Have you ever checked the chamber of an empty gun and found a round in the chamber? I have, and it shocked the hell out of me. I have no idea how that bullet got there. Oh wait, I do. I put it there. Or, more precisely, I left it there. Good thing I check every gun I touch before I put it into the safe. Or take it out of the safe. Or put it into my gun case. Or take it out of my gun case. Did I tell you about the time a gun dealer found a round in the chamber of a brand new AR sent to him by the factory? “Treat every gun as if it’s loaded.” Amen. But when it comes to children’s safety, it’s not enough . . .
Mr. Harr took another pull on a cigarette and said what you had to know was coming: Christopher Ryan Harr, 11, was playing with two schoolmates Friday night about a quarter-mile up Darlington Road. The parents in that house had gone out. One of the boys went upstairs, found a .30-caliber rifle, and brought it downstairs.
“There was no clip in the rifle, but there was one in the chamber,” Mr. Harr said. A single shot struck Christopher in the face.
At the risk of seeming callous, this account of a tragic negligent discharge at post-gazette.com is one of the best-written examples of an all-too-familiar (to this blogger) genre. It paints a picture of shock and horror and answers most of the important questions with clarity and sensitivity. But not all of them.
“I’d already taught him how to handle a gun. He knew about how to respect a gun,” Daniel Harr said of his son. “We were getting ready to go to the hunter-safety course.”
We don’t know what Chris Harr’s firearms training entailed, and we can hardly expect the reporter to ask. Let’s assume his father taught him to treat all guns as if they’re loaded. That you should never point a gun’s muzzle at another human (unless your life is in imminent danger) and never touch the trigger (same again).
The key question: did Mr. Harr teach his child what to do if someone else was handling a gun without parental supervision?
Not to go all gender prejudiced here, but boys will be boys. From pre-teen age to adulthood (and a ways beyond), their bodies are suffused with Grade A testosterone. Everything is a test of status. Strength. Agility. Independence. Cunning. Resourcefulness. Machismo.
Truth be told, a gun is catnip to a teenage boy. Backing down from a challenge from other boys runs counter to their genetic imperative. Sometimes, two-plus-two equals knocking on heaven’s door.
It’s entirely possible that Christopher Harr was shot unawares. In other words, he was leaving when he was shot. It may also be true that he didn’t have time to tell his playmates not to point the gun at him or keep their finger off the trigger. We don’t know. What I’d like to know: did Chris know how to clear a rifle’s chamber?
If a child knows how to release a magazine and clear a gun’s chamber, they can make it possible for other children to violate the golden rules of gun safety without tragic consequences.
I know that’s completely counterintuitive. Why would you teach a child how to manipulate a gun when you want them NOT to manipulate a gun? Because the only time they’d clear the gun is when parents aren’t around. And if parents aren’t around, and they’re playing with children who don’t know gun safety, and there’s a gun, what else are they going to do?
If they’re not the alpha, they will not be able to control their friends’ muzzle or trigger control. They should leave. But again, the need to maintain status (wimp!) may be too great. Or they may not be able to leave fast enough. In any case, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of your child’s survival. Teach them how to make the gun safe and the gun will be safe(r).
Will a pre-teen or teen have enough status to gain control of a weapon to clear it? Maybe. Hopefully. “Let me see that,” could be the words that save a child’s life.
Of course, you should teach your child to never play with real guns. And punish them if they do. But showing them how to drop a mag and clear a gun’s chamber is a fall-back position. It’s not a license to play. It’s another layer of safety. Which should be properly framed.
“Now I KNOW you’ll NEVER have to do this without me, because you’ll NEVER play with a real gun or USE ONE WITHOUT ME. And if one of your friends shows you a gun YOU’LL LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. But I want you to know how to clear a gun’s chamber because it’s an IMPORTANT PART OF GUN SAFETY. If you EVER had to clear a gun, say if SOMEONE ELSE didn’t know how, this is how you do it.”
All children should learn muzzle discipline and trigger control even if you don’t own a gun. As this horrific story illustrates, locking up your guns won’t stop your children from encountering a weapon somewhere else. You also need a plan B. And a plan C. Eddy the Eagle that.
As for the parents who didn’t lock up the rifle that one of their children used to shoot Christoper Harr in the face, that failure was just one of many. For one thing, clearly, they didn’t teach their child to clear the chamber of a gun every time they touch one.