At work, we have to do something called Smith System Driving classes. It’s like Defensive Driving, but really detailed. I learned recently that UPS uses the same program for their drivers. Apparently, since we drive vehicles owned by our employer, sometimes for very far distances to visit project sites, the cost-benefit analysis weighs out in favor of sending us through this really expensive driving class every three years.

I took it for the first time last September, and after making about 100 jokes about how engineers are rich and awkward, the instructor asked each of us to rate our driving ability. Two older admin specialists said they were above average drivers by reason of experience. I was next. I said, “I know of no rubric for analyzing how I stack up against other drivers. However, since I’m relatively young, I have quick reaction time, and my vision is fantastic, but I’m also often tired, which can reduce reaction time” (I showed equations for all of this. There was a marker board. Never give an engineer a marker.) I continued, “I’ve never been tested on my actual skills as a driver, only on my ability to follow basic laws, so I have no idea how my technique stacks up against my peers. I posit that we can probably consider driving ability to be defined by a normal distribution, and that the best odds are I’m within one standard deviation of the mean, so I would classify myself as average.”

The other engineer in the room concurred with my analysis and reasoning, and classified himself as average, too. I was, admittedly, being pedantic about it, as the preceding hour had basically been one long joke about engineers, so I decided to be as stereotypical of an engineer as I could about answering, but my point was solid. Most people are average drivers, if we consider “average” to be within one standard deviation of the mean, by whatever numerical standard we might use to quantify ability in this respect.

The instructor looked at my coworker and me, dumbfounded, and said, “I’ve been teaching this class for five years, and nobody has ever said they’re an average driver until you two.” That’s engineers for you, always the odd ones out. He made a good point, though. Most people consider themselves above average drivers. Ask 100 people how good they are at driving, and your experience is going to be similar to his. Everyone will tell you they’re a good driver, and they’ll also probably tell you that everyone else on the road is a blithering idiot, and most traffic problems are due to that fact.

For extra credit, do this at a military base, which has people from everywhere all living in close quarters, and see how many people you can get to tell you that people from everywhere but their hometown can’t drive. You’ll find a lot of people like that. Driving is a tradition in this country, and people have strong ideas on how it should be done. Most people are convinced they’re doing it right, and better than other people. This is statistically improbable, but nearly everybody in society believes it. Look at how many memes exist about bad drivers. Nobody sharing them thinks it could possibly be them, and they have absolutely no basis for that position.

I don’t want to talk about driving, though. When people talk about privately owned weapons of any type, they always talk about being a responsible owner. What does that even mean? “Responsible owner” is an arbitrary term like “good driver”. It means something completely different to