I walked in to a state office building during the legislative session a couple months ago, arriving early to ensure I got a seat at a morning hearing.
On my way down the quiet hallway, I stopped in the women’s restroom. No one else was there. Often it is quite busy, but the day was just beginning.
I saw something odd stuck in the handrail along the wall of a bathroom stall. As I looked more closely I realized it was a gun someone had left behind. It looked like it was in some type of belt or holder.
I’ve shot a gun before, but only at clay pigeons with an expert at my shoulder. I didn’t touch this one. I knew that a security guard was just above me on the main level, and I hurried up the stairs to report it. He responded appropriately, with urgency, and made a call to another officer to check it out.
I headed on to my hearing. I wondered what might have happened if a student group had come upon that gun. All kinds of people come in and out of those public buildings, including children. What if a child came in and picked it up?
That question has been on my mind ever since that morning, along with the question I assume was on the mind of another person: I wonder where I left my gun?
Wondering where I left my gun should not become as casual as where I left my glasses. But, I fear it that question may become more common as more people buy guns and carry them around regularly.
Luckily, nothing bad came of that forgotten gun. But, it could have.
Some might think this warning is an overreaction. But, it’s not. And that’s my point.
The increased presence of guns in our lives can’t help but bring a more casual attitude. The more you see something, the more you don’t really see it.
Kentucky State Police annual statistics show that applications for concealed carry permits have jumped by more than 400 percent over 10 years. In 2005, 8,500 individuals applied for permits; 5 percent were denied. In 2015, 39,500 applications were received; 2 percent were denied.
More people are carrying concealed weapons, like I assume this lady was.
Unfortunately, the rhetoric around gun ownership is loud and accusatory: some claim the Constitution allows unfettered ownership; others point to the need to protect citizens from those who would use guns carelessly, or intend harm.
I support common sense gun laws that ensure guns don’t get into the wrong hands. I also believe we should all have a healthy respect for what guns can do, and act appropriately.
I think most people recognize that danger, but I fear that some – especially in this highly-charged political environment – are emboldened to act carelessly, even belligerently with guns.
Guns are dangerous, even in the hands of people who know and respect that danger.
The more casually we treat guns whether it is from an attitude of defiance, or a slip of the mind on a busy day, the danger is the same.
Someone could get hurt. We know that because it happens.
- Guns are the second highest cause of death of children and teens
- 80 percent of unintended deaths are caused by guns
- 7 million children live in a house with a loaded, unlocked gun
- 3 out of 4 children know where guns are stored in their homes
In 2014, Kentucky had the 15th highest number of gun deaths per capita in the U.S. The states with the toughest gun laws have the fewest gun deaths.
The gun debate is not new. It became higher profile in my lifetime, when White House press secretary James Brady was shot – along with President Reagan – outside the Washington Hilton in March of 1981. I moved to D.C. four months later.
From 1987-1993, I worked for U.S. Rep. Mike Synar from Oklahoma. Mike represented a big, rural district, and he came from a ranching family.
He was a strong supporter of the Brady Bill, which mandated a federal background check and waiting period before purchasing a gun. Because of this, the National Rifle Association worked to defeat him, spending $200,000 to support his opponent in the 1992 election (that’s chump change these days, but it was big then). During the campaign, Mike pointed to a case where a person was shot and killed by a convicted felon with a history of mental illness.
Mike was awarded a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 1995 for his principled stands on a number of controversial issues, including the Brady Bill.
The Brady Bill was eventually enacted, and background checks are still performed. However, they are only conducted at federally-licensed gun shops, not at gun shows or in private sales. That’s the big concern today.
That debate rages on, and I hope eventually we can agree on increased gun safety measures, or at least have fact-based discussions that might lead to policies that save lives.
In the meantime, there are practical, everyday habits we can adopt to make our world safer. I appreciated a friend’s question when our kids – then toddlers – had a play date. She asked, “Do you keep guns in your home?” It was a good question, and one that gun safety groups encourage. We can also store guns unloaded and locked away. We see stories often about deadly accidents when a child finds an unsecured gun.
And, we can definitely keep track of where we put our guns. The question, “I wonder where I left my gun?” should not become a common one.