Safety WITH Guns or Safety FROM Guns – Which is It?

About a year ago I posted my observation that both sides in the great gun debates in the US are for #GunSafety, but that pro-gun rights organizations tend to promote safety WITH guns while pro-gun control organizations tend to promote safety FROM guns.

Pro-gun control organizations, I wrote, promote safety FROM guns. Because they view guns only as a risk factor for injury or death, the safest approach to guns is to avoid them altogether.

Recognizing that some people will own guns nonetheless, the next line of safety is to make it as hard as possible for people to access them — whether in terms of ownership in the first place, or in terms of storing guns unloaded and/or disassembled with ammunition stored separately. This is a sort of safety WITH-ish and FROM-ish guns position.

On Twitter recently, I saw a prominent gun control activist represent both of the safety FROM-ish and the safety FROM positions in a matters of hours. (I have blurred out her Twitter handle because her particular identity isn’t as important as the broader position she represents.)

And after a night’s sleep and some further thought, first thing in the morning:

Although I don’t agree with her position, I appreciate her honesty. Rather than #GunSafety I do think many gun violence prevention organizations would be more honest if they used #SafetyFROMGuns or #GunsDontMakeUsSafer or #GunFreeHomes as their hashtags.

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  1. They won’t be honest because they use the Trojan Horse/Move the Goalposts strategy.

    Guns have risk factors. Ask Alec Baldwin! Sure, so do cars, food storage techniques, and electricity. Its all in safe management. I’d agree with the authors of those posts on one point. Unlike electricity or food storage, it is easier to give up guns. If someone or a family has not thought about, analyzed, and figured out how to live safely with guns in the house and answered so in the affirmative, then get the guns out of the house.

    Back when I was head scientist in a lab doing hazard controlled work in a nuclear facility, we would have to write out any new or reauthorized procedures to include a hazard control plan, listing all the hazards and their controls, ranking the hazards as high, moderate, or low, verifying the controls worked, and all signing off that we understood what we were signing. I owned some of those procedures (including electrical, chemical, inert gas, Cat. I carcinogen, and radiological hazards) so I was damn sure I wanted them to be as good as we could make them. It was thought-grinding analysis, but guns aren’t as complex as my old radiochemical mass spec lab to understand. So just do it. As my old man used to say, “guns are not toys, and bullets don’t have a reverse gear”.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t think we called it that but rather something like “defense in depth” or “layers of safety” with the implicit assumption that there were failure modes in any one safety system, i.e., slice of the cheese. We usually had multiple safety implements for any given job, such as glove boxes, gloves and personal lab jumpsuits, a radiation monitor on the side of the glove box, a contamination monitor on leaving the glovebox as well as the room, and time/distance/shielding.

        But with that model comes normal accident theory, too. If you make a system too complex, it could become unsafe in itself. Sort of the Charles Perrow thinking. So when the Continuous Air Monitor (CAM) is constantly going off in the winter due to dry air and static, one starts to doubt it really means anything. Until it does.

        Did you ever read this one? I used this for a presentation when I was vice-chair of the Laboratory Safety Committee.
        The Lessons of ValuJet Flight 592
        William Langewiesche


    • Safety procedures can try to be “idiot proof,” but designing a passive system to resist active attempts to get around safety measures is much tougher.

      Particularly if you don’t know that someone intends to make an attempt.

      In the tweeter’s example, Lanza killed his mother before going to the school.

      I don’t know if he normally had access to the guns he took to the school, but he killed his mother with a bolt-action .22 before he did so.

      Assuming he didn’t act in such a way to alarm his mother, who like most parents was unlikely to think the worst about any behavioral changes she might have picked up on, he had all the time he needed to figure out a safe combo if she hadn’t shared it, or find a hidden key, without alerting his mother he was doing so.

      It’s easy with 20/20 (and “not my kid”) dispassionate hindsight to see red flags, but I think parents have it tougher when it involves teenagers, who can be roller-coaster basket-cases emotionally even in normal situations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Spot on. Its easy to ignore the hints of red flags and they only become red flags in hindsight. My younger brother simply locks everything up, and gives no one the key location. Not even his older brother, old whats-his-name, who was annually shrink-certified to work on nuclear weapons. He had the right idea. Minimize risks and don’t take unneeded chances.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Low odds/high stakes.

        We had that risk chart for those, the Risk Assessment Matrix.

        Click to access idc-017618.pdf

        I had to do one of those analyses when working on the electronics of the mass spectrometers. Got to be familiar with electronic schematics in order to classify the hazard of replacing the capacitors in the filament and magnet supply modules of the mass spectrometers. The stored energy in some of those was substantial, and it was a two-person rule for safely discharging some of them prior to working on de-energized equipment (and a two person rule in some cases to verify something was deenergized).

        I learned that after I left my job at the Univ. of Hawaii, the person who took over tried to replace some lead acid batteries in a rather large uninterrupted power supply battery bank that kept the mass specs from going down if there was a power outage. She managed to blow a few of them up but not get injured. She was awfully lucky. I blew up a motorcycle battery my sophomore year of college (use your imagination) and my shirt looked like swiss cheese!

        Would be interesting to do a quiz of your students and ask them to use the matrix to rank various possible gun mistakes, such as an accidental discharge, failure to clear a gun before cleaning, or leaving it in the sock drawer in a high crime neighborhood or with little kids playing in the house.


  2. The poster’s twitter thread makes for interesting reading. Her pinned tweet is: Dear VA Gun Owners: Connecticut passed the 2nd strongest gun laws in the nation after my neighbor used an AR-15 to kill 26 children/educators at Sandy Hook & guns WERE NOT taken away. @realDonaldTrump is lying to you.

    Not taken away, even though they’re clearly too dangerous for people to have.

    YoU CaN TrUsT Us…


    • What safety currently exists in the US compared to say Japan? In 20`19 there were just under 14,000 murders… over 10,000 involved firearms of some kind. That works out to 73% of US murders involving guns.

      The US murder rate in 2019 was 5 per 100,000 people. That rate with firearms alone is 3.68.

      Japan’s murder rate? 1.02. That’s Japan’s *total* murder rate by the way. You’re more than three times more likely to be murdered by a gun in the USA than you are to be murdered in Japan via *any* form of weapon. An acceptable trade-off for ‘safety’? Japan is a lot safer than the US and the statistics on murder are but one example.

      The UK murder rate for 2019 is proving difficult to find, but for 2018 it was 1.2 per 100,000 people. You can combine the UK and Japanese murder rates and they’d still be lower than the US murder rate with guns alone. Is that right to protect yourself therefore making you safer?

      Germany’s murder rate data is based off 2018, and it stands at 0.95. Germany, like the UK, takes a different approach to gun control laws, as does Japan. In fact all three nations have different legal and cultural approaches to guns and the total murder rates of all three countries are lower than the US murder rate with only firearms. No safety? Seems the opposite is true, based on the available information…


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