain (population 57.5 million) combined.
  2. As a result of unsafe use or storage of handguns, children frequently are killed or wounded, either through criminal violence, accidents, or suicide. Nationally, more than five thousand children under the age of nineteen are killed or wounded each year by handguns. Many of these child victims died in Washington State.
  3. The injury and death caused by the unsafe storage and use of handguns constitutes a direct threat to the public health and safety of the citizens of Washington state.
  4. The great majority of firearms deaths resulting from homicide, accident, and suicide are caused by handguns and not rifles or shotguns.
  5. A handgun, like an automobile, is extremely dangerous when used by a person without proper training in its safe operation, handling, and storage.
  6. Requiring that each handgun user obtain a handgun safety license is a reasonable means for the public to protect itself from the unlawful and unsafe use and storage of these firearms.

      Ah, the rarefied air of the great American northwest has thrown wide the doors of perception and let the public, or at least those who would dictate public policy, see the world for as it really is. Sort of.

     Were I the type to merely nitpick at initiatives, I would quickly point out that an automobile is sometimes extremely dangerous when used by people who are trained properly in its use and storage. As it is, though, I am more at odds with the spirit of the initiative than the letter.

     I, like a lot of members of the early Generation-X boomlet, grew up with firearms in the household, including rifles, shotguns, and the dreaded handguns. I, like my brother, like my girlfriend, like the children of my father's hunting companions, managed to make it to above the age of nineteen without shooting myself, my brother, or the family pet. The guns were kept in a gun cabinet with a simple lock, a lock we learned how to foil early (not in order to gain access to the arsenal, but to gain access to the Playboy photos of Barbi Benton my father kept in there as well). How did we poor, unguided and often alone children manage to not kill one another? We were taught to respect the firearms.

     They were not toys; the guns were meant for hunting, or target shooting, not games, not to show our friends, not to take to school, and certainly not for eating. Our father was a responsible firearms owner without any extra legislation. It was a part of owning the gun, and we respected him and because of that, we respected them.

     Responsibility and respect for guns cannot be legislated. It's one of the foolish notions of our era, an era that prompts state legislatures and the emergent political-science degree ruling class to cause the government to waddle its way into our household and wiggle its fat finger at parents and gun owners.

     After all, the only ones who will heed this law are those who are responsible and law-abiding, the ones who already lock their gun cabinets and instill the belief in their children that guns are not a toy. Billy Bob Redneck, whatever stereotype that the legislators envision, will still plunk his kid down in front of the television with a loaded .32 and a copy of Lethal Weapon 3. Or continue to hide his gun from his children, allowing it to become an artifact of mystique and eldritch grown-up power. Little Chad Angstruck, alone in the maelstrom of adolescence without a mentor or an adult confidant, will go into any drugstore and buy a bottle of sleeping pills and drink them with a pint of his mother's vodka or NyQuil. Or any of the other million forms of flight cliched from Romeo and Juliet on. Little Bobby Delinquent will rely on his knife or his overwhelming extra-Y chromosome size if he can't buy a little Saturday Night Special with no paper somewhere. If he's clever, he can make a zip gun with a nail and a spring or two.

     The ones who heed Initiative 676 and similar laws will be the only ones who pay its price. John Q. NRA will wake up in the middle of the night after hearing a strange click in the hall outside his bedroom door, outside his children's bedroom door. Somebody is there, somebody who is armed and the bad guy knows he is not alone (an informal survey among fellow inmates leads a convicted burglar to claim that 65% of burglars continue their burglary if they discover someone is home). John is in his mid-thirties, a bit out of shape from a desk job somewhere other than the state legislature, and will need to reach his only chance against whatever hopped-up kid is in the hall in a matter of seconds. But John, law-abiding to the letter, will have to get up, find his keys in the dark, get the .38 his father left him, find the ammunition, load the gun, and he probably won't make it.

The survey by the burglar was recounted in The Big Black Book, published by Boardroom Classics. They did not give a source. I-676 does not require guns to be stored with the trigger-lock on, but I wouldn't be surprised to see legislation requiring that to crop up.

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