So you’ve bought a new gun. Should you lock it up? It depends | Opinion

(Josh Locatis/Flickr)

By Denny Bonavita

I read with interest the provocatively headlined op-Ed, “Congratulations on your new gun. Now lock it up,” by state Rep. Dan Frankel, published by Capital-Star on March 24.

Its premise is based on a factual error.

Here is the error: “There are three ways that a gun can hurt or kill someone in your house: homicide, suicide and accidents,” Frankel claims.

That is simplistic. “Homicide” has several meanings.

At first blush, “homicide” evokes the stereotype of “murder.” But in law and in the real world, “homicide” also includes a subcategory, described as “justifiable homicide,” “self-defense,” “Castle Doctrine” or “stand your ground.”

Because he oversimplifies this fundamental reason for the recent surge in gun buying, Rep. Frankel’s viewpoint increases the risk of people becoming maimed or dead victims.

Frankel is not wrong. There are times when responsible gun owners do lock away their guns and store ammunition separately, as Frankel suggests ought to be done all the time.

In our house, one such time occurs when grandchildren visit to stay overnight or in hours-long chunks of time. I’ll accept the risk of being unable to fend off a home invader in return for the assurance that curious youngsters won’t pick up a loaded handgun with awful results.

But when my wife and myself, responsible retirees, are at home, a loaded gun is always nearby, reachable within several steps. A post-midnight home invader, drunk or drugged up, is not going to wait while I unlock a storage box and load a weapon. That invader will kill me while I am fumbling.

We live in a rural area. From our yard, we can see only two houses. Both are a quarter-mile or more distant. That isolation is peaceful — and exposed, especially after dark.

We understand the dichotomy that Rep. Frankel glosses over.

  • An unloaded, locked-away gun with ammunition stored separately is quite safe, but virtually useless in a sudden home invasion or other out-of-the-blue crisis.
  • A loaded, close at hand gun can be a lifesaver in those situations, or it can be the cause of a slaughter of loved ones or the gun-owner if not carefully placed and monitored.

Experienced gun owners understand that. Many of us grew up with guns. More than half of us have been hunters. The graybeards had military training during the Vietnam War era.

But first-time gun owners might not realize that the answer to “Should I keep my loaded gun nearby?” is neither “Yes” nor “No.” Instead, the responsible answer is “It depends.”

In the wake of the COVID-19 quarantines and shutdowns, gun sales are surging.

For first-time gun buyers, the purchase itself is only the first step in what ought to be two more activities: Training and practice.

Ideally, the training would come through in-person classes. COVID-19 makes that process highly unlikely. But there are umpteen courses on the internet and guides in print, including instruction booklets that come with most newly bought guns.

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Veteran instructors also recommend regular dry-firing practices — with checking and rechecking to verify that guns are unloaded.

But knowledge alone can lull us into a false sense of security. Circumstances change, and so should decisions about prudent placement of our deadly weapons

Gun ownership is something like using fireplaces to heat our homes. Fireplaces do work. They provide heat, and the cheering comfort of a nearby glowing fireside. But combustible chimneys and their ability to throw sparks require close control and constant awareness of in-use fireplaces.

Frankel’s one-sided essay does underscore the reality that owning a gun should be a serious, considered process that does not end with buying the weapon. But it ignores the reality that the need to use guns in defense usually occurs without warning.

Training and practice hone the skills and habits that might keep us safe in a crisis, and should keep others and us safe from situations that are not thought all the way through.

The COVID-19 pandemic is dangerous enough. Gun buyers, first-timers and long-timers, need to avoid compounding the risks by making their self-defense weapons too locked away to be useful in a crisis.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren, Pa. He lives near Brookville, Pa. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].