Lessons in Gun Safety By Dennis Henigan

Dennis Henigan would like to remind you of a few things about guns, all of it spoken like a person who is unfamiliar with them. Henigan notes that an NRA certified instructor accidentally discharged a firearm in an instructor class, noting, “I think it’s safe to say that the NRA instructor in this case is unlikely to appear in future ‘I’m the NRA’ promotional ads.” He’ll probably lose his certification, given that NRA courses don’t allow for live rounds in classrooms. He goes on to note that trained police officers have made these mistakes too, but then goes off the rails here:

First, because of the nature of guns, accidental shootings remain a constant threat. Yes, individuals can be trained to be extremely careful around guns and most gun owners no doubt regard themselves as very safety conscious. But human beings are prone to mistakes – they can be clumsy, or distracted, or rushed, for example – and guns are sufficiently complicated mechanisms that even the slightest mistake can result in tragedy.

This is not the nature of guns. Guns do a very simple thing. When you pull the trigger, it fires a bullet. There is absolutely nothing “sufficiently complicated” about this. It’s one of the simplest user interfaces known to man.

That’s why there is seldom such a thing as an accidental discharge. The vast majority of unintentional discharges are negligent, including this one. The DEA agent that Henigan mentions, the poster child for the “only ones,” made his act of negligence when he removed his side arm from his holster for no good reason, in front of a group of school children. This instructor obviously violated a number of fundamental rules. Henigan seems to suggest that guns are really too complicated and dangerous for everyone, and though he does not say it, one can read into his statements that he would even include police in that.

I think this illustrates the difference in Henigan’s view of his fellow citizen as opposed to our view of our fellow citizen. Guns are not the complicated devices Henigan is making them out to be. It is completely possible to teach the vast majority of people how to live with them safely. What anti-gun people like Henigan do is take the very small minority of stupid or careless individuals who probably shouldn’t handle anything dangerous, and hold them up as examples as to why no one should have something dangerous like a gun. Because some can’t be trusted, none of you can be. This is not a recipe for a free, and certainly not a recipe for an adult society. Henigan is suggesting the infantilization of America, which raises the question of who gets to be the parent?

Henigan once again makes the comparison to automobiles, a favorite of our opponents:

When it comes to cars, we tolerate the risk of accidents because we regard automobile transportation as essential to our daily lives (though, unlike guns, we have extensive safety regulations on cars and drivers to reduce the risk of death and injury). We are told that we must similarly tolerate the risk of gun accidents because of the overriding protective benefit of guns in enabling self-defense against criminal attack.

We have such regulations on firearms too. There’s not much end user regulation on cars, only driving in public, much the same with firearms. And I would point out that the legal and safety issues surrounding driving an automobile on public roads are far more complex than carrying a firearm in public. The training reflects that.

But to demonstrate what a loss of freedom Henigan’s logic would lead to, and the levels of infantilization it would create among the American populace, we can compare the risks of accidental firearms deaths to other activities. I’ll pick activities that don’t involve necessity, just to help make the analogy with Henigan’s way of thinking. Firearms have a yearly accident rate in this data of approximately 1 in 350,000. That’s comparable to the completely unnecessary activity of being a private pilot, which also carries significant external risk, air transport having about the same accidental death rate as firearms. Not much higher than that is water transport accidents. Are private pleasure craft really necessary? Drowning in a swimming pool is roughly comparable, and swimming pools are not necessary at all. Combine that with other household drownings and it’s far higher than firearms. Off road motor vehicles have about the same one year odds as firearms do as well. But how many households have a private plane? Or a boat? An ATV? A pool? Far fewer than have firearms. It’s safe to conclude all these activities are more dangerous. Would Dennis Henigan bemoan an increase in boating activity? Does he celebrate that we’ve had a serious decline in private pilots over the past two decades?

