Unexamined Premises

Safety Last

A single-action revolver with its loading gate open

What are to make of this? Via the Of Arms and the Law blog (h/t Instapundit) comes this New York Times story about a tragic, accidental shooting — but alas, a story published in order to further the Times‘s notion that inanimate objects, especially inanimate objects of swaggering macho desire, have a mind of their own:

It was the second week in August, a Friday the 13th, in fact, in 1982. I was with a group of college roommates who were getting ready to go to the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race. Three of us piled into a red Vega parked outside a friend’s house in Okanogan, Wash., me in the back seat. The driver, who worked with the county sheriff’s department, offered me his service revolver to examine. I turned the weapon onto its side, pointed it toward the door. The barrel, however, slipped when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty, and turned the gun toward the driver’s seat. When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing. When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round. 

My friend, Doug, slumped in the driver’s seat, dying, and another friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, raced into the house for the phone.

The commenters at the blog are doing a good job of unpacking not only the principal paragraph above, but the whole intent of the piece (who recounts a story of killing his own friend in order to obliquely further the gun-control meme?), but what does it say about the editing chops at the Times that they would let this pass without at least some clarification? To wit:

  • “… who worked with the county sheriff’s department offered me his service revolver to examine.”

Let’s leave aside the sheer irresponsibility of handing a loaded firearm over to a kid. In 1982, the vast majority of police sidearms were double-action revolvers or semi-automatic pistols, which would make the description of the accident above completely unbelievable, unless the firearm in question was a single-action revolver with the hammer down on one empty chamber, about which more in a bit. 

  • “… when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty…”

You don’t check to see whether a revolver is loaded by pulling the hammer back. You check it by pushing the cylinder out (which instantly renders it non-fireable, since there cannot be a round in the barrel) and making sure all five, six, seven, or even eight chambers are clear.

  • “When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing.”

The instant you pull the hammer back on a revolver, the mechanism also rotates the cylinder. It is impossible not to notice this, unless you have never seen a gun before in your life. 

  • “When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round.”

“Pulling the hammer back” will not fire a round. Releasing the hammer will. For this story to be true, the only possible explanation is that the author was (mis)handling a Colt-type single-action revolver — what shooters call a “cowboy gun” — which is loaded and unloaded one round or expended shell at a time via a gate on the right side of the cylinder.

This video will give you an idea of how it works, and how an accident such as the one described above might possibly happen:

[jwplayer mediaid=”2410″]

(For another good look at a single-action revolver, go here.)

Naturally, none of this occurred to the editors at the Times, who are hell-bent on demonizing guns and don’t care how dishonest or misleading they have to be in order to accomplish their mission. What they fail to realize, however, is that publishing a piece like this harms their cause far more than it helps it — and in the author’s own words. For example:

Together, my three brothers own at least a dozen weapons and have yet to harm anyone with them. Despite their guns (or, arguably, because of them), they are quite peaceable. As for me, I have three guns, one inherited and two gifts, and I’m hardly a zealot. In fact I never had much interest in guns. Yet it is I who killed a man.

As James Taranto might ask: “Fox Butterfield, is that you?” The fact that Bruce Holbert has three guns in his possession today ought to give anyone the willies, especially since he seems not to be able to perceive the correlative connection between “never had much interest in guns” and “killed a man.”

Though the charges against me were eventually dropped, I have since been given diagnoses of a range of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and adult attention deficit disorders. The pharmacists fill the appropriate prescriptions, which temporarily salve my conscience, but serve neither my story nor the truth.

Just the sort of fellow we want to own three guns. Of course, no metrosexual Times story these days would be complete without — in addition to the obligatory paen to pharmacology — its weird notions of what constitutes real masculinity:

Where I grew up, masculinity involved schooling a mean dog to guard your truck or skipping the ignition spark to fire the points, and, of course, handling guns of all kinds. I was barely proficient in any of these areas. I understood what was expected of me and responded as best I could, but did so with distance that would, I hoped, keep me from being a total fraud in my own eyes. 

Like many other young men, I mythologized guns and the ideas of manhood associated with them…. My friend was killed by a man who misunderstood guns, who imagined that comfort with — and affection for — guns was a vital component of manhood.

And it’s crucial to establish the meme– all too plausible on the Upper West Side! — that simply being around guns is likely to affect one’s sensibilities:

It did not appear to anyone — including me — that residing within my family’s weapons cache might affect my life.

Only this statement rings true:

The gun lobby likes to say guns don’t kill people, people do. And they’re right, of course. I killed my friend; no one else did; no mechanism did. But this oversimplifies matters (as does the gun control advocates’ position that eliminating weapons will end violent crime).

One of the commenters nails it:

Let’s translate this to a car situation (something probably everyone can understand). What the author was doing was the equivalent to driving 70 MPH on an ice covered road, and then, when he goes off the road at a well known hairpin turn and gets his friend killed, says “gee wiz, I’m sure I’m responsible but I’m not sure how that happened.” 

Unfortunately, most NY Times readers are not going to have the knowledge about firearms to spot the issue. This is, from my perspective at least, the most insidious part of the story, for while the author takes responsibility for the accident later in the piece, the writing of the paragraph shown above seems to allude to the proposition that the pistol fired without any intentional action on his part. This is clear Bullshit, but to the mind of the average NY Time reader it confirms their suspicions that firearms are not really inanimate objects…

OK, kids, let’s go over those gun safety rules again:

  • The gun is always loaded.
  • Never point a gun at anything you’re not prepared to kill.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
  • Always be sure of your target and know what’s behind it.

Here endeth the lesson. For now.