The mythical “Responsible Handgun Owner”

Dear Joel,

Recently over at PennLive, you asked for an honest conversation about guns, which can only begin if we start by admitting that guns are for killing. In the US, there are a lot of guns owned solely for this purpose. I encountered one of them last week.

I had taken the kiddos out to Chuck-a-Rama, which is like a better Hoss’s (if you are from PA) and a much, much better Bonanza (which raises the question: Why are so many buffets Western-themed?). It’s perfect if you are feeding bottomless teens or preschoolers who have been pushed past their limit and need food NOW. The key detail here is that it’s a buffet, so you get up from your seat frequently.

Still, the table next to ours had been empty except for dirty dishes for a long time when I saw that there was a purse left on the bench seat. I watched it for a bit longer, but no one returned, so I asked by littlest (the hungry preschooler now in heaven because of the endless Jell-O options) to pick it up, and, escorted by me, he carried to the the parking lot, where we hoped to find a woman who realized she’d left it when she wasn’t able to find her keys. No luck, so we opened it, hoping to find a cell phone without too much sorting through someone’s personal belongings (The thing was huge!) so we could call the In Case of Emergency number and let them know that we’d found the purse. They couldn’t have gotten far, I thought.

That’s when I saw the little pink handgun, floating right there amid assorted cosmetics, tubes of lip balm, and a miniature pack of tissues. Which, by the way, is totally legal in Utah, where I live.

Utah is an open-carry state with very few laws that protect the public from the mishandling of weapons. Utah has a higher-than-average rate of accidental gun deaths among children, which is not a surprise at all given that we have the youngest population and many, many guns. And accidents from guns that are tossed into bags happen (like this one, this past April, in a busy college cafeteria) which is also not a surprise.

I say that gun accidents are “not a surprise” because handgun owners are inherently irresponsible.

Granted, I know a lot of dirtbags, but I also know of no–not one single one–responsible handgun owners. By this, I mean that I don’t know a single person who I know owns a handgun who is able to insure that these guns are kept in such a way that they have never presented a danger to the public.

Certainly not the woman who left her handgun in her bag. She hadn’t disappeared after all. She’d left it there on purpose while she went to the restroom, then refilled her plate. After, shaking with anger, I’d delivered the purse to the manager (Seeing that he did not share my fury about this, I realized that I should have just kept it, a justified theft, I think.)  and returned to my seat, I saw her seated again. She didn’t even realize that the purse was missing! How silly of her!

And how common. And how deadly.

If you are in my family and own a gun and my claim that you aren’t responsible with it hurts your feelings, ask yourself honestly: Have you ever lost track of that gun, even for a moment? Forgotten where it was? Told yourself that you didn’t need to lock it up because you’d hidden it somewhere where the kids wouldn’t find it? Not known exactly how many rounds it had left in it at any moment? Shown it off to someone because you wanted their admiration? Let a friend handle it who wasn’t trained properly? Taken it out in public when it didn’t need to go? Felt safer because you were carrying it (even though you’re not)? Not known the laws in the place where you were carrying it? Brought it into the home of someone you know who didn’t want it? Left your house or car unlocked while a gun was inside? Allowed your safety and shooting skills to lapse but not gotten rid of your guns?

Lest I sound too harsh, I’ve forgotten and lost many things: keys, phones, wallets, purses, children. I’ve left jackets hanging on the back of bathroom stalls, and I just forgot my favorite cardigan on an international flight. I’ve had to page children at the swimming pool, grocery store, and farmer’s market. I’ve forgotten where I parked the car and which one I drove to the grocery store.

Which is why I don’t believe that anyone should ever own a handgun. Handgun owners cannot be responsible enough to keep handguns safe because handguns are inherently dangerous (which is why we prize them), and to be used for their purpose–to kill people–they must be always kept in a state of constant dangerousness. If that woman’s handgun wasn’t loaded, what the hell was the point? (What was the point, anyway? If you really think you might need to use lethal violence there, why are you at Chuck-a-Rama?)

The point is always to kill, but to be constantly ready to kill requires constant vigilance–which most people (perhaps only members of the Secret Service and other bodyguard types) simply aren’t able to give.

This past May, Utah did not charge a father who rested his gun against the wall of the room where his two young children were playing while he went to wash up in the bathroom. While he was gone, his three-year-old daughter shot and killed his two-year-old son. The father, like about half the adults in such situations, wasn’t charged. The state called it an “accident”–though it is not an accident at all but an outcome that is going to happen to some children as long as we have handguns in homes. This doesn’t give me much hope that if my son had been the one to unzip that handbag and he had used that gun, that this woman would have been held responsible. A tragic accident, born out of her selfishness, fear, arrogance, and inattention.

We can’t make guns safe because they’re not. And, of course, many gun owners don’t want them to be safe–and neither does the gun industry. They want them to be stylish, accessible, deadly, and everywhere.


Gun purseTeal gun


Top, a handbag, with matching wallet, designed to store a handgun, which I suppose is an improvement over the free-floating weapon. It’s statement of faith–“With God all things are possible”–seems at odds with the faithless choice to carry a handgun. Below, a matching handgun. 

One comment

  1. […] That’s a lot of people who believe that they have the judgment to decide when someone else should die, the skill to make it happen without killing or injuring someone else in the process, the strength to live with their decision (including the possibility that they made the wrong one), and the ability to keep guns safe when they aren’t being used in self-defense (a near impossibility). […]


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