In February of 2015, I wrote what I thought was a helpful guide for journalists who wished to have a better understanding of guns and gun laws throughout the U.S. Entitled “14 Things Everyone Should Understand About Guns,” the guide summarized different state and federal gun laws, explained the mechanics of how different guns work, and included a list of ironclad gun safety rules that should be followed at all times, with no exceptions.
I didn’t just want anti-gun journalists to better understand the objects of their hatred. I also wanted them (and everyone else) to know how to safely handle a firearm. That’s why the very first of the 14 items in the article was about the four basic rules of gun safety: 1) Treat all guns as though they are loaded, 2) Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to destroy, 3) Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re prepared to fire, and 4) Always confirm your target, as well as what’s in front, behind, and around it.
Unfortunately, Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold did not read that article. How do we know? Because Fahrenthold had to go to the emergency room after he shot himself in the eye with one of his children’s confetti guns:
When I came home from my last TV hit, the kids, ages 4 and 5 months, were asleep. The house was quiet. I was still full of caffeine and do-gooder energy and decided to tidy up.
Among the clutter on the coffee table, I found my 4-year-old’s Party Popper, a bright yellow gun that fired confetti. For some reason, I held the gun up to my eye and looked down the barrel, the way Yosemite Sam always does.
It looked unloaded.
Then, for some reason, I pulled the trigger.
When I got to the ER, I had a swollen face, metal-foil confetti in my hair and a faint odor of gun smoke. Finally, the doctor could see me.
“I shot myself in the eye with a glitter gun,” I said. I showed him the Party Popper, which I had brought with me, in case he wanted to send it off to the National Institute of Morons for further study.
I got home from the hospital with a scratched cornea and a tube of eye ointment. The next day, with some of my dignity permanently lost, I got started on a bigger story.
He’s lucky his dignity is the only thing he lost, because he could’ve permanently lost his vision in that eye. And if he’d been as careless with a real gun as he was with a toy gun, he or someone else might have lost their lives. I don’t highlight this incident to mock Fahrenthold, and I disagree with his characterization of himself as a “moron.” The issue isn’t that he’s stupid, it’s that he was never taught to not do what he did.
The incident is important because it shows just how important it is to know the basic rules of gun safety, even if you don’t own any guns or ever plan to handle one. No responsible gun owner on earth would have done with a toy confetti gun what Fahrenthold did. Let’s go through his incident step by step to point out what he did wrong and how the four basic gun safety rules could’ve prevented what happened.
Mistake #1: “For some reason, I held the gun up to my eye and looked down the barrel, the way Yosemite Sam always does.”
That’s a direct violation of gun safety rule #2: Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to destroy. Had he pointed the gun in a safe direction, nobody would’ve gotten hurt even if he violated all of the other rules. Instead, he pointed it at his eye and guaranteed that if the gun was fired, his eye would be the target.
Mistake #2: “It looked unloaded.”
That’s a violation of gun safety rule #1: Treat all guns as though they are loaded. Had he followed this rule and checked and unloaded the gun, nobody would’ve gotten hurt. Remember: there’s no such thing as an unloaded gun. If you always assume a gun is loaded, you’ll never be forced to explain to a doctor or law enforcement official that you didn’t mean to shoot that person since you thought the gun was unloaded. Always confirm a firearm is unloaded before handling it. If it’s not, unload it immediately.
Mistake #3: “Then, for some reason, I pulled the trigger.”
That’s a violation of gun safety rule #3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re prepared to fire. Or, as the instructors I’ve worked with like to paraphrase it, “Keep your #&$^#&%! finger off the *!^%#@$% trigger you #$#^%! idiot.” Violating rule #3 is the ultimate cause of every negligent firearm discharge. Even if you ignore all the other rules, the gun will not fire a bullet and potentially cause irreparable damage unless someone pulls the trigger. Fahrenthold could’ve walked away unscathed after ignoring rules #1 and #2 if only he had followed rule #3.
The four basic rules of gun safety exist for a reason: to keep you and everyone around you safe. They must be applied religiously at all times, even if you think you’re just playing with a harmless toy gun. Even if you don’t plan on ever owning or handling a gun, you should memorize and obey the four basic gun safety rules at all times. And if you disagree, just ask David Fahrenthold.