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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

tel. (860) 229-0213 • fax (860) 229-0235 • e-mail


Legal Opinion

November 2002


More on road rage - and a few other things to avoid

Recently I wrote about how NOT to handle a "road rage" situation. This month, here are a few more tips on how NOT to act as a gun owner. As always, these are based on actual cases.

DON’T try to communicate with the other driver in a road rage situation, no matter how polite you plan to be. If you pull up and stop, your action may be interpreted as a threat, by the other driver and by the police, regardless of what you say later on. Your top priority should be escaping the situation completely.

DON’T carry a handgun in a way that makes it easy to leave the handgun someplace you shouldn’t. This is always a problem for a woman who wants to carry a handgun in a purse, if she’s in the habit of putting her purse down and walking away. But this is also a problem for men. A few years ago a Connecticut man (with a pistol permit) was carrying a gun in a small zippered pouch while he shopped at a supermarket. At the cash register, he put the pouch on the checkout belt with the groceries. After bagging his groceries, he departed without the pouch, which remained on the belt. Fortunately, the pouch was found by an honest employee. But it might have been found by a child who thought the gun was a toy.

The pouch may seem like a good idea because it conceals a handgun well, but did you ever try drawing from a pouch? One-handed? Fortunately there are plenty of good hip holsters and pocket holsters that provide adequate concealment.

DON’T leave a gun where you wouldn’t leave a $100 bill. That means, for example, don’t leave a gun in the pocket of a jacket that gets thrown on a bed with 30 other jackets at a house party. It’s amazing how dishonest some people can be when they go to collect their jacket, even if they haven’t been drinking.

DON’T handle a firearm—anywhere—if you aren’t concentrating on what you’re doing, or if you lack the dexterity to handle a firearm safely. "It just went off. I don’t know how it happened." Those are scary words. Modern firearms are well made and rarely malfunction in a way that causes an accidental discharge. Almost all gun accidents happen because of human error. So "I don’t know how it happened" really means "I don’t know what I did." And if you don’t know what you did, how will you keep it from happening again? Go back and review NRA’s three fundamental rules of safe gun handling. (Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot; and keep the gun unloaded until you’re ready to shoot.)

DON’T draw a gun on someone who isn’t putting you in imminent danger of grave bodily harm. You may claim later that you didn’t point the gun directly at the other person, or your finger was off the trigger, or there wasn’t a round in the chamber, or you merely held the gun in your hand, but these claims may not help you in court. Drawing or displaying a gun to "scare someone off" can be a foolish and dangerous action. If you draw a gun, you must believe that you are defending yourself from grave bodily harm that is about to happen, and you must believe that you can’t get away safely (unless you’re in your home or business). You have to be ready to shoot your attacker or at least soberly warn your attacker that if he comes closer or doesn’t leave you alone, you will shoot. And you have to be ready to shoot if the attacker doesn’t heed your warning.

At first this advice may seem inconsistent with Prof. Gary Kleck’s research showing that in 92 percent of civilian cases of defensive gun use, no shot is fired. Doesn’t Kleck’s research mean that people are merely waving guns around and not shooting? Not really. To understand the point better, think about police officers defending themselves with guns. Most of the time when officers draw their guns, no shot is fired. But the officers draw with the full intent of shooting if necessary to save themselves. No one trains police officers to draw a gun to wave it around to try to get people to "back down."

Finally, here’s one positive "don’t":

DON’T be ashamed of being a shooter. An important part of the gun haters’ campaign has been to try make good people who own guns seem invisible to the rest of the world. This is done by making people ashamed and secretive about their legitimate interest in firearms. But I believe that you’ll make the world a better place if you discuss your interest with your non-shooting friends and offer to take them to the range if they’re curious. Your friends need to learn that most shooters are like you—law-abiding, respectable citizens who are proud of our American heritage. If you hide your interest, you’re caving to the pressure of the gun haters.

Sometimes this point comes up in unexpected ways. Let me illustrate with a story that may seem off-topic at first.

Recently a mother sent me an e-mail about pediatricians who try to speak to children without the parent in the examining room. "It seems that many of us with children 11 and older are being excluded from the examining rooms so that the doctor may talk to our children about sex and drugs without parental knowledge or consent. Many of our children are being asked if they are sexually active, or if they have tried drugs, and also given info on sexually transmitted diseases, etc. This is upsetting when your 11-year-old doesn’t even know what sexual intercourse is yet!"

My reply:

"Our whole family is on guard every time we go to the children’s doctor. The waiting room is full of magazines that say no one but police officers and soldiers can learn to handle firearms safely. So I never leave the examining room. When the doctor asks my daughters if we have guns at home, I want to hear Emma and Samantha tell him how good they are at hitting targets at the range. Then we can offer to take him shooting some time."


Copyright 2002 by Ralph D. Sherman

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