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The tragic death of a 29-year-old mother in Northern Idaho, shot by her two-year-old son inside a Walmart store when the inquisitive toddler got a hold of her concealed handgun, has been one of the saddest accidents to be re-purposed into ideological fodder in recent years. While the sharpness of skepticism is at its most useful when it cuts both ways, and therefore this article should not be construed as a “final word” in any substantive argument, the purpose here is to create a framework for understanding the actual numbers behind the most recent attempts to drive a moral panic against firearm ownership.
A report compiled by the National Safety Council lists the probability of dying from a myriad of common concerns. Heart disease and cancer combined will end approximately one out of every seven American lives. Motor vehicle accidents will account for a person out of every 112, and accidental poisoning, one in 119. Accidental falls will be the death of one out of every 152 people, based off of 2009 figures, and assault with firearms will kill one out of every 356 people. While the average person is nearly two-and-a-third times more likely to die at the hands of a faulty ladder or a drunken rooftop party than from an intentional shooting, there is no public outcry to demand background checks for roofing materials or characterize ladders as assault weapons. The statistic of “assault with a firearm” also encompasses the legion atrocities of gang violence and murder for all manner of ill-intent, crimes which arguably fall under the umbrella of “where there is a will, there is a way.”
The tragic accident in Idaho was an unintentional discharge, as it is inconceivable that a two-year-old would wish harm on his mother. The woman, Veronica Rutledge, was a nuclear research scientist living in Southeastern Idaho, and a firearms enthusiast who had taken the precaution of storing her weapon in a handbag designed with a zippered pocket for exactly that purpose. The heart-rending tragedy that occurred in Hayden, Idaho, falls under a category of accidents that claim the lives of one out of every 6,509 people, putting them in the neighborhood of children accidentally locked in hot cars, and plane crashes. To politicize an event of this rarity and emotional poignancy misses the mark by both capitalizing on grief, and by failing to provide a likely scenario from which to justify outrage.
Rutledge’s father-in-law expressed anger for the treatment she has received posthumously in the media. One article, linked to in the sources below, compared Veronica Rutledge’s having a weapon in her purse to “letting a toddler run free in a home meth lab.” The comparison of an Idaho mother, who was an upstanding citizen and graduate of the University of Idaho, to a willful producer of highly illegal drugs, effectively dehumanizes the event and is likely done so to allow the existential angst felt in the face of a tragedy be rendered amorphous enough to plug into an existent narrative. It is not befitting of a substantive debate to erase the vestiges of a human beings’ personhood, to sanitize them anecdotally, so that their story can be purged of inconveniences and thus make a better brick for a wall.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Photo Courtesy of Roadsidepictures – flickr License – Not intended to represent the actual Walmart store referenced herein