You’ve heard the term. Maybe you’ve used it yourself. Both the pro and anti gun groups talk about them all the time. Just who are these “responsible gun owners” anyway?
Opinions will vary of course, but here’s my take on five fundamental characteristics of a responsible gun owner.
1) Law Abiding
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you can’t be a responsible gun owner if you are breaking the law. Even if firearms aren’t involved in your charges it diminishes confidence in your judgement and character. Charges involving assault and drug abuse are especially damning. Pay your child support, don’t drink and drive, don’t write bad checks, shoplift, defraud clients, abuse animals, or anything else. Once you’ve got a criminal record your days of being a role model are over, short of some serious efforts at rehabilitating your reputation.
2) Follow Safety Rules
Depending on who you listen to you’ll find between 3 and 10 or even more safety rules. The fundamentals are always going to apply here though.
- Treat every gun as if it were loaded, until you have verified that it is unloaded
- Never point your gun in an unsafe direction
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire
- Know your target and what is beyond it
Always use a quality holster that holds your gun securely and covers the trigger. Never carry without a holster. Keep guns unloaded unless they are intended for immediate use.
Additionally mixing firearms and drugs or alcohol is a surefire way to fall in that “irresponsible” gun owner category.
If your gun goes off when you didn’t intend it you can be sure safety rules have been violated. You can talk about “accidents” all you want but in truth it was probably negligence, and could have been avoided with very little effort. “Accidents” happen because of carelessness and negligence. Genuine malfunctions that cause a gun to fire CAN happen, but are exceedingly rare.
3) Safe Storage
What constitutes safe storage might be different for everyone. The apartment dweller with children living in the home might opt for one solution, while the retiree who lives alone might opt for another.
The key, regardless of the method used is to prevent unauthorized people from gaining access to your firearms. Families with young children living or frequently visiting the home will need a secure locking container that can’t be easily accessed without a key or combination. If keys are the method of entry they clearly need to be kept out of little hands as well. Don’t count on hiding the keys to the gun cabinet in your sock drawer. I recall many times as a kid finding a key then trying every lock in the house trying to figure out where it went. Keep keys on a ring that is always with you. Make sure combinations are sufficiently complicated that a child couldn’t easily figure it out. Sequential numbers or combinations that are used for other things the children know about are too easy.
One of my favorite solutions are the bedside gunsafes that are on the market. They’re well priced, generally around $100 and offer secure storage along with rapid access for authorized users. I’m not a fan of the biometric varieties, they’re prone to read errors too often. Simple button press models are both secure and easy to open for those with the combination. These are sized for pistols, so long guns will need another storage option. Safes, locking cabinets, and cable locks all work well for long guns if quick access isn’t a requirement. Trigger locks are really not sufficient for safe storage. They still allow the gun to be loaded and in some cases actually fired. Never count on trigger locks alone.
Keeping guns in the sock drawer, closet shelf, or under the bed is NEVER a good idea if children are going to be in the home. It doesn’t matter how well trained they are and how well they understand the risks, children inherently make bad decisions. I’m a huge proponent of firearms education for kids and I think it’s the number one safety factor for kids and guns. Nonetheless limiting access to firearms unless they are adequately supervised is just a good idea. Remember, it may not even be your child that you have to worry about, but one of their less educated friends who is visiting and succumbs to curiosity.
Short of the largest gun safes that are bolted to solid concrete floors, none of these methods will really prevent a dedicated attempt to gain access to your firearms. Thieves, adult members of the household, and older teens can generally all figure out how to defeat storage options if given time and access. If those are concerns for your situation more secure methods need to be considered.
4) Knows Gun Laws/Get Training
Much like number one, breaking the law, especially gun laws even unintentionally is going to get you in trouble. I don’t believe that there should be any sort of training requirement for firearms ownership, but I do believe a responsible gun owner will seek out the training to make them safe and competent.
Know the requirements for carrying either open or concealed. Know the laws of places you travel if you’ll be bringing your firearm along. Know the rules regarding bringing firearms on airplanes, trains, buses, National Parks, restaurants that serve alcohol, around schools, banks, and anything else that might be relevant where you live, work, and visit.
We know many of the gun laws on the books are non-sensical, but you don’t want to wind up like unfortunate gun owner Shaneen Allen. Allen is facing jail time because she didn’t realize her Pennsylvania carry permit was not honored in New Jersey, nor that the type of defensive ammunition she carried (hollowpoint, the best option for self defense) was subject to further restriction in that state.
Allen might be considered a perfect candidate for the “responsible gun owner” except that her ignorance of the laws in an adjoining state now has serious consequences to her career, freedom, and family. That New Jersey’s gun laws are self defeating and inconsistent don’t make the consequences any less serious.
Another critical aspect of knowledge is use of force. Know when deadly force is justified. Know when a situation warrants drawing your weapon vs. when that just escalates the situation. Understand when the right to stand your ground goes against the common sense solution of leaving a bad situation.
5) Good Ambassador
This is a more subjective measure than the others but one I feel is no less important. Just what makes one a good ambassador for the firearms community?
Have you ever seen those YouTube videos where a guy gives some girl, probably his girlfriend, a powerful gun to shoot without any prior instruction or training? That guy isn’t a good ambassador. What about the Open Carry activist that brandishes a rifle while demonstrating at local businesses? Not winning any converts there.
A good ambassador is one who introduces people to firearms in a safe and enjoyable way. They make the case for why they carry eloquently, and can discuss politics without racial diatribes or name calling. If they choose to open carry they do so in a manner consistent with their reasons, their locale, and their intent. They educate themselves and they educate those around them. They’re the type of gun owner that demonstrates that gun ownership transcends barriers. They demonstrate that gun ownership is a right that is important to, and should be exercised by members of any political party, gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Not all of these opinions are going to be embraced by everyone, and in some cases with very good reasons. However as we strive to educate the uninformed and exercise our rights we need more people that fit these categories, and fewer that give fodder to those that seek to restrict our rights in the name of “common sense” and “safety”, when their agenda is anything but.