Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: NatGeo

NatGeo justifies its constant stream of freak shows by cloaking the weirdness in anthropological pretensions. Before Doomsday Preppers appeared, the narrator informed us that the series was part of the series called American Outliers. In other words, here are some Americans who are way the f’ out there but it’s OK to watch them bite the heads off of live chickens (or similar) because it’s educational. Except, of course, when it isn’t . . .

In last night’s episode of Doomsday Preppers (DP), Tim Ralston shot off part of his thumb. I have no problem with the fact that NatGeo showed a man shoot himself in the hand. It is what it is: a negligent discharge (ND). But I have real problems with the way this went down.

[Quick aside: I realize that NatGeo no more owns Ralston’s guns than I do. Once again, I’m extending the “safety is everybody’s responsibility” concept to conjure-up a new and entirely debatable definition of firearms ownership. Mea culpa.]

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the program’s production crew should’ve done something to prevent this happening. Let’s assume the crew didn’t perceive any safety violations prior to the incident and/or they didn’t know thing one about gun safety. As for the possibility that the cameras’ presence encouraged unsafe gun handling . . . meh.

Gun safety doesn’t stop when the cameras start. Ralston was shooting in the desert with his two boys. He had a responsibility to keep them safe no matter what. Not to mention not shooting the film crew. There’s no getting around it: Ralston is ultimately responsible for shooting his hand with a .22 rifle. Yes BUT—how did it happen?

The moment before Ralston does the deed, the screen goes dark. We hear the gunshot (enhanced for effect) and see the aftermath. Well, some of the aftermath: Ralston passing out in shock, a bit of bandaging—all PG rated stuff.  The prepper immediately and repeatedly blamed his injury on a misfire.

To be clear, a misfire is a cartridge that doesn’t discharge, or partially discharges, in a firearm. The danger is obvious: if bullet one is still in the barrel when you fire bullet two that’s a handful of not good. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen in this case. Equally important, there’s a safe procedure for clearing a gun after a misfire. Shooting your thumb off isn’t part of that process.

Which begs the question: was Ralston’s ND a misfire? I doubt it. The prepper may have thought he had a misfire and put his hand in front of the gun whilst checking the barrel. Or some such stupidity. Who knows? This much I do know: I would’ve liked to have seen it. And everyone else as well. Why the hell not?

While DP’s producers felt perfectly free to dismiss Ralston’s worries about an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) wiping out civilization—“Most experts agree that an EMP attack is unlikely”—they let the prepper’s statement on his ND stand. By not showing the actual event or at least explaining what happened, NatGeo left viewers with the impression that the gun was responsible for the ND.

And that’s irresponsible. It’s one thing to document a bunch of people who think that the end of the world is nigh. It’s another to reaffirm viewers’ anti-gun prejudices through the sin of omission. As NatGeo should know from its ongoing ambulance and weirdo chasing efforts, ignorance can kill.