Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Dan DeWitt: As Reeves case shows, gun owners might not know as much as they think they do

Really, there's no doubt about it: To buy a gun is to invite trouble or death.

Suicide. Accidental shootings. The killing of domestic partners, especially wives and girlfriends.

These are all far more common among people who own firearms, says David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and author of a 2006 book on this subject, Private Guns, Public Health.

"In a home with a gun, the overwhelming evidence is that it is more likely to be used in the killing of someone who shouldn't be killed," Hemenway told me last week.

That leads us to the central irony of gun ownership, and from there to the central conceit of gun owners.

People think guns make them safer, with personal protection being far and away the leading reason given for buying guns in a 2013 Gallup poll.

That means gun owners have to ignore the research or tell themselves that it doesn't apply to them.

They have to tell themselves that they're different — well-trained and responsible.

They have to believe that, unlike the lowlifes and criminals who cause all those unfortunate, unexpected gun deaths, they know what they are doing.

Then, along came Curtis Reeves Jr., who not only blew away a guy for — according to deputies — throwing a bag of popcorn at him in a Pasco County movie theater; he also blew away this silly illusion.

Because no matter how much you think you know about guns, I'll bet you don't know as much as this guy.

Reeves, as we've all heard many times by now, is a retired Tampa police captain.

He not only received extensive training with guns, but probably conducted it as the department's firearms coordinator in the 1980s.

He also helped found the department's SWAT team, which means that he must have shown exceptional judgment about how and when to use firearms; it's hard to imagine a job that demands more of it.

After retiring from the department, he served as director of security at Busch Gardens, where he was so sure of his ability to handle firearms that he clamped down on staffers bringing guns to work and reserved that right for himself and his guards.

"This man has lived with a gun forever," said Dave Cock of Brooksville, who was assistant curator of the bird garden at Busch Gardens during Reeves' first five years there.

So what does it say that Reeves lost control, making him the latest national poster child for, in Hemenway's words, "killing someone who shouldn't be killed?"

Does it say that something similar is bound to happen to everyone who is less of an expert than Reeves?

Of course not. Lots of people manage to live safely with guns. Lots of them are responsible and knowledgeable.

The problem is — as shown by the shooting of the popcorn thrower in Pasco and several recent, especially pointless gun deaths in Hernando County — that there are so many gun owners in this country, about 50 million. At least some of them won't be careful, at least occasionally. A lot of them won't really know what they're doing.

You're not one of them, I'm sure you're thinking, if you're a gun owner.

You got your training. You respect the power of a firearm. You aren't about to do anything stupid.

Yeah? I bet Reeves thought that, too.

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