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by Gila Hayes

As gun folk pilloried Kenosha, WI prosecutor Thomas Binger for pointing Kyle Rittenhouse’s rifle around the courtroom, we were accorded an opportunity for personal evaluation, to ask what unsafe gun handling or procedures have we let slip in to our own habits.

Few will dispute that Binger, already held in poor regard, earned further contempt by putting his finger on the trigger and gratuitously pointing the evidence rifle around the courtroom. So much of the wild rhetoric spouted during the trial had little relationship to reality, making it impossible to guess what the prosecutor hoped to achieve when he picked up the rifle.

I’m a little less obsessed than most with his carelessness. In the final analysis why another person does something matters very little. You control only your own actions and reactions and your ability to provide good reasons for what you do ... which takes me back to the cries of outrage about Binger’s gun handling that almost drowned out more important questions.

Did any of us ask ourselves, how is my gun safety when no one is watching? A pistol carried daily, a shotgun or rifle kept at hand for nighttime home defense, or an air rifle or a .22 plinker kept ready to dispatch small, destructive pests on the farm all provide opportunities for us to demonstrate that deadly weapons can be kept emergency-ready but secure without injuring or killing our family members, visitors to our homes and people on neighboring properties.

Perhaps more than any other common tool or implement, in order for the firearm to be useful, it must be capable of being employed as a tool of destruction, injury or death. Failing to acknowledge that reality leads to carelessness. Carelessness contributes to irresponsibly unsecured guns being stolen, children or incompetent adults being hurt or killed or inflicting the same fate on others when they get their hands on a gun unsupervised or gun owners themselves suffering injury or death, or inflicting it on others, while unsafely handling their firearms.

Gun folk were fast to cite the Four Universal Rules of Gun Safety when calling out Binger for his demonstration. It is a good start but experience suggests that safe behavior with any tool is much more than adhering to a list of rules. Personal responsibility is a lifestyle and for gun owners that lifestyle starts with acknowledging that firearms are potentially deadly. If not, guns would be useless to stop attacks against innocent people.

As we saw in Rittenhouse’s trial, when one person shoots another, defending him- or herself from a violent attacker, many questions, including whether carrying a highly-effective firearm was appropriate, will be asked. Have you noticed that, conversely, when a marauding warlord attacks villagers in a third-world country or Taliban insurgents rape and kill women and young children, the pundits never agonize over whether the guns carried by the soldiers sent to the rescue are of an excessively large caliber, are loaded with too many cartridges, or can be fired too quickly or effectively? I find that strange.

The news media, politicians and much of the public foolishly ascribe power to inanimate objects as did a Canadian news “analysis” headlined, “I’m scared of the kind of gun Kyle Rittenhouse used. Americans should be, too.” In reality, only the person in possession of the gun can cause the result for which the gun is blamed. A human picks up a gun and points it at other people; a human fails to secure a firearm before it is stolen or misused; a human has a finger on the trigger before stumbling or being startled then unintentionally firing a shot, or shooting themselves. Firearms are inanimate and “cause” nothing.

No one is exempt from responsibility to behave safely. If a person doesn’t understand the safe use of a power saw or a drip torch, for example, he or she has no business picking one up. The same applies to firearms. There are no “big boy rules” whereby one may suspend responsibility. Just as we condemn Binger for waving a rifle around inside the courtroom, we never, ever get to say, “high-speed operators are allowed to point guns at others because they’re so well-trained to keep their finger off the trigger” or whatever is the current variation on that old excuse. There are no gun handling “big boy rules” only safely, responsibly identifying and pointing in a safe direction.

Consciously identify a safe direction before you pick up or draw a gun. First, ask what is on the other side of walls or floors? Use safe backstops during necessary gun handling and don’t unnecessarily, casually handle guns – even guns you believe are unloaded. When you do administratively handle your firearms, is your trigger finger indexed up on the frame, well away from the trigger? Indexing your finger up on the frame, far away from the trigger establishes habits on which you base your actions when you are frightened, sick or exhausted. Make absolutely certain that you’re not habituating dangerous, careless gun handling.

Stick with me. I’m almost done. The last point I’d like to raise is absent from the Four Universal Rules of Gun Safety, but integral to the responsible lifestyle. When you are not in immediate control of your firearm(s), lock them up. Guns do not belong in your sock drawer, hidden under the couch cushions or stashed under your mattress. If you own guns, you are responsible for keeping them secure when they are out of your immediate control. Take your responsibilities seriously.

It is easy and somehow it is internally rewarding to criticize the foolishness of a despised enemy. We probably won’t manage to switch off that aspect of the human condition, so let’s add something of value to the distaste we feel for the assistant district attorney Binger’s unsafe gun handling.

How does your safety and responsibility as a gun owner measure up?

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.