Last October, actor Alec Baldwin drew and pointed a Colt .45 revolver toward the camera on the set of his upcoming movie, Rust. During a rehearsal Baldwin fired a shot that killed Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured Director Joel Souzza. The Colt was supposed to be a “cold gun,” meaning that it was unloaded or worse, loaded with blanks—which, while powerful, would rarely result in accidental death. Instead, Baldwin’s gun was loaded with a live round. The incident on the set of Rust received unprecedented media attention given Baldwin’s celebrity status, and that it occurred on a movie set where there are supposed to be rules regulating the handling of firearms. While tragic, the situation was not particularly unusual. Annually, more than twenty-seven thousand Americans are admitted to hospitals for unintentional firearm injuries. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence estimates at least one unintentional gun death occurs daily in the United States. The day you read this article, a fellow American has died as a result of gun violence, leading to questions surrounding how the United States—the most armed country in the world—has failed to educate citizens on the most basic principles of firearm safety.
Accidental gun violence is common throughout the United States. According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, over five hundred people die annually from unintentional firearm injuries, which account for 37 percent of all nonfatal firearm injuries. Americans are four times more likely to die from unintentional gun injuries than people in other countries. More alarming still, the United States possesses more firearms than any other country, and the number is growing annually. According to the Small Arms Survey—a research group dedicated to estimating the total number of legally and illegally civilian-held firearms—the United States tops the list of countries with the greatest total civilian-held legal and illicit firearms at an estimated 393.3 million guns. For reference, India holds the second spot with under a third less firearms than the United States. There are more guns than people in the United States, with the Small Arms Survey estimating 120.5 firearms per one hundred residents.
We regulate almost everything in America, from carbon emissions, to water quality, to hairstyling products, but the right to create an armory in your basement is protected under the Second Amendment, leaving the federal government with little leeway to curtain or limit ownership. Powerful groups like the NRA see any infringement on firearm purchasing or legislation for common sense safety as an infringement on gun owners’ rights. What we do have are state laws that vary drastically from state to state. According to a 2016 article published in USA Today, in which each state’s laws are compared and contrasted, “[i]n 36 states, there are no legal requirements for gun registration, no permit needed and no license necessary to purchase and own a firearm such as a rifle, shotgun, or handgun.”
Connecticut requires permits to carry and purchase pistols, revolvers, and other handguns. To apply for a handgun permit, Connecticut residents must pass an NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting course. According to the NRA website, the class—which includes a live fire portion requiring students to fire at a target—is designed to teach students “essential gun safety rules, different types of pistols and which one is best for [them], the basics of ammunition, the fundamentals of pistol shooting, different shooting positions, the most common shooting errors, proper gun cleaning and maintenance, and skill maintenance.”
“Yeah, I didn’t learn any of that,” says Kelly, a nurse who took the class in March of 2020. When asked about the written test, the exam required for completion of the course, she said, “They made it a partner test.” Kelly missed her target during the live fire portion of the class but still received a certificate of completion. “I didn’t really feel comfortable after the class. I feel like they just wanted to pass people through.” Kelly’s rushed seven-hour course, she says, is not unique, and it highlights an alarming trend in inadequate gun education.
Though Tim, who asked that his full name be withheld, is a full-throated NRA supporter and gun trainer who believes there should be little government regulation in gun purchases. He echoes Kelly’s concern regarding the ineffectiveness of Connecticut’s Pistol Basics Shooting Course. “The training is not effective. You can’t even begin to argue that it is. It’s not a difficult thing to pass.” Tim cites discrepancies between the guns used for the live fire portion of the course and the guns most students will eventually purchase. Students are trained using a .22 handgun, which offers little to no recoil. Conversely, America’s most popular gun, the GLOCK 19, offers significantly more jerk than the .22 on which most buyers are trained.
Eric Dlugolenski, a former police officer in West Haven, Connecticut, and current assistant professor of Criminology at Central Connecticut State University, shares similar concerns regarding Connecticut’s pistol training. “I don’t know that a quick, day-long class [prepares] you to really fully grasp the magnitude of possessing a firearm.” Dlugolenski continues,“It’s very basic. It’s about the most basic weapons handling advice you can get: range safety, indexing your finger, keeping it off the trigger. It’s kind of boilerplate. My main concern is that you’re gonna leave there with the ability to carry a weapon.”
Tim argues that a negative stigma surrounding guns in the United States is to blame for lacking gun education, and that it contributes to gun accidents. “There’s a lot of things wrong with the way that we look at guns. We villainize [them]. Better gun education in this country would decrease gun accidents.”
The stigma is perhaps best represented through the manner in which Americans respond to open carry—an issue Dlugolenski says poses problems for police. “[Open carry] essentially puts responding officers in a difficult position because it’s not something that’s really a social norm. And yet, the law allows for [open carry]. [When I was a police officer] we would get lots of distress calls [that somebody is] carrying a firearm—you really don’t know what that means right away. Because there’s somebody just walking around with a firearm in a place that they have legal standing to do that. We only have limited capability of what we can even ask them in those interactions.” The controversy surrounding open carry garnered national attention after protesters—many of whom were visibly armed with military-style weapons—stormed the Michigan State Capitol during a vote to approve Governor Whitmer’s proposed extension of Stay at Home orders due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in late April 2020. Though no shots were fired, the incident caused many within the public service sector to fear for their safety. In an interview with the New York Times, Erica Geiss, a state senator from Michigan, admitted to keeping a bulletproof vest in her desk, indicating the discomfort she felt resulting from the right to open carry. But state laws regarding open carry fluctuate state to state. In Michigan, where the storming of the state house took place, open carry is legal. In fact, some form of open carry is legal in forty-five of the fifty United States.
Open carry, however, is not without repercussions for carriers, as well as responding officers and other civilians who may feel threatened or become frightened at the sight of a gun. The Gifford’s Association, a gun control group, has published research suggesting that “the presence of visible firearms may alter behavior and increase aggressive and violent behaviors.” Such was seemingly the case for Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who was allegedly attacked after he was observed open carrying by protesters at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2020. Rittenhouse was allegedly chased by protestors and fired his weapon in an act he deemed “self defense.” The incident resulted in two deaths.
Gun control advocates argue that simple gun safety measures could greatly decrease gun accidents, while second amendment supporters worry that such measures might infringe upon their right to bear arms and argue, instead, for more guns.
But maybe the ensuing battle regarding gun control isn’t about protestors’ rights to bear arms at state buildings, and maybe it’s not about Kyle Rittenhouse’s right to allegedly defend his life. Maybe gun control advocates aren’t out to strip gun owners of their second amendment rights. Maybe Connecticut’s required gun training isn’t about Kelly’s failure to hit her target. Maybe Alec Baldwin’s accident wasn’t about negligence. Maybe when the media stops defining the battle for gun control between gun owners and gun regulators, then both gun control advocates and NRA members will hear each other out and the U.S. will implement effective gun control policies to save lives.
Holly McCartney is a Staff Writer for the Blue Muse Magazine.
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