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With guns, try education as prevention

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By Larry Simoneaux
Once again, into the "No Man's Land" of the firearms debate.
"No Man's Land" appears appropriate since we're at a point where, on one side, we have the "Why can't I buy an Oerlikon, 35mm twin cannon for my truck?" and, on the other, the equally ridiculous "Eeek! That 7-year-old boy said 'bang.' He needs to be expelled immediately and properly evaluated."
Still, in the aftermath of yet another tragedy, here's an idea that might help us spot a problem before it becomes a tragedy, i.e., give us a chance to be proactive rather than reactive.
Some of you would likely go weak-kneed upon seeing the firearms that I own and use. You'd be aghast at my "sniper rifles" until I explained that synthetic (assault!) stocks are useful because I hunt (and regularly fall) in very steep and rocky terrain. Wooden rifle stocks hate that even more than I do. As for the attached "sniper" scopes, they simply help ensure accuracy.
In reality, though, a "sniper rifle" remains -- no matter its looks -- simply a rifle, until you attach a sniper. Then, as with any other tool, whether garden shears or fully automatic weapons, the attached human can make ugly things happen whether intentionally or not.
The "ugly" part of that statement was recognized by members of the hunting community and it gave rise to the Hunter Education Programs now taught nationwide. Such programs may differ from state to state, but they have one constant. That constant is the prevention of "incidents."
The results have been dramatic in that the number of firearm related "incidents" has been significantly reduced since these courses were instituted.
Note that a hunting "incident" differs from an "accident." An "accident" is when a tree falls on you or you fall and break a leg. An "incident" almost always involves a human being behaving inappropriately or disregarding basic safety rules.
In some cases, "incidents" may be prevented when instructors notice an individual either exhibiting inappropriate behavior in class or carelessly handling a firearm. Such an individual is then usually issued a failing grade and not allowed to obtain a hunting license until they retake and successfully complete the course.
Since the current background check system has some rather significant reporting and enforcement problems, we might consider -- as another tool to protect ourselves -- requiring the successful completion (and such being officially recorded) of a safe handling course for everyone purchasing their first firearm.
Such a course could serve as an opportunity to both instruct and, perhaps, more importantly, observe individuals while they're handling firearms. What we'd gain are new owners who've been taught firearms safety at the outset and the chance -- however slim -- to identify individuals who shouldn't, at that time, be handling firearms.
Yes, I know that firearm ownership is a right. I believe in, fully support, and have written about that right. However, I also believe in a person's right to "Life" as in "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And we need to find a balance between the two that currently both eludes us and present us with devastating consequences.
Where would we get instructors? From the same place we now get Hunter Education instructors -- volunteers. Knowledgable, trained, and experienced firearm owners. Offer them an incentive (free Discover Passes in this state?) and you'd likely find many who'd jump at the chance.
But what if someone needs a firearm (and such a course) immediately?
Within the instructors, there could be a subset who'd be willing to offer such a course to individuals on short notice.
Would such a program prevent every incident? Of course not. Would there be ways around it? Absolutely. Those intent on violence are generally adept at finding ways to wreak their violence in spite of our efforts to prevent such.
But what if we had such a program and it prevented just one "I didn't know it was loaded" (too many to list) story or one "I should've kept them locked up" (Newtown) story. What if we had such a program and an instructor noticed that someone like Aaron Alexis (the Navy Yard shooter) was behaving in a manner inconsistent with safe and responsible firearm ownership?
Wouldn't it be worth considering?
Or should we continue to just throw up our hands and stare angrily at "the other side"?
Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to:

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