What We Can All Learn About Responsible Gun Ownership From the Tragic Mistakes of Others

Anyone who knows me knows that I, like most red-blooded American males, enjoy a good explosion every now and again.  Michael Bay movies were great for a while, but then I turned 13; and with the onset of puberty began what I hope will be a lifelong responsible relationship with projectile weapons.  You say “hope,” because as anyone who doesn’t live in fantasy land is painfully aware, people are not perfect; they make mistakes.  Mistakes can be painful and embarrassing, but mistakes made while in possession of a firearm can be downright life-altering.

I know that many people, myself included, are not immune to the “it will never happen to me” philosophy: I was one of them.  However, a recent tragedy in my own backyard of Boulder, CO involving the mistaken shooting by a homeowner of a drunken college girl who mistakenly wandered into his house caught me seriously off guard.  Essentially, a married couple were asleep in their bed late last Wednesday night when they were awakened by the startling sound of someone crashing around their house.  The unidentified perpetrator made its way to the couple’s bedroom after coming in through the closed-but-not-locked screen door, and woke the couple.  The man (who’s name is Justice, by the way, how fucking awesome is this line from the article: “Justice fired one shot,”), after screaming that he had a gun and he would use it if whoever-the-fuck-you-are doesn’t beat pavement right now, wound up taking a shot that hit this unfortunate girl in the hip.  The rest is history: Colorado’s make my day law protected the homeowner from criminal and civil liability in the matter, and the girl survived, though she is still in the hospital.

My initial reaction to this incident was one of horror: shooting someone mistakenly is a worst case scenario for a responsible gun owner.  In my world, just because I wouldn’t be charged with shooting her or having to defend myself in civil court would not mean that I could just let the whole thing wash off.  I’m not trying to judge, because after all I think the shooters did a lot of things right.  They heard someone in their house, outside their bedroom.  If that doesn’t get your hairs standing on end, I don’t know what will.  They shouted a warning to the intruder and told them they had a gun and would use it if they came any closer.  The intruder was silent: eery shit.  Then, he fired one time, not some spray and pray gangster crap.

However, while I can totally understand that armchair quarterbacking this scenario is unhelpful to everyone, there are some pretty valuable lessons that I learned from this and wish to share.    After all, if you’re going to own a weapon, you must temper that awesome power with responsibility less you wind up as a cautionary tale like these poor folks.  Better to have too much responsibility than not enough.

Lesson 1: A Locked Front Door is Your Friend

The trespasser gained entry through closed, but unlocked, screen door.  Given that the cops measured her BAC at .2 after they showed up, it strains credulity that this woman would have possessed the necessary motor skills to have found her way past the simplest (yet often most effective) security mechanism: the pesky deadbolt.  If she had to break into the house rather than simply gain entry through an open door, chances are it would have taken her longer to accomplish, and she would have made more noise that would have alerted the couple to her presence before she got to the entrance of their bedroom.  This may have given them time to have oriented themselves properly and maybe even make a better decision about whether to pull the trigger (though that is still not a guarantee).

I say this because my housemate constantly makes fun of me for locking the door when I am at home, as he thinks it is unnecessary.  I most passionately disagree, as even though the presence of our two dogs might provide some early alert to a potential intruder (though likely it won’t, as they tend to bark at goddamned everything that moves outside), it’s still not going to buy enough time to escape out the back or take up a defensive position in the (admittedly unlikely) scenario that some dude is busting through the door looking to fuck up my day.

Lesson 2: Back Light Your Target If At All Possible (And It’s Always Possible)

Shooting in the dark is hard, and shooting when you just woke up (I imagine, because I’ve never done it) is hard as well.  You can’t see what’s going on, and if you just woke up you’re not going to be 100% oriented and on the ball, so mistakes will be magnified.  That being said, you want to give yourself every conceivable advantage when dealing with these situations.  It is said in countless places that back lighting a target provides for a serious advantage.  If you turn on the lights in your bedroom, but the target is down the hall, that will just make you more visible to your target, and actually make the target less visible to you.  Advantage homeowner if you can set up a system that shines light on the target and leaves you in the dark.  That way you can see them and they can’t see  you.

As someone who maintains a nightstand gun, I have to admit that I never thought about the idea of back lighting until this article really brought the point home.  If you own your home, it would not take much to set up an electrical switch next to your bed that turned on the lights in the hallway outside the bedroom.  After reading this article, it is something I will most certainly do the minute I move into my own home.  If I’m in an apartment, and I want to keep the nightstand gun with the legitimate intention of using it if threatened, there is no excuse–run an extension chord to a standing lamp down the hall and connect that fucker to a foot switch near the bed.  Then you can be in a real advantageous position, as you’ll know what the fuck you’re shooting at before you pull the trigger, which brings us to…

Lesson 3: Know What The Fuck You’re Shooting At or Don’t Shoot At All

That’s basically the first rule of gun safety, loosely translated: don’t point a gun at anything you are not wishing to destroy.  When you aim a barrel at “shadows” you wind up putting lead through walls and into the baby’s room or a neighbor’s house, or in this scenario, a drunk chick who unfortunately got too schwasty after graduation and didn’t know what the fuck she was getting herself into.  I have a lot of sympathy for the girl, having done a lot of dumb shit myself while a bit too seduced by the water of life.  Thankfully, I never GOT SHOT IN THE HIP for my troubles.  I’m not making excuses for her–people need to be able to handle their shit–but I sympathize.  I sympathize with the guy who shot her too, because I’m sure he feels like a real goat (his wife had legitimate fears about stalking, and let’s be real, psychiatrists are the type of people who would be more exposed to actual crazies, which brings us back to Lesson 1…), but that’s the thing about sympathy: it just doesn’t put hemoglobin back into the circulatory system.

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