Knee jerk responses. Much heat, little light.

I’m often amazed at how little thought goes into debating issues of public importance, so I wasn’t surprised to read the editorials and letters commenting on the recent shooting accident in Nevada involving a 9 year old girl.

Predictably, most people focus on the shooter’s age, arguing that no young child should be permitted to shoot an automatic military weapon. A few argue instead for restrictions based on height rather than age, or insist that it’s simply an issue of confining use to people who are “capable of controlling the weapon”. Many go further and say that automatic weapons should not be available to anyone.

They’re all missing the point. Not once have I seen anyone address the real issue. To get the right answer, you first have to ask the right question.

Do we really care how old or how tall the shooter is? If no one had been shot, would there have been global headlines exclaiming “9 year old girl shoots automatic weapon, and no one is hurt”? Of course not.

Would this accident have been prevented if the shooter had been 35 years old and 6 feet tall? Possibly, but not necessarily. A person who is “capable of controlling the weapon” could still have an accident, or could shoot someone intentionally.

Arguments for a complete ban on the public’s use of such weapons come closer to preventing such accidents, but only by involving practical and legal issues that would take ages to sort out, and even then they miss the point.

The issue is not age, nor height, nor one’s ability to control the weapon, however that may be defined. Nor is it the fact that these weapons are available at all.

The core issue is SAFETY, and the answer is to allow people to have their thrills without having the mishaps too. It really doesn’t matter whether the shooter was 9 years old or 99, or for that matter even if she was a psychopathic killer. If they want to go out in the desert and fire an army howitzer, let them. Just make sure that they can do it without hurting anyone.

The issue is not the gun or who’s behind it, but how to prevent its unsafe use.

The answer is obvious and simple. All that’s needed is to chain the weapon so that it can be pointed only in a safe direction. This would prevent the unsafe use of the gun under any circumstances and by any person. It could be achieved without restricting anyone’s freedoms and without any of the difficulties involved in establishing who is a suitable person. It would achieve complete safety, without the slightest difficulty or controversy. and could be done today – in half an hour – after a visit to the local hardware store.