As a lifelong Louisiana resident, with a dad who served in the U.S. Army, it probably wouldn’t surprise you a bit to know that I was raised with guns in the house. More than a few, in fact. My dad’s job in the Army and later National Guard was as a Firearms Instructor. In fact, he taught people how to properly instruct others on firearms safety. As his oldest child, he practiced his instruction on me, to the point where I could have taught the safety class at about age five.
I went on my first hunting trip and killed my first duck when I was five years old. We ate that duck for supper. The “right way” to own, store, carry, transport and use guns was a very prevalent topic of conversation in our house growing up. My two brothers and I loved our time hunting with our dad in the blind, stand and fields. It was culture. It was bonding, it was amazing times that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Our hunting rifles and shotguns are treasured family heirlooms that we pass down from generation to generation.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that many people who were raised with guns in their homes had very, very different experiences than mine. They were in a house with guns but no strong parental figure. They were in a house where guns were not locked away at all times unless they were going hunting. They were in a home with guns but weren’t taught safety and to treat guns as if they are loaded at all times. And they were keeping guns in their homes because they felt threatened or lacked power, not because of a bonding opportunity with family.
Louisiana has the 3rd highest rate of gun deaths in U.S.
As I’ve delved further into this topic, I was really shocked to learn a few things. Did you know 53% of Louisiana households have a gun in them? Imagine, every other house in your neighborhood is armed.
Did you know that in the U.S., about 600 people last year accidentally shot themselves or someone else? That was something my family never believed could happen in our house. I also learned that my beloved Louisiana has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the nation. That’s Louisianians shooting other PEOPLE! Roughly 26 out of every 100,000 people in Louisiana in 2020 were shot and killed. That’s over 1,200 of our friends and neighbors! Wouldn’t you like to get through just ONE night of the news without a shooting reported?
The misuse of guns is the leading cause of death among children and teens in Louisiana. More than 100 children and teens die in this state by firearms each year. Too high.
Almost HALF the shooting deaths in Louisiana were suicide, which speaks volumes about our need to raise awareness of and help more people get access to mental health care and resources. The other half of gun deaths were people shot by somebody else. Only Mississippi and Alaska have a higher rate of people dying by gunfire than Louisiana does.
The fact that people here in Louisiana are using firearms to shoot other PEOPLE or themselves at such astonishingly high rates is a tragedy of the first order.
As offensive as this fact is, as sad as it makes me, it is not my job to give you a treatise on gun control, or the 2nd Amendment, or gun rights or anything political like that. That’s not my area, and I’m certainly not a lawyer. But I will say this:
There is a Right Way….and a Wrong Way to Own Guns
I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to be a gun owner. And going back to my training, I’m going to remind you that owning a gun is a HUGE responsibility. It’s not cool or trendy to buy a gun. It is literally a life-or-death decision.
We weren’t allowed to touch our guns, even ones we bought with our own money, unless we checked with dad, and he unlocked the gun safe and removed them for us. And if we asked him to take guns out, we’d better either be cleaning them (yep, had to learn how to disassemble and reassemble them from the get-go) or getting ready for a hunt.
I am a health care economist, and there is no doubt gun safety and violence prevention are being looked at from a public health issue. Decades ago, health officials sounded the alarm that, at very high rates, people were dying and getting hurt in car accidents because they weren’t wearing seatbelts. That alarm helped call attention to an important safety practice. Health officials today are taking a similar approach with guns. We are seeing such high and increasing rates of preventable firearm injuries and deaths prove that outreach and education on gun ownership how to be safe and keep these tragedies from happening is very important. Let’s review:
A responsible gun owner NEVER forgets these things:
- ALL guns need to stay locked in a gun safe at all times when not being cleaned or used. Only level-headed, stable, responsible people whom you trust should have access. In our house, only dad had the key to the gun safe. Nobody else. Frankly, if you won’t lock up your guns, please don’t buy any.
