April Moments

Maybe, just maybe, telling the story is just as important as the story itself

Can guns really protect the average person?

The topic of gun violence has been in the news a lot lately. Just within the past couple weeks, two incidents – one very close to home in Pittsburgh and another in Binghampton, N.Y. – saw a total of 16 people dead after gunshots were fired.

On Friday, I watched a 20/20 story titled “If I Only Had a Gun.” Then, last night, 60 Minutes aired a story about gun sales and laws. I found myself thinking and talking about this issue a great deal within the past few days, and there is one aspect in particular I think parents may find helpful.

The first portion of the 20/20 story detailed an experiment done by Bethlehem, Pa., Police officers. Diane Sawyer and other ABC News personnel selected six people to participate in a simulated crisis situation in a lecture hall at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. The chosen young people ranged from gun novices with no former firearm experience to a seasoned, self-proclaimed “gun enthusiast.”

The six individuals knew they were participating in basic firearm safety training, but they did not know they would be ambushed by a gunman who burst into the classroom. Each of the six participants, all of whom were armed with a real glock handgun containing fake bullets, had his or her turn to react to the shooter. One young man couldn’t even get the gun out of the holster. Others managed to shoot at the intruder but forgot to take cover. Even the man with “hundreds of hours” of gun experience was slow to respond to the crisis.

If the attack had been real, all six individuals would have been killed by the gunman, suffering wounds to the head and chest. The “gun enthusiast” admitted his attempt to fire was a “failure.”

Sawyer explained the reason for the delayed response. During a crisis situation, the human heart beats three to four times faster than its average rate. Blood moves away from the skin and into the muscles, she reported. One of the police officers Sawyer interviewed said “fine motor skills deteriorate.”

Another effect a crisis situation has on the human body is “tunnel vision,” according to firearms instructor Glen Dorney, whose words are quoted below (as printed on the 20/20 Web site). “You get tunnel vision as well, because now you’re not looking at the entire environment; you’re focused on one thing, and it’s probably going to be the threat. It’s been equated to taking paper towel rolls when they’re empty, and sticking them up to your eyes. That’s almost what you see. And … you have to train yourself to be able to break that.”

To illustrate this point, the 20/20 producers replayed in slow motion one of the participant’s shots toward the lecture hall gunman. As the other people in the room frantically scrambled to escape, the bullet from the young woman’s gun came within inches of striking an innocent person in the head.

The officers went on to say that law enforcement personnel undergo months of training to prepare for crises to “speed reaction time and build muscle memory.”

But, according to the 20/20 Web site, only six states require any kind of training before issuing a routine permit to own a gun, and of the 48 states that allow concealed-carry permits, less than half require owners to demonstrate knowledge of firearm use and/or safety.

Now, I know gun control is a political battle, but I’m not overly interested in talking politics. I am interested, however, in discussing common sense, and my brain tells me if a parent buys a gun with the intent to use it to protect his or her family, he or she should undergo the necessary training to do so! One of the Bethlehem, Pa., police officers told Sawyer if an individual goes longer than two months without crisis training, he will lose his ability to adequately defend himself.

OK, so maybe I will go slightly political (although I try to avoid doing that in my blogs). For example, I believe the “gun show loophole” should be closed, and I support re-instituting the federal assault weapons ban. In 2004 alone, eight children and teenagers, ages 19 and under, were killed with guns every day, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

I found the 20/20 story so educational, and I think gun control is an issue all parents should think about, at the very least. If there are people out there who do buy guns for protection purposes, they should protect themselves and, more importantly, their children, by going through the necessary (and ongoing) training, not to mention taking the proper precautions when storing a firearm (But, that’s a whole other blog)!

The 20/20 piece also featured an interview with Bill Stanton, a former New York City police officer and safety expert. He said there are better ways than using a firearm to survive an attack and protect those around you. First, if at all possible, run. If escaping is not an option, look for alternative exits (such as windows) and hiding places. In some instances, he noted, playing dead is the best strategy. Finally, if you have a cell phone, use it to call 911; then barricade the door, find a place to hide and wait for help.

Originally published on ovparent.com.

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