Tom Mauser Promotes Unsafe Gun Use

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Tom Mauser Promotes Unsafe Gun Use

by Ari Armstrong, June 11, 2003

Anti-gun activist Tom Mauser promotes the unsafe use of guns, yet he believes he is sufficiently knowledgeable to formulate laws that limit the civil liberties of peaceable gun owners. Ironically, despite his decidedly unsafe advice, Mauser used to act as spokesperson for the anti-gun lobby organization Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likened gun ownership to a disease and assumed the acronym "SAFE."

In a June 8 column in the Denver Post, Mauser writes, "Recently Colorado was shocked by the tragic accidental shooting of 11-year-old Sahil Ahmed. He was shot and killed by a friend who thought a handgun was empty because the magazine was removed. This tragic mistake has occurred before, and many times manufacturers have been urged to change designs so a bullet doesn't stay in the chamber after the magazine is removed - or to at least place an indicator warning that a bullet is in the chamber."

So, according to Mauser, the "mistake" made by the 15-year-old who shot Ahmed was to incorrectly believe a gun with the magazine removed is unloaded. Hmm. And all this time I thought his "mistake" was to point a gun at his friend's face and pull the trigger.

Mauser's implicit message, then, seems to be that it would be entirely reasonable to point a gun at your friend's face and pull the trigger, so long as you first checked the "indicator warning" that's supposed to tell you whether "a bullet is in the chamber."

Before we address Mauser's errors concerning gun safety, we might look at the specific facts of the case he mentions. I have seen no evidence that indicates the teen who shot Ahmed actually considered whether the gun he misused contained a magazine. There's no indication that his thought processes followed a line something like the scenario Mauser lays out: "I'm going to point this gun at my friend's face and pull the trigger. But first, I'm going to carefully examine the gun to make sure the magazine has been removed."

Gabrielle Crist of the Rocky Mountain News describes something of the situation: "Sahil was pretending to be a gangster and was pushing the boys, who would jokingly fall to the floor, according to Bill Rapson, the attorney for the 15-year-old shooter and his family. One of the boys grabbed a gun from a dresser drawer, Rapson said. Sahil, a sixth-grader at Thunder Ridge Middle School, was shot once in the head." This is not at all a tragedy caused simply because a teenager "accidentally" made a "mistake" about the operation of a gun.

Let us assume the 15-year-old did actually check the gun and note its magazine had been removed before he pointed the gun at his friend's face and pulled the trigger. Mauser would have us believe that somebody ignorant about the basic functions of a gun would nevertheless have properly understood the function of an "indicator warning."

By encouraging people to rely on mechanical "indicators," Mauser promotes the unsafe handling of firearms. If one follows the basic rules of gun safety, such devices are entirely irrelevant.

The 15-year-old who shot Ahmed violated every single rule of gun safety. Those rules (quoted here from the NRA's Basics of Pistol Shooting) are worth reviewing.

1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

And the fourth rule: Treat every gun as if it were loaded.

If the teen had followed even one of the safety rules, the horrible tragedy would have been avoided. If he had followed all of them, the tragedy would have been impossible. At age 15, certainly he is too old to claim he didn't know any better.

The fundamental mechanism that insures gun safety (and the safety of all other tools) is the human brain. When that mechanism fails, bad things are bound to happen, and no mechanical "indicator warning" is going to change that.

I believe chamber indicators are inherently dangerous. I don't think gun manufacturers should install them even voluntarily. First, any mechanical indicator can fail. More importantly, gun owners should never get in the habit of relying on these artificial mechanisms. There is only one legitimate way to make sure a self-loading gun is safe: while keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction and while keeping your finger off the trigger, remove the magazine, then pull back the slide and physically CHECK the chamber. Anything short of that is unsafe.

It is indeed unfortunate that the boy's parents failed in their responsibilities by not properly educating their child about gun safety, and that the teenager ignored all strictures of common sense. YOU DO NOT POINT A GUN AT YOUR FRIEND'S FACE. EVER.

It's helpful to think of these "indicators" as "false-security indicators." If you rely on them, you have a false sense of security. (In fact, I'm not even a big fan of "safety" switches and buttons, though they can be helpful when used appropriately. No so-called "safety" switch or device installed in the gun can compensate for a failure to abide by the rules of gun safety.)

I agree with other commentators that the adults in the home were apparently irresponsible for keeping a firearm where irresponsible persons could gain access to it. Colorado law already provides penalties for instances of child abuse, and, while the prosecutors decided not to bring charges against the parents, they could have done so. However, when I called Michael Knight, the public information officer for the 18th Judicial District, he insisted there wasn't enough evidence to charge the parents, and he suggested I not rely entirely on the reports of the "mass media" to form an opinion. Perhap some factors are unknown that would alter my evaluation of the case.

Let us review the third safety rule, then: "Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use." If you are carrying a concealed handgun for self-defense, obviously you "ready to use" it at any time in self-defense. Thus, it is appropriate to keep the cartridges in the cylinder of a revolver, or in the magazine of a semi-automatic. (Some people carry a semi-auto with a cartridge in the chamber and the "safety" on, but I have a strong preference against this.)

Obviously, if you carry a handgun concealed, the gun is necessarily inaccessible by irresponsible persons. Thus, the practice of concealed carry can be an excellent way to keep a gun out of dangerous hands.

What about in the home? Yes, gun owners have a moral and legal responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible persons. What constitutes "safe" storage of a firearm depends on the context: in a home without any irresponsible children around, a loaded gun can be kept in the home, "ready to use," in complete safety. In other situations, different approaches are required.

What's important to remember is that a gun is only useful for self-defense if kept in a manner that allows it to be fired relatively quickly. The correct approach simultaneously keeps a defensive gun out of irresponsible hands while at the same time allowing access in an emergency. Falsely named "safe-storage" laws generally require a gun be rendered useless for self-defense, and thus they are counterproductive.

Another of Mauser's points is that guns should be regulated more heavily by federal agencies. Mauser provides no evidence that guns, when used as intended, are unsafe -- and that's precisely because modern guns are very safe indeed. But Mauser believes gun manufacturers should be held liable for the actions of criminals.

Somehow, Tom Mauser believes he is qualified to determine safety guidelines for the manufacture of firearms. This from the man who once said he wants to put "bullet indicators" on "semiautomatic revolvers," thereby demonstrating his utter ignorance of the subject matter.

The new controls Mauser promotes are in no way analogous to, say, seat-belts for automobiles. Seat-belts keep you safer in the normal operation of a vehicle. However, mandated mechanisms such as "chamber indicators" do no such thing. They in no way increase the inherent safety of using a gun, and, as I've argued, they actually encourage unsafe gun handling.

What, then, is the goal of the national anti-gun lobby for which Mauser so willingly serves as a mouthpiece? The goal is to allow federal agencies to ban effective, safe firearms over whatever pretext they wish to invoke. The goal is to artificially increase the cost of firearms so more people are priced out of the market. The proposed language of the "reforms," combined with the fact that the changes would be counterproductive, allow for no other interpretation.

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