Nearly fifteen years ago, a hunting club member of mine and his wife had been out squirrel hunting. My friend, who I’ll call Jim (not his real name), placed his .22 caliber rifle in the back on his truck on the bed as soon as the hunt was over. He forgot to unload it and as they drove back to town, the truck hit a bump, the gun went off, and his wife of five years was seriously injured. Though he drove her straight to the hospital, she died early the next morning. To this day, he is living with the guilt that he caused her death.
Like most Mississippians, I’ve been around guns and other weapons most of my life, including when I was a kid. I grew up in the country and a loaded gun was usually kept in the corner of the house, so we could step outside and bag any squirrel or rabbit that neared the door for the stew pot. Now, I’m not suggesting keeping a loaded gun, it’s dangerous, but back in those days we didn’t give it much thought. But then again, I’d been taught since I was big enough to understand to never touch a gun and I mean never, unless I was hunting. Times have changed and so have we, and most of our weapons safety has changed for the good, I think. Loaded guns in the living room are rare these days, or I hope they are. Weapons can kill, and because of that, they should be stored properly.
I use a gun cabinet for all of my weapons, including my bow. My deer rifle, my black powder, and my pistols all are kept locked in my cabinet. But I go a bit further than that—I keep them unloaded and the ammo kept locked in an ammo can, which is kept locked in a drawer in the cabinet. So I have both the weapon and the ammo locked with different keys (the ammo can is locked as well). I do this mainly because of kids and to prevent one of them from playing with a gun. See, most kids today are not exposed to guns to the level we were fifty years ago and I’m talking about country kids, too. Guns were a much more common sight in the 1950s and 1960s than today. No, I’m not saying there are more guns or less guns today; they are just kept out of sight nowadays.
Often a child will pick up a gun and play with it, not knowing or understanding it was designed to kill or for target practice. With the media the way it is today with all the action games and moves, all about shooting or killing, it is only natural for a child to point a gun at another person and pull the trigger. Since most kids are never exposed to hunting, target shooting, or plinking, the only image they have of guns is from movies or games, and they know both of them are not real. I suspect most children have no idea of how powerful a weapon can be. No, I am not against guns or other weapons, I own a large number of them, but I am against those that own weapons and do not keep them away from kids.
Each of my guns has either a trigger lock or a locking cable on it. I am a firm believer in keeping my weapons safe and it both cases it keeps the weapon from being fired. I store my guns, transport them, and keep them at the hunting campsite with the trigger locks or the cable on them. I only remove the safety devices when I am actually ready to start my hunt.
At home, I always check the breech of my weapon to make sure it is not loaded before I start to clean it. More people have been accidentally killed by an unloaded weapon than have ever been killed by a loaded one. Also, when you handle you weapon prior to cleaning never point it in the direction of another person and keep the muzzle of the gun toward the floor or ceiling as you pack it to your cleaning spot. Then, once it’s reassembled, lock the trigger guard on it or run the cable down the barrel and secure the gun. Keep aware of who is around you, never leave the gun as you clean it, and always make sure your gun cabinet or storage area is kept locked.
When hunting, I will keep the safety on my gun until I am ready to take my shot. I never move the barrel of the gun over another hunter’s body or point it toward anyone. While this sounds like common sense, I’ve been on many hunts where the muzzle of a gun ended up pointed at me as the other hunter walked and I kindly asked them to move the barrel a might. Constantly be aware of who is around you as you hunt—situational awareness, the military calls it—and shoot only when you have a clear field of fire. By the way, always check out your hunting area before the hunt so you know what is around it, and by that I mean houses, live stock, roads, and so on. Bullets and arrows can go right through an animal and then cause additional damage or injury.
I always immediately unload my weapon when I return to my hunting camp, unless I am in bear country. I do keep the safety on at all times, unless I am getting ready to fire my gun, and I keep it on. I always count the number of rounds placed in the gun and when I unload, I make sure I have the same number, unless I have fired at game. Don’t forget the round in the breech of your gun. Often folks will remove a clip and fail to clear the breech of the gun.
When I was growing up, I got a safety lecture from my grandpa and it only took about a minute. I remember we were standing in his living room, right beside the old pot-bellied woodstove he had burning red-hot. I have received the same briefing, but days longer, at some state Fish and Game Agencies throughout the United States. Overall, those agencies didn’t say anything my grandpa didn’t say.
Grandpa said as he held out his old shotgun, “Gal, this is a gun. We use it to put meat on the table. It is not a toy, but a responsibility. Remember, never point this gun at anything you don’t want to kill and always kill what you point at.” As soon as he’d said it, he pushed his ball cap back on his head and asked, “Any questions?”
Of course I had none. Weapons safety is common sense.
“Weapons don’t kill, people do.”