Of course he doesn’t. The reason is that Dennis Henigan doesn’t hate or fear any of these things, only guns. If accidental deaths were really his concern, he’d be railing against boats, swimming pools, and private planes, and all-terrain vehicles as unneeded menaces to society. But he doesn’t. That’s one thing the anti-gunners seriously need to explain if they want to have any credibility in complaining about the dangers of guns.

20 thoughts on “Lessons in Gun Safety By Dennis Henigan”

  1. “Guns do a very simple thing. When you pull the trigger, it fires a bullet. There is absolutely nothing “sufficiently complicated” about this.”

    Hence the idiocy of all-too-often-coddled calls for mandatory training. Pull trigger, goes boom, whatever is in front of it may die; this fact is well ingrained in the social consciousness. Have the dealer show you how to operate the particular model. Insofar as obligatory training can be argued, the logic translates to including gun handling as part of phys ed in public schools (a person’s first encounter with guns will likely not involve their first purchase).

  2. You can instruct someone to handle a gun safely in a matter of hours. The rest is up to the individual. Obviously the fundamental premise of driving is going from point A to point B without running into anything. The “not running into anything” part can’t be taught. All you can teach are what good habits are. It’s up to the individual to drill those habits into their brains.

  3. Such incident cherry-picking always leads leftists to the Fallacy of Composition, their favorite “rational” argument for stripping away people’s individual rights and sovereignty. Collectivists, in argument, are generally as predictable as the sun coming up.

  4. It’s clear that guns are much too complicated and dangerous for Dennis Henigan, so he should stick to things he can comprehend, like sand and water and fuzzy bunnies…

  5. The lesson Dennis is best at is taking any situation imaginable and playing it to his issue.

  6. Guns are “sufficiently compicated” mechanisms? Really? What does he consider a “simple” mechanism, a lever arm?

    Firearms are some of the most simple mechanisms on the planet to the operator. Charge the weapon (insert magazine/fill the chamber). Cock the firing mechanism (if necessary). Pull the trigger. To render safe, remove all remaining charges from the weapon. The principles of the notch-and-post sight are almost painfully obvious. The rules of gun safety can be conveyed by handing over a business card. Unless you are handicapped (and I would consider a severe flinch a handicap in this case) you can be taught to safely take an unloaded handgun, prepare it for use, put rounds on target with minute-of-bad-guy accuracy at 5 yards, and then render it safe, in 30 minutes; and most of that time is taken up by showing you where the controls on the specific weapon are. Once you know how to do that – what you need to know to safely carry a firearm in public is the laws concerning use of deadly force in your juristiction

    Compared to learning how to safely operate an automobile on the public highways learning to carry a gun safely is trivial

  7. Guns… Check. Boats… Check. Planes… Check. ATVs… Check.

    Except for the pools, I think it is clear that Alaska is too dangerous for Dennis Henigan.

  8. Sebastian, It sounds like you’re the one who went off the rails. What I heard Hennigan say in the article was that compared to other tools which can be used to kill, guns are complicated. He even provided that witty remark by Ivins that people don’t often kill themselves cleaning knives.

    You say the majority can be sufficiently trained to handle guns safely, but maybe that’s not good enough. That 10% is a thorn in the side of your argument.

  9. @mikeb – Try 0.0008% of the 80 million or so gun owners, 0.0002% of all 300 million US citizens… And to think… I even rounded those numbers off to favor you! Worked the numbers using CDC data for unintentional firearm related fatalities from 2007 (the latest I could find)… A jaw dropping 613 for all age categories combined!

    But that’s just a little insignificant technicality, can’t let that get in the way now can we…

    (Apologies if I was a little too snarky…)

  10. MikeB, there are about 80 million gun owners in the US. If 10% were unable to handle firearms safely, then we should have about 8 million firearms injuries and deaths a year. As it is, even 1% would seem to be too high, even including all firearms-related injuries and deaths (accidental, criminal, suicides, etc.) You’re more likely to be injured or killed on the highways in America, but I don’t hear you complaining about more restrictions on cars and driving (remind me again why we let 16 year olds drive?).

