I feel sick, sitting down to write this.
It’s been over two weeks since Veronica Rutledge, Nuclear Research Scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory, was shot in the head by her two-year-old son at a Walmart in Hayden, Idaho. I’ve waited until now to write this out of deference to the immense heart break that her family must feel. Her father-in-law, Terry, is angry that her story has become another didactic anecdote in the gun rights debate.
“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case… I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun
No, the purse that held the gun was specially made, with a zippered pocket inside specifically for carrying a concealed weapon. She had just received it for Christmas.
“An inquisitive 2-year-old boy reached into the purse, unzipped the compartment, found the gun and shot his mother in the head. It’s a terrible, terrible incident.”
Veronica died on the scene. A store manager, who was nearby when it happened, found the boy and secured the 9mm handgun. Police later confirmed the events with security video.
Terry’s next statement is the reason I can’t leave this story alone.
“My son is terrible. He has a 2-year-old boy right now who doesn’t know where his mom is and he’ll have to explain why his mom isn’t coming home. And then, later on his life, as he questions it more, he’ll again have to explain what happened, so we’ll have to relive this several times over.”
I also have a two-year-old boy. Imagining such a grief, so terrible and so manifest, brings me to tears, even now. It makes me feel sick.
By all accounts, Veronica was a talented, intelligent woman who had a great life ahead of her. We needed Veronica. The world needed her. Her son still needs her.
Veronica lived in a small town of 11,000 people where the crime rates were well below the national average. When interviewed, a friend of Veronica’s said
“In Idaho, we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that and to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre. [Veronica] wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns. This was just a horrible accident.”
I’ve seen this same mentality in Wisconsin, where I live. Even my own family—containing several active hunters, several police officers, and even a few gun enthusiasts— probably shares a similar view. They and the Boy Scouts were my primary source of education and training on gun safety. I personally own two guns and on rare occasion use them recreationally for target shooting.
But where I can’t find common ground with Rutledge is in the decision to constantly carry a loaded gun.
See, I’ve been told over and over that children can be safe around guns if provided the proper education.
“They need to be taught to respect guns.”
“Kids are safer growing up around guns, because they’ll learn the right and wrong way to handle them.”
But I don’t think you could paint a picture of more deliberate, consummately educated, ardently responsible gun owners than the Rutledges. Yet, in a brief unattended moment, a child who was too young to understand Eddie Eagle’s message gained access to a lethal weapon. Because, really, a zipper?
A zipper is literally a toy to a two-year-old. A zipper is not sufficient separation between your child and a loaded gun.
For my son to access a loaded gun, he would need to retrieve a set of keys, navigate across the house, get the case down from a high shelf, unlock it, find the shells in their lockbox and load it. I do not worry about this happening. If he ever does manage to kill me with my gun, my wife should really consider advance placement courses.
But I don’t want to give you the impression that I think Veronica could have avoided her tragic death by just being more careful. She was in the store that day alone with her three nieces and her son. Watching four children and being mindful of your shopping list is difficult, much less being perfectly mindful of a gun. Neither do I think that this is the fault of our laws. Concealed carry allowed her to have the gun in the store, but a loaded gun at home would be just as dangerous. There are some (actually many) problems that you can’t legislate a solution to.
So, to me, the answer is clear, if you’ll permit me to be blunt.
Keep your guns; I don’t want them. But for fuck’s sake, keep them safely.
There isn’t going to be a shoot-out at Walmart. Statistically, you’ve probably never been robbed, nor violently threatened in your life; so what the hell do you need instant access to lethal force for? You are endangering everyone around so that you can be a cowboy. If you’re really that worried, carry something non-lethal. Pepper spray has a 0.00% chance of accidental death. The only downside is that you’ll need to buoy your self-confidence with, I don’t know, therapy or something.
Parents and gun owners, if you remain unconvinced, take the opportunity to visit Veronica’s Facebook page while it is still active. Look at the picture her family has left up of her and her son. Let his face be the first thing that comes to mind when you see your loaded gun. The bad guys aren’t coming. You don’t need it. You need to protect your children FROM your gun, not with it.
Handbag image used via Creative Commons.