Recent Gallup polls indicate that gun ownership in the U.S. is at its highest since 1993, with some of the highest numbers being in Kentucky, Montana, West Virginia, and North Dakota. Many people who keep a gun in their home do so out of concern for their own safety and the safety of their loved ones. But the recent controversial killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman — a man with a criminal record who was able to purchase and carry a hidden gun thanks to Florida’s lax gun laws — raises questions about gun ownership in our country. If you consider yourself relatively sane, are concerned for the safety of those in your home, and want to respect state and federal laws for gun ownership, check out these seven safety tips for keeping a gun in your home.
Know the gun laws for your state:
Supporters of the right to bear arms often confuse the need for a “well-regulated militia” (armed not with muskets, but UZIs) with a vicarious love of violence nurtured by video games and Hollywood movies. As a result, websites that purport to provide the straight dope on gun laws can be unnecessarily dense and didactic. We suggest you check out CarryConcealed.net for a state-by-state breakdown of laws pertaining to gun ownership. And since gun laws change often, contact your state’s Department of Public Safety to double check any information you’ve gathered about buying and keeping a gun in your home.
Own a gun that matches your experience:
If you’ve never owned or even fired a gun and don’t plan to train regularly, don’t buy a semi-automatic built for someone who has extensive experience with firearms. Be honest with yourself when it comes to what you want the gun for and how much time you plan to spend with it. A good dealer will help you purchase a gun that suits your level of expertise. If at a gun shop, a dealer pressures you to buy more expensive, more complicated kinds of firearms, take your business elsewhere.
Take basic gun safety and shooting lessons:
Gun rights advocates agree, first-time as well as experienced gun owners should take basic safety and shooting lessons from a professional instructor at a range. Watching reruns of Miami Vice for tips on how to load, fire, and clean a gun is not advisable. If you’re not a “gun person,” then schedule a refresher lesson at least once or twice a year at a range you trust so that you don’t forget how to properly use your gun.
Keep the gun away from children:
This is probably the most complicated issue you’ll have to consider when it comes to owning a gun in your home. If the gun is for defending your home, then you will need to consider how you can keep it away from your kids, and yet access it quickly to protect them in an emergency. Many gun owners introduce their children to guns and gun safety at a young age, so that their natural curiosity is satiated, and they develop a mature attitude toward guns and the reasons they exist. Others prefer keeping the gun locked in a safe. Communicating with your children, and the parents of children who may visit your home, is ultimately what may prevent a tragic accident.
Keep your gun clean:
If you have a gun in your home only for self-defense, it’s quite possible that you’ll never actually end up using it. But that doesn’t mean the gun should just sit in its safe place ignored. Over time, lack of maintenance and cleaning will have a detrimental effect on the quality of the firearm itself. A gun that sits for too long a time without proper maintenance may malfunction if and when it is used. Regularly cleaning your gun will help you maintain your firearm safety skills, which will benefit you and your family.
Don’t drink and handle a gun:
This helpful bit of advice should be a no-brainer. However, recent studies show that annually, one-third of all firearms-related deaths, including suicides, involve alcohol. Research also shows that people who abuse alcohol or drugs have a higher risk of committing violence or acts of self-harm. A gun in the home of a person who is struggling with alcoholism, a recovering drug addict, or dealing with mental illness, is a tragedy waiting to happen. And handling a gun when your judgment is impaired from a little bit of drinking is just stupid.
Remember that not everyone on the planet looks like you and your family:
Gun advocates often attempt to generate a great deal of paranoia among their supporters, an “us versus them” mentality that pits the family-loving gun owner against hordes of psychotic criminals who are ready to kick in the door to your home. Aside from ruining any serious discourse regarding intelligent, common-sense laws for gun ownership, paranoia fuels racism, resulting in racial profiling at its most extreme. No sane person wants to be responsible for the death of a teenage boy armed only with a bag of Skittles. If you take time to visit your neighbors, get to know the community outside of your enclave, and learn about cultures other than your own, even if you don’t have a gun in your home, you may actually feel safer.