Kentucky State Representative Leslie Combs had an embarrassing moment on Tuesday.
During a meeting with fellow State Representative Jeff Greer, she accidentally fired her Ruger semi-automatic handgun. No one was hurt, but bullet fragments flew all over the room, damaging the carpet and a nearby bookshelf.
As Combs told a local news station, she was trying to unload the gun when it went off:
Why at that particular moment? I kind of had it on my brain. I had it in my purse… I carried it usually, and I thought I want to put that sucker away. And I did. And I was going through the process as I have been trained to do, had it pointed in the proper direction like I’ve been trained, was disarming it like I’ve been trained to do, and …like I said I am a gun owner…. it happens.
Representative Combs is right – mistakes happen when you’re dealing with weapons of war like the Ruger semi-automatic handgun she had in her purse.
But the end result isn’t always as innocuous as what happened in her office on Tuesday.
Ultimately, guns are dangerous tools created for one purpose and one purpose alone: killing. And all too often, a mistake with a firearm causes serious injury or death.
The number of unintentional gun deaths every year hovers around several hundred. According to Gun Policy.Org, there were 554 accidental gun deaths in 2009, 606 in 2010, and 851 in 2011.
Tragically, children are often the victims. Mother Jones estimates that of the 194 kids killed in the year after the Newtown massacre, almost half – 84 – were killed by accident.
One of those 84 children was three-year old Ryder Rozier, who shot himself with a loaded gun he found in his uncle’s bedroom.
Another was six-year-old Brandon Holt, who was shot and killed by a friend who was playing with a .22 caliber rifle he found in his house.
The plague of accidental gun deaths has continued into 2014. Just last week, there were 23 different accidental shootings of children, eight involving preteens.
As long as guns are accessible and available, unintentional gun deaths will happen. This is just reality. Guns are dangerous weapons.
That’s why it’s time we started treating them like cars.
Like guns, cars can kill. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans are killed in car accidents. Cars are two-ton hunks of speeding metal, and if not used carefully, they often kill people.
But owning a car is actually more difficult than owning a gun. Before you can legally drive on your own, you have to pass a test and get a driver’s license. And if you own a car and want to drive it around, you have to register it with your local department of motor vehicles. You also have to insure yourself and your car.
We require car owners to do these things because we think it’s important to put some accountability into the use of potentially deadly machines.
However, thanks to tireless efforts by the gun industry and its front group, the NRA, no such system exists for gun owners. In fact, just the mention of “gun registration” gets the far-right worked up into a frenzied panic.
In reality, though, there shouldn’t be any difference between owning a gun and owning a car. Guns and cars are both powerful and potentially deadly. Yet we only require car owners to register their vehicles and insure themselves against accidents and death.
This is outrageous, especially when you consider that by 2015, gun deaths are expected to overtake traffic fatalities as the leading cause of non-medical deaths in the United States.
Like cars, guns should be registered from the time they’re manufactured to the time they’re destroyed, so there’s a continuous chain of ownership.
Anyone who owns a gun should be required to have liability insurance, so if they injure or kill somebody, the victim or the victim’s family will receive monetary damages.
Every state in the country should require gun owners to pass a competence test – just like drivers do – and get a shooter’s license before they can carry or use a gun.
This is just common sense.
It goes without saying that we need robust gun control measures, like universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. But we also need to stop treating guns like sacred cows and start treating them like what they are – dangerous weapons that require regulation and insurance.
No matter what Wayne LaPierre says, there is no such thing as an unlimited right, especially when it comes to deadly weapons. You can’t just walk into a crowded theater and yell “fire,” and you shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun without first demonstrating to society that you’re fit do so and committed to responsible ownership through liability insurance.
Nothing is going to bring back the hundreds of people accidentally killed each year by irresponsible gun owners. But if we started treating guns like cars, people would think twice about leaving their shotgun hanging around the house or keeping their handgun unlocked.
And who knows, we might just save some lives in the process.