Guest Editorial: Shot in the Dark

Earlier this month, a 3-year-old Jacksonville boy and his 5-year-old sister were rooting around in a bedroom of their home looking for something to do. One of them remembered something really cool, and lifted up a corner of the mattress.

It was a gun. The boy pulled it out and held that heavy chunk of metal in his soft toddler hands. Then he pulled the trigger and shot himself.

Around the same time, a group of Westside teens threw a party and smoked a bunch of pot. A fight ensued — and one of them pulled out two shotguns. He held them like Yosemite Sam, aimed them at his friend’s head and pulled the trigger, shooting the boy in the head.

Both victims are expected to recover, but clearly, gun control is dead. Long live the NRA. In Florida, at least, the nation’s most dangerously powerful lobby has won. The losers? Almost anyone on the receiving end of a bullet.

Gun owners will be spitting out their coffee right now to scream that the above incidents resulted from irresponsible parents, and that the guns weren’t properly — or legally — stored. True! Boy, now I feel better. And I bet those kids do, too.

It is so easy to purchase a gun in this state, even the few people who don’t qualify to own firearms can find a weapon through other means. Call it the “trickle down” effect. In the case of the 3-year-old, the man living at the house had been convicted of domestic violence. And his father was murdered in a carjacking a few years ago.

“Not fair!” scream NRA enthusiasts — because, as they’ll tell you, the vast majority of gun-related crimes committed in this country involve the use of illegal firearms. (The man, like all of those convicted of domestic violence, is prohibited from owning a gun.) And in this regard, the NRA activists are correct. It’s not fair that responsible gun owners should be subjected to increased scrutiny due to the irresponsibility of others. But life isn’t fair. And if that unfairness means legitimate gun owners need to jump through more hoops in order to protect children and other victims of gun violence, bring on the injustice.

Recently, I discussed this issue with two acquaintances, both of whom hold concealed weapon permits, and I walked away dismayed. Both men insisted that my family isn’t as safe as theirs because we don’t keep weapons in our home. I was appalled. I’m nervous because we keep gas for the barbecue pit in the garage. The idea that a gun equals safety simply doesn’t compute.

At least one of the men owns his gun responsibly. He goes to the firing range regularly, keeps his weapon locked and stored, and has completed weapons courses. The other man, who has small children, said that when he attended the one concealed weapons class required for his permit, he was told to “shoot to kill” if an intruder broke into his home — otherwise, the intruder could survive and sue him, and “take me for everything I own.”

It doesn’t even matter whether that was really said. What matters is his perception — and the perception of many, many gun owners — that killing someone is the first and best defense against anything that appears to be threatening.

In some ways, the NRA-gun control issue mimics the vitriolic, stubborn debates common to Congress. The term “gun control” is now interpreted to mean “people who want to make all weapons illegal and make us defend ourselves with pencils.” That’s not what gun control should be.

We’d prefer it to mean: more careful scrutiny of people trying to purchase weapons, longer waiting periods, fewer loopholes, more education for gun owners and better tracking of serial numbers and ballistic fingerprints when it comes to sales between owners.

Will similar measures make it more difficult for legitimate gun owners to purchase weapons? Absolutely. Kind of like it’s harder for patients to purchase hydrocodone because of widespread misuse — which is to say, it’s no big deal. But right now, it’s harder to get a passport than it is to buy a weapon.

I don’t like guns. But that doesn’t mean I want to force other people to think the same way.

Yes, the Second Amendment guarantees us the right to bear arms. But inherent in that right is a strict responsibility to know how to use them — and how not to use them, too. It’s unfortunate the NRA can’t see that, too. It must be the gunsmoke obscuring their sight.

Tricia Book

Booker blogs at mylefthook.c

Anne Schindler’s Editor’s Note returns next week.