Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: Zachary White

“Zachary White, 30, was watching three brothers: an 8-year-old boy and 6-year-old twins,” tampabay.com reports. “It was about 7:45 p.m. Thursday when deputies say White showed the boys a .38-caliber revolver and a .45-caliber semiautomatic he kept in his gun safe at 2171 Timber Lane in Clearwater.” So White had a gun safe. That’s more than you can say for a lot of gun owners with children in their house. But a safe isn’t safety. It’s part of a safety system, that must include vigilance, education and safe gun handling. “White unloaded the revolver and let the boys handle it. Then he took it, reloaded it and placed it on top of a dresser. Then he showed the empty .45 to the boys . . .

“But one of the twins grabbed the loaded revolver and pulled the trigger, deputies said, shooting his 8-year-old brother in the leg. The child was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa for treatment of injuries that weren’t life-threatening.”

White made all kinds of mistakes here, all of which were highly irresponsible. But the general principle is easy enough to understand: complexity is the enemy of firearms safety. The more variables you introduce into firearms handling and storage, the greater the chance that something can go horribly wrong.

For example, why did White get out two guns? If he wanted to show the boys something about his weapons, one at a time was the only right way to do it. There’s no way White could keep two eyes on three children handling two guns. And, lest we forget, the revolver’s bullets and the semi’s magazine (and bullets).

White’s show and tell session violated one of the key rules of firearms safety: a gun at home should be either safely secured or on your person. Period. Take out the revolver. Check that it’s unloaded. Gun safety lesson. Return revolver to safe. Remove .45. Close safe. Demo .45. Wash, rinse and repeat.

The other key point: a six-year-old should know well enough not to point a gun at another person or touch the trigger. Once again, a gun owner valued storage more than knowledge. That’s a huge mistake that could have cost one of the boys their life–even if they weren’t in his care. ‘Cause other people have guns, too.

And another: safety awareness shouldn’t be a psychological constant. It needs to vary, from vigilant to hyper-vigilant. Although a gun owner should treat all guns as if they’re loaded, when they know a gun’s hot, they should realize that it’s time to really, really pay attention.

The more complex the environment, the more harder it is to do so—and the more important failsafe systems become. Conversely, the less complex the environment, the easier it is to stay away from that terrible tipping point. It’s not helpful to think of a less complex environment as safer, but, of course, it is.

A six-year-old boy came within inches of losing his life. Truth be told, the man responsible is not that different than you and me. In this case, I’d rather be smart than lucky.

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