Once again, someone has managed to blame a few pounds of metal for the demonstrated ineptitude of a few pounds of gray matter. Last week, jurors in a California civil court ruled that gun manufacturer Bryco/Jennings must pay over $50 million to a 16-year-old who became a quadriplegic after his moronic babysitter shot him in the jaw nine years ago. Virtually no one–even the normally “pro-gun” right–seems to be complaining about the verdict. While the right remains silent, the left is hailing the decision as an example of a “legitimate” case of compensation for a “dangerous design flaw” in the gun.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the Bryco .38 semi-auto pistol–or its design–when Larry Moreford pointed it at a seven-year-old child and pulled the trigger. If anything, Bryco/Jennings should be complimented that their cheap “Saturday Night Special” worked so well. It did exactly what it was supposed to do when someone disengages the safety and pulls the trigger: it fired.
The flaw lies not in the design of one person’s gun, but in the lapse of another person’s thought. This was eloquently (if inadvertently) demonstrated by a staff lawyer representing Trail Lawyers for Public Justice. “You have to disengage the safety and put the gun in a dangerous position to unload it,” Victoria Ni argued.
Unless the instruction manual for the Bryco .38 reads, “be sure to aim at the nearest small child before unloading,” Ms. Ni presumably meant that the gun must be put in a dangerous state (i.e. safety off), not a dangerous position. But even so, as Sarah Brady’s minions constantly complain, Guns are for killing.
Guns are always “dangerous.” The idea that a firearm is somehow placed in a dangerous state implies that its normal state is something other than “dangerous,” and this is a horrifying position to take. Irresponsible, careless attitudes like Ms. Ni’s are the precise reason that people like Brandon Maxfield get shot by their babysitters. One should never ever assume that a firearm is safe enough to point at a child and pull the trigger. There are thousands of weapons in the United States that require disengagement of the safety to unload them. Fortunately, there are far fewer people careless enough to go around shooting kids.
Handling a gun is not rocket science: bullets come out very fast in the general direction of wherever the muzzle is pointing. A bullet is usually rather difficult to retrieve from mid-flight and stuff back into the chamber, and if it strikes someone, it hurts. This sort of behavior should be expected whenever the trigger is depressed. Had organizations such as Handgun Control, Inc. (and most major media outlets) made an effort to educate Americans about firearm safety rather than frighten them into hysteria, perhaps babysitters like Larry Moreford would have had an opportunity to learn four basic safety rules before handling a .38. These very simple and very effective rules were developed decades ago by Colonel Jeff Cooper (U.S.M.C., retired).
1. All guns are always loaded.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
4. Always be sure of your target (and what is beyond it).
Following these common-sense rules will prevent negligent mishaps when handling any firearm. Moreford broke not just one, but two of the four safety rules. First, he pointed a gun at Brandon Maxfield in clear violation of rule #2. And just to test the bounds of stupidity, he also put his finger on the trigger while fumbling with the weapon to unload it, in clear violation of rule #3. Simply put, Mr. Moreford pointed what he knew to be a loaded gun at a seven-year-old child and pulled the trigger while disengaging the safety. Only an utter imbecile could accomplish this, but somehow Larry Moreford managed.
Although the notion that this constitutes a “design flaw” in the gun is absurd, it is not novel. Historically, California officials enjoy placing arbitrary requirements on the design of weapons. Since no gun manufactures will hire them to do this, they enact legislation instead. This year, senators are debating a bill that would ban the sale of any handgun that lacks two politically trendy “safety features,” which amounts to outlawing pretty much all handguns.
The first of these is “a chamber load indicator that is plainly visible in a contrasting color that clearly indicates to a person unfamiliar with the operation of a semiautomatic pistol that a cartridge is in the firing chamber.” The bill does not describe how someone “unfamiliar with the operation of a semiautomatic pistol” is supposed to know what a “chamber load” indicator means, nor does it describe how such a device would have helped Brandon Maxfield. If learning all four is too difficult for them, perhaps California senators ought to at least make an effort to learn rule #1.
The other required “safety” feature is a “magazine disconnect mechanism” that prevents a weapon from firing if the magazine is removed. But if people like Larry Moreford can’t remember to point a gun somewhere other than at a child, how will he remember to take the magazine out? The idea, apparently, is to convince naive Californians that guns are no more dangerous than toothbrushes so long as the “chamber load” indicator is visible or the magazine is removed. Great strategy. Victoria Ni would approve.
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof,” science fiction author Douglas Adams once wrote, “is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” Instead of holding gun manufacturers responsible for the actions of fools, those interested in preventing gun violence ought to hold fools responsible for the “actions” of their guns. Regardless of how many “safety” bells and whistles a manufacturer designs into a product–no matter what it is–guys like Larry Moreford will always find a way to do something stupid with it. The “flaw” is not in guns; it’s in the humans using them.
Colonel Cooper tells students in his pistol and rifle classes that the only “safety mechanism” for any firearm is between their ears. He points his trigger finger at the ceiling, flexes it several times, and admonishes them, “This, you control!”
Except, apparently, Larry Moreford.