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The Not-So-Common Knowledge About Gun Control and Unintentional Firearm Deaths

Original article by: Delanie Howell


Most people would likely agree with the assumption that as the number of guns purchased increases, as does the crime rate, and thus, the number of people who die from firearms. Think about this scenario for example, an individual with criminal tendencies is waiting in the parking lot of a mall and sees an elderly woman coming out carrying her purse. Now that there are so many guns available for private ownership, it is going to be a lot easier for that elderly woman to be robbed by this individual. Several people would say that’s probably true. However, statistics show that actually, the opposite is true. The increase in private ownership of firearms applies to that elderly woman as well, and the potential robber has no idea which elderly women are now armed and which ones are not. Therefore, that robbery is actually less likely to happen because that individual doesn’t want to risk being shot.


Gordon Robertson, a member of the Firearms Department at the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation’s Forensic Laboratory, said, “Everywhere they have started concealed carry, the violent crime rate – the rapes, the assaults, the robberies – have gone down quickly, and they’ve gone down significantly.” In his opinion, this can be attributed to the above explanation. No one knows who around them is armed anymore. By this same token, however, this raises concerns of how to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. This is where the National Instant Check, or NIC, System comes into play. When a person goes to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer, he or she must fill out pertinent information which is then sent through the NIC system. This system runs a federal background check on the customer in which all of the states are required to enter information. If that customer has ever had a felony conviction, regardless of what the conviction was for, he or she cannot purchase a firearm. The possible results of the NIC are deny, which means do not sell the gun; delay, which means there is a minimum 72-hour waiting period so it can be further examined; or proceed, which means the gun can be purchased.


However, no system is perfect and Robertson understands that. “It keeps the bad guys from buying guns at the gun store, it doesn’t keep them from buying guns off the streets, or from a drug dealer, or whatever.” Robertson has served in law enforcement for 41 years, including 29 years as a member of the Oklahoma City Police Department and said that while law enforcement are doing what they can to protect the citizens, they are “more of a response organization. I’ve often told people we could put a police car with a police officer in every driveway in Oklahoma City and somebody is still going to shoot somebody in the bedroom. That officer wouldn’t even know it happened. The point is, firearm purchases have steadily been increasing because people are scared. There are more people that own guns in the United States today than ever in history, and that has shown to be a deterrent for criminals.” Robertson also mentioned that there are currently 25,000 laws on gun control in the United States.


According to the “Summary of Violent Deaths in Oklahoma”, a report done by Oklahoma Violent Death Reporting System (OK-VDRS), also shows evidence that despite common belief, more guns does not necessarily mean more accidents. The information put together for the OK-VDRS comes from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the Child Death Review Board. This report contains information breaking down all violent deaths in Oklahoma from 2004 to 2008 into very specific categories. The category of Unintentional Firearm Deaths is defined as “a death resulting from a penetrating injury or gunshot wound from a weapon that uses a powder charge to fire a projectile when there is a preponderance of evidence that the shooting was not intentionally directed at the victim,“ essentially meaning that it is obvious it was an accident. These represented only 1% of an average of 883 violent deaths per year, or a total of 4,417, during this time period in Oklahoma. This amounts to 51 total unintentional firearm deaths, or an average of about ten per year. To further dissect this category, the unintentional deaths were broken up into circumstances surrounding them. Those circumstances included “playing with a gun (22), showing a gun (11), hunting (6), loading a gun (6), target shooting (3), thinking the safety was engaged or engaging the safety (2), and cleaning a gun (1).” The report also states that in 18 of the 51 cases, the shooter thought the gun was unloaded and in eight, the gun went off when dropped.


Miles Hall, founder and president of H&H Shooting Sports Complex here in Oklahoma, acknowledges that the ultimate goal is to get the number of accidents to zero but until that is accomplished, simply banning firearms “makes no sense. If we’re going to take that analogy, then we need to ban cars because there’s car wrecks.” In his opinion, firearms are an important part of American culture because while the First Amendment actually contains several amendments, the founding fathers separated the Right to Bear Arms into an amendment by itself, the Second Amendment. Because the United States is the only country that allows non-law enforcement use of firearms, international visitors who want to experience something unique to America often turn to shooting. For this reason, Hall had to translate the rules for the shooting range at his complex into nine other languages in order to communicate safety to his visitors. Hall’s principle goal in opening the complex was and still is education, because there is such an increase in the availability of firearms to the general public. He is doing his part to reduce the number of firearm accidents. “We teach reloading, we teach gun cleaning, we teach basic gun handling skills, we teach shotgun skills, we teach, we teach, we teach.”


Education is one way to be proactive in the fight against unintentional firearm injury and death. Hunter education classes are now required for people over the age of 16 in order to obtain a hunting license. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is one organization that offers these courses and game wardens volunteer to teach them. Chance Whiteley, a game warden for Oklahoma County, said, “The majority of our programs are for safety, that’s pretty much our goal. As the number of programs we’ve done have increased, the number of accidents reported have gone down drastically. I’ve got the numbers of reported hunting accidents from 1955 until now and it started out around 20 to 30 per year; now it’s about six to nine a year.”  New regulations like this one requiring more education in order to purchase or use firearms, and one prohibiting the purchase of a firearm until age 21, are steps toward improving the number of unintentional deaths due to firearms.