- Your VEHICLE IS NOT A GUN SAFE!!! Locked or unlocked, never, ever leave a firearm in your unoccupied vehicle. The top reason vehicles are vandalized or broken into is because people leave GUNS in them. So wrong.
- ALL guns need be treated as if they are LOADED at all times, even when they are clearly not.
- NEVER POINT A GUN AT ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. If you are holding a gun, using it or transporting it and can see another person, you should not be pointing any gun in their direction. Ever. “The ground or the sky” was my dad’s constant reminder of where to point our guns.
- When you are hunting or target shooting, NEVER fire a gun at anything until you are 100% sure what it is. Firing at movement or shadows, or because you are afraid of something, is 100% wrong. If you are hunting, make sure you follow your state’s licensing and rules about what you can and cannot shoot and in what quantity every day. No matter what you are hunting, you must ID your target before taking a shot.
- If you are walking in the woods, armed or not, WEAR YOUR ORANGE VEST! That makes you visible to hunters so they can see you’re a person, not a deer. Hopefully everyone in the woods is following #5, but they might not be. Most hunting seasons run from October through January.
- NEVER store a gun loaded. Even handguns that you use for protection. Even if you have them in a hand safe under the bed. There should be no rounds chambered in a stored gun, ever.
- NEVER let other people borrow your guns or share your keys/combination to your home’s gun safe. If you do, you are responsible for what that person does with YOUR guns.
- HAVE A VALID REASON for owning a gun before you let one into your home. Guns are tools, like hammers and saws. If you are never going to build anything, don’t buy tools. Specific guns are made for specific things, like shotguns for rabbit/duck/squirrel hunting (and sometimes deer), for example. My dad never understood gun “collecting” and he had no use for a handgun, so he never owned one beyond his Army-issued weapon. I’m in that camp, too. But, if you own lots of guns, you have lots of responsibility to keep them safe.
- Most gun crimes and accidental shootings are committed by HANDGUNS (pistols), so locking up and keeping track of your handguns is even more important. These smaller firearms don’t look all that dangerous sitting on a shelf, but they are just as deadly as a long gun up to a certain yardage. Lock them up.
- Have a very hard conversation with yourself about whom you allow access to any firearms you own. If you are struggling with mental health needs and feelings of depression or hopelessness, tell someone and ask for help. Give your gun safe to someone you trust and let that person control access. If a family member is struggling with mental health issues, or if someone in your family has acted violently or done anything that you think is a red flag, get guns out of your home, even if just temporarily. The last thing you want to happen is for someone to use YOUR gun to take their own life or someone else’s because they had easy access to it.
- Often, an older person’s mental state deteriorates to the point where the continued presence of firearms in the house is a bad idea. I have removed guns and gun safes from older relatives’ houses when they showed signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. You should not hesitate to do the same. If you are thinking about taking an older person’s car keys away because of decreased mental capacity, you certainly should be checking that house for guns. Remember, 53% of Louisiana’s households are armed today.
Many people (like me) inherit guns from relatives. If you don’t want the guns you’ve inherited, or you’ve just decided you don’t want the firearms in your home, there is a safe way to disarm.
Contact your local sheriff’s department or city police and tell them you inherited some guns you’d like to get out of your house. Most law enforcement agencies have a process for accepting firearms, especially unlicensed or unregistered handguns. They are usually very happy to get them off the street. You can also go to a licensed firearms dealer who is trained and authorized to handle guns and ask them how you can turn your family’s unused guns in. Remember, you are responsible for what other people do with a gun registered to you, so if you’re not planning to keep it or have a family member who is not capable of keeping it responsibly, it’s best to get rid of it in a safe, legal way with the proper authorities keeping track of where it goes.
The Straight Talk is, I’m not going to give you advice on whether or not you should buy or own a firearm, but I am going to tell you that even one human a year dying on the wrong end of a gun is too many. With great power comes greater responsibility, and owning a gun means both. Make sure you and anyone else who lives with you are ready to follow ALL the rules and behave safely and responsibly before you bring a firearm into your home.