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Gun safety is everyone’s responsibility. You might have seen that homily down at the gun range printed on a lead-coated poster from nineteen-footsack (as my South African wife would say).  It’s meaning is clear enough: if you see some bad shit going down, do something about it. Intervene. Call the range master. This “do ask, do tell” policy is extremely effective; peer pressure is a sure-fire way to help make sure that gun owners fire safely. As you know, there are “good” (safe) ranges and “bad” (unsafe). The key difference between them: the attitude towards gun safety from the people at the top AND using the range. Here’s the problem: there’s no one to stop bad shit going down OFF range. Except, of course, you. Check this from an editorial advocating gun education at

I learned more about the reality of weaponry in those nine weeks [or Army training] in New Jersey than a large portion of the American population, perhaps even the majority, learns in a lifetime. And it has served me well on many occasions, including an incident in college where a friend of a friend was drunk and began showing off his Smith & Wesson .45. I was inebriated as well, but when I suddenly saw this idiot trying to twirl his gun like he was back in the Old West, I had enough sense to walk away from the party. I later learned that a shot was fired by accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but there is always the chance that I would have been standing in the round’s path.

And if I still had been thinking in terms of guns as toys, I might even have wanted to give it a twirl myself.

Now, I’m not saying that Darren Richardson should have confronted the idiot practicing ballistic buffoonery. That would depend entirely on the situation. If the gun slinger was a belligerent bastard surrounding by cheering best buds, intervention could have made the situation worse. But he should have done something, like, I dunno, calling the cops.

Yes, the cops. Obviously, it’s entirely possible to rat-out a gun fool without revealing your own identity. And so you should. Although Richardson is relieved that he emerged from this incident physically unscathed, what if the show-off had killed someone else? I wonder if his condescension would have been as complete.

Our newly affirmed right to bear arms comes with responsibilities. As gun owners, we have the responsibility to use firearms safely. Our personal responsibility extends beyond ourselves to our communities. Ironically, ultimately, it’s not a mater of altruism. If we stop others from abusing their Second Amendment rights, we protect our own.

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  1. Hi Robert,

    Thank you for reading my column on gun education that I published in 2010:

    I recently learned that you labeled me an irresponsible gun owner because of an incident I described in that column. I disagree with the label, especially since it is based on something that occurred more than a quarter century ago. For one thing, I didn’t even own a gun at the time.

    I have revised the column to reflect what I hope is a more accurate description of what happened that long-ago night in the late 1980s. Because I care about gun safety, as you do, I spent a lot more time reflecting on what I remember hearing about that night. The more I thought about it, the more uncertain I was that a shot was fired in accident at the party. As the column stated, I left the scene once I saw someone twirling a gun. What I now seem to remember is hearing that the guy in question may have fired a shot (or shots) into the air after leaving the party and heading out into the country. We were all college students in our early 20s at the time, and my memory just can’t pull up all the details about what I heard, especially since I was not a witness and learned about it from someone else.

    I do, however, agree with your point that when someone is behaving irresponsibly with a weapon, calling the authorities can be the right step to take. I wasn’t thinking along those lines that particular night in 1987 or 1988, but you make a very good point in stating that gun safety is everyone’s responsibility. I also stand by my larger point in the original column that America’s youth deserve expanded opportunities at firearms education.

    Keep up the good work in promoting the safe and responsible use of firearms.

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