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Safe at Home

Keeping your firearms secured is the best way to prevent off-duty firearm accidents.

July 01, 2002  |  by Roy Huntington

You only laid it on the bed for a second while you took off your shirt, but the phone rang. After a few tense minutes with your supervisor about an unavoidably late report you submitted, you return to the master bedroom.

There, sitting quietly on the bed, is your four-year-old son. In his hands, pointing in the general direction of the door you just walked through, is your off-duty SiG.

"Bang, bang, Daddy," the little voice says, with a wide smile on his face. His fingers aren't long enough to reach the trigger, but your gut wrenches into your throat, as you duck, reach out for the gun, and softly say, "No, son, put it down."

With shaking hands, you put the gun on top of the dresser. It taps the wooden top two or three times before coming to rest, due to the tremor in your hand. You hold your son and think seriously about giving up the job, guns, and everything having to do with it all. The nausea flows through your body and you feel your stomach lurch.

You replay the tape in your head a thousand times as the days go by. Each time, the what-ifs expand, become more graphic, imbed themselves deeper into your dreams. You think about what you could have lost, your life, your marriage, your career wiped out in the literal blink of an eye, in the crash of a bullet. You think, hard, about how your moment of inattention nearly cost you everything.

Tragic Familiarity

In Tennessee, an officer is shot by his own son, who was playing with his dad's handgun.

In Texas, an officer's pick-up truck is burglarized by a child, who then uses the officer's unsecured gun to shoot and wound a seven-year-old.

The list goes on, but the trend is clear. A cop's often easy familiarity with guns may make him or her less than attentive when it comes to possible dangers. Familiarity can breed a casual demeanor, even with deadly weapons. But an officer, or anyone, simply cannot afford to lose focus for an instant when it comes to the safe and reliable security of his or her personal firearms.

Let's be blunt. You may be dealing with major felonies, pursuits, foot chases, drug arrests, fights, violence on the streets and in homes, administrative pressures, and worse, but the bottom line is always the same. You are still ultimately responsible for the security of your working guns, regardless of the pressure or distractions of the job, your home life, or whether the ball game is on TV that night.

A loss of attention, of responsibility, or of control, for even a single moment, can and does account for tragedies. The second a child's finger touches the cold grip of a cop's handgun, time races forward at an uncontrollable rate, raging headlong toward potential disaster. It's up to each one of us to stop that process before it begins. And we can do it simply. As long as we make the effort to do it.

It's The Law

California recently passed legislation holding gun owners accountable at many levels when it comes to children. In a nutshell, the law states it's unlawful to leave a firearm unsecured in an area where a juvenile may have access to it.

Additionally, if a youth should use an adult's firearm to commit a crime, should accidentally wound or kill someone or otherwise destroy property or injure another, the owner of the gun is liable, both civilly and criminally. Key word here: criminally.

There have been cases where parents have been prosecuted for allowing their child to have access to a firearm that was used to kill or injure another. Society is tired of adults not acting like adults when it comes to firearm safety and California's law is one of the manifestations of that fatigue.

Additionally, in order to be sold in California, handguns have to be subjected to and pass a stringent string of functionality tests. These tests cover reliability and safety issues and cost manufacturers thousands of dollars. But they take part in them for one reason: If they don't pass, they don't sell in California.

State law also mandates a series of pre-approved locking devices for all manner of firearms. Some devices, like Mogul Corporation's Life Jacket, work for a wide variety of handguns, while others may be model-specific. Under present law, a dealer has to either supply (read: sell) a state-approved locking device before he can release the gun to a customer, or the customer must sign an affidavit stating he or she has a state-approved lock box or safe at home.

Read between the lines here. California is making it impossible for anyone to use an excuse that he or she didn't have a lock if a tragedy should occur. Not only do you have to secure your existing guns (cops included), but you must also have a lock for any new guns purchased. There is no waffling on this one. If a gun owned or under your control is used by a juvenile in a criminal or reckless manner, you are criminally liable.

And if you're thinking why should I care, I don't live in California? Remember that political and cultural trends that start in the Golden State often sweep the nation.

Alchemy Arms’ Bor-Loc is an interesting twist on gun safety. Rather than locking the trigger, the Bor-Loc fills the barrel, making the gun inoperable.

Having said all that, it seems ridiculous laws have to be passed to force people to do what only makes sense in the first place. Cops being cops, we often think of ourselves as special or often even above the law when it comes to such things. I know it may hurt some feelings, but we all know it can be the case at times. And this one applies to everyone, regardless of age, race, or even job description.

The bottom line? If you're a law enforcement officer (especially if you're a law enforcement officer), you are at least civilly liable for the misuse of any firearms under your control and possibly criminally liable, depending upon the state. We don't even have to mention the personal trauma involved when an accident occurs.

No one, ever, wants to allow his or her personal or duty gun to be used in a crime, suicide, or accidental shooting. But it still happens and it happens for one reason: inattention to the level of personal responsibility required when part of your job is to carry a deadly weapon on a daily basis.

Common Sense

Many agencies have mandated a department policy regarding the security of weapons both on and off duty. Indeed, many agencies, including branches of the federal government, have issued locking devices from trigger locks to devices like the Life Jacket along with duty weapons.

Just like the California law, the feds issuance of a safety device, along with the duty gun, puts complete responsibility for the gun's security on the shoulders of the officer. The agency has supplied a safety device and now it's up to the cop involved to use it. Guess where the liability would fall should something happen?

Revolvers are easy to secure. Just open the cylinder and slip a strong padlock over the strap.

Many agencies issue one gun and only authorize it for duty and off-duty carry. More and more often, this gun is now being supplied with some kind of locking device. And it's expected to be used. We'd all like to think this effort is to prevent tragedies from occurring, but logic also dictates it comes from paying out millions of dollars after duty guns get misused accidentally or otherwise.

Simple department policies regarding the security of firearms can and should be drafted. This does, indeed, force the issue. Not only does it help to prevent accidents by strong-arming officers (when necessary) into complying, but it also can help to prove to the public an agency is taking steps to prevent such accidents in the first place.

In a perfect world, it wouldn't be necessary, but the mistakes of a few have brought the issue into the limelight.

The Wrong Hands

It seems obvious at this point that a comprehensive approach to the security of your personal guns is of paramount importance. In other words: Keep 'em out of the wrong hands.

Fortunately, the marketplace teems with ideas to help. Unfortunately, however, many are not practical in the real world. There are some, however, that are well designed and actually work. Imagine that. Still, the implementation actually putting the lock on the gun remains in the home court, directly where it belongs, on your shoulders.

Gun Guard’s Double GunVault is an excellent and secure lock box for an officer with one or two guns. It’s also a good place to store valuables and emergency gear.

The mechanics are relatively easy. Keep tabs of your guns and when they aren't on your person, they should be locked or inaccessible in such a manner they are not easily found and put to use by kids or adults who shouldn't have their sticky fingers on them. And no, the top shelf of the closet is not good enough. Remember your own youthful adventures exploring your parent's closet?

First Line of Defense

Education remains the core defense against misuse. If you have kids, make them gun-safe by playing the role of parent. Demystify your guns, by showing them to your kids when they ask your permission to see them. By supervising while their interests are assuaged and by quickly answering their questions, you can avoid 95 percent of all problems.

My own experiences with my daughter serve as an example. Madison is now 13, and she's been around firearms all of her life. I've spent many hours teaching her gun safety, and today she is zealous about letting me know when one of her friends takes too much interest in my guns.

Mogul Corporation’s “Life-Jacket” is portable and can be mounted in homes and in vehicles. It is legal for vehicle carry of unloaded pistols in California.

The NRA's Eddie Eagle gun safety program is a classic case of non-political education. The program does not endorse or demonize gun ownership. It simply teaches children: If you see a gun, don't touch, leave the area, and get an adult. Period. Grind that into any children who inhabit your space and most of the problems are gone.

Once again, we might note, most of the problem can be addressed by training rather than by the administration of new technology. But doing both isn't a bad idea, either.

CONTINUED: Safe at Home «   Page 1 of 2   »

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