Over the past couple of weeks, I have documented the fact that the discussion about gun safety is no longer owned by the NRA and, for the first time, appears to be involving organizations and viewpoints that one could hardly call pro-gun. After all, when groups like the Brady Campaign and Everytown start talking about gun safety, it’s pretty hard to imagine that they share much in common with groups like the NRA. And now we also have a major gun-safety initiative being rolled out by the Ad Council and the National Crime Prevention Council, again hardly folks whose raison d’etre has anything to do with promoting the ownership of guns.
I suspect that the folks sitting down at the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, VA aren’t crazy about the appearance of these organizations onto the gun-safety playing field because until now, they’ve had the safety discussion all to themselves. After all, the NRA was founded in 1871as a firearms training organization by a former Army commander, George Wingate, who lamented the fact that so many of the Union troops who fought in the Civil War came to fight with little or no shooting experience at all. So the NRA comes by its commitment to gun safety honestly, and millions of young men and women have profited from NRA training courses over the last nearly 150 years.
The problem with the NRA approach to gun safety, however, is that it reflects a mind-set about guns and shooting that is now completely out of date. I joined the NRA in 1955 when I was eleven years old because I wanted to shoot real guns instead of my plastic toys and the NRA sponsored a shooting club that met each week in a shooting range located in the basement of my brother’s junior high. Every Friday we were allowed to take one of the surplus 22-caliber training rifles home to clean it over the weekend, so I walked from the school to my house with the gun wrapped up in a cloth sack and tucked under my arm. Was I living in Topeka, Kansas, or Abilene, Texas, or Fort Pierre, South Dakota? I was actually born, raised and residing in the middle of Washington, D.C. The rifle range was in McFarland Junior High School on Crittenden Street, named after a former Attorney General, and we lived on Hamilton Street, I don’t have to tell you after whom that street was named. I went home with my little rifle by going up Georgia Avenue or 14th Street and it never occurred to me that walking home this way created any issue at all.
In order to join and shoot in the NRA club, I had to learn some basic gun safety rules. And while I don’t remember what the rules actually said, I can tell you that the current safety rules on the NRA website were probably written before I ever shot a gun. According to the NRA, the best way to be safe with a gun is to always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, and always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. If you want, the NRA will happily send you these rules printed out on a nice piece of cardboard which you can distribute to all your shooting friends.
There’s only one little problem with these safety rules – they were developed long before the NRA started promoting the idea of carrying handguns around for self-defense. And unless the NRA comes up with a new set of safety rules that reflect the new CCW gospel, the NRA will not only find itself sharing the playing field when it comes to gun safety, but being elbowed off to one side. After all, if you’re going to carry a gun for self-defense, how could you imagine only loading it when you’re ready to shoot? That might work at a shooting range, but it’s hardly a prescription for safely carrying a gun in the street.