  11. A firearm can be made absolutely safe by removing the charge(s). This action is trivial to perform with any cartridge-loading firearm and ought to be the first step prepatory to cleaning. A knife is always sharp and must be handled with care even (perhaps especially) when cleaning. Likewise any cutting tool. I have several scars on my hands from where I have encountered the sharp end of a cutting tool for one reason or another, I have never come close to shooting any part of myself.

    Firearms (modern ones, anyway) are drop-safe, they will not discharge when dropped (absent a major mechanical failure). Any firearm (no matter the condition or age) will not discharge if there is no charge in the weapon. Again, knives, not so much.

    With a breach-loading firearm, it is trivial to check for the presence of a charge and remove it. Other tools, not so much – a chainsaw, for example I’d have to check and drain the tank to render it safer (and it’s still not absolutely safe, as the teeth remain somewhat sharp). With an automobile, most are stored in a deliberately unsafe manner – tank fueled and engine ready to start; and it would be considered decicedly odd and terribly inconvenient if they were stored in the manner that many firearms are stored (fuel tank empty, garage locked, etc).

    The mechanical complexities of a firearm are entirely hidden from the user; both for use (line up sights, pull trigger), and safety (remove charge). The rules of safe operation in public (the famous 4 Rules) are orders of magnitude less complex than the rules for safely operating an automobile in public (traffic regs and guidelines).

    In short – mechanical complexity is a canard. There are “accidental discharges”, but they are vanishingly rare and result from mechanical failure. Someone shooting themselves cleaning a firearm, or drawing it from the holster, or picking up a jacket with a firearm in it; those are all examples of negligent discharge, and are trivially avoidable.

    DWI kills more people than firearm discharges of any type, much less negligent discharges.

  12. Mikeb, your argument works against you. If we grant that guns are among the most complicated devices used (deliberately, and designed to) kill, then the issue becomes they are among the least likely to do so: they are complex and difficult (relatively speaking) to get INTO their dangerous state. When a gun is loaded, chambered, and off safe, the situation is very simple and is already understood by pretty much anyone: pull trigger, and whatever it’s pointing at may die. That is simple. The “complexity” involves transitioning an unloaded unchambered on-safe gun TO that dangerous state! Ergo your argument, and that of the article, is self negating: of all weapons, guns are among the hardest to make dangerous.

  13. Ok, so Mike B is alleging that the internal complexity of an item is directly proportional to its danger to the user.

    To disprove this hypothesis, all you need to do is find a very complicated item which is rather safe, or vice versa (a very simple item which is very lethal).
    – GPS Devices: Your handheld GPS device literally relies on ROCKET SCIENCE in the form of a constellation of satellites keeping extremely precise time hacks to work. Other than the occasional numbskull who follows the directions right into a lake or off an overpass or something, they are also very, very safe.
    – A Glock has only 35 parts or so, much less than other firearms. However, it would be wrong to assume that it is less lethal.
    – My expresso machine has more parts in it than a glock. However, that does not mean that my expresso machine is inherently dangerous.
    – A modern firearm may be more complicated internally than an antique. However, the modern firearm introduces internal safety devices (such as a transfer bar safety on revolvers) that make it nearly impossible to discharge accidentally. The internal complexity makes the device safer.
    – Cars with airbags have more internal complexity than cars without. Are cars with airbags more hazardous to their drivers?
    – A knife, baseball bat, or club has only a few parts, but they can be certainly as lethal as a firearm.

    I think that if there is any correlation between internal complexity of a device and its danger to users or general lethality it is probably small. If there is one, it is likely only because “internal complexity” can sometimes be used as a proxy for “reliability” in that devices with many parts may tend to malfunction or break more often. The more important factor is probably the complexity of the user interface.

  14. “the internal complexity of an item is directly proportional to its danger to the user” – That’s why they don’t read the bills they pass in the Senate. It would hurt them.

  15. I will grant this – a firearm may only grant you one mistake. But this is no different from a car, really. You only need to run one red light to end a life.

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