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.

7 Responses to Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: Ligonier, PA Parents

  1. You could have waited at least A WEEK to post this. I wanted to find the article about Chris and Google'd his father and your blog came up first. Did you even bother to ask his parents' permission to publish his photo?

    Imagine how badly the family and friends feel. Dan went to school with my kids. I wouldn't wish your immediate self-righteousness on anyone.

    God forbid that any member of your family has any kind of criticizable accident, and you happen onto something like this within 3 days of YOUR tragedy! SHAME on you.

  2. Not being an American (UK) here. Hearing about this story on Facebook, I decided to look at your blog. whilst you may be right in what you are saying, I agree with what Julia is saying. What was in your mind..lets heap some more grief on this already grieving family. Some space and time for them would have been nice…as Julia comments

    " God forbid that any member of your family has any kind of criticizable accident, and you happen onto something like this within 3 days of YOUR tragedy! SHAME on you. "

  3. The human search for meaning is both individual and collective, Immediate and endless. To shy away from this search is to fail to learn from our mistakes. Which makes their repetition inevitable.

    I created TTAG's Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day so that gun owners can learn from the mistakes of others. To become safer. To avoid needless tragedy. Surely that's a goal that trumps the understandable sensitivities of those who paid the ultimate price for their decisions; their actions and inaction.

    I make mistakes every day. I thank God every day that He has spared me from fatal consequences. That He gave me the ability to learn from other people's experiences, and the humility to appreciate, acknowledge and accept my own.

    Sometimes the greater the mistake, the more important the lesson. For everyone.

  4. Clearly, this was a very tragic and very sad event. But, as Robert pointed out above, the tragedy here only makes the lesson to be drawn more important. This isn’t about ridicule – it’s about safety. As gun owners, we have a responsibility to learn the rules of gun safety, to practice them, to teach them, and to learn from the mistakes of others and ourselves. That’s what this is about. I’m sure that everyone affected by this event is in pain, and I pray for their comfort. But preventing this from happening with our own weapons is not callous – it’s necessary.

  5. Sadly accidents happen and they will continue to happen no matter how safe or prepared we believe we are. Thats just part of life, unfortunately. My condolences go out to the Harr family.

  6. If you would like to know what safety things I taught my son Christopher I would gladly tell you. I have grown up a hunter and was taught the right way growing up by my parents which I did with my son also. Being responsible with a weapon has allways been a big belief in my life. Yes the way you wrote and said some things was callious in you trying to get your message across to other people..in my opinion you should have done a better job…but thank you anyways for atleast trying to help save others lives with the message about Gun Safety and Awarness….Safe Journeys to you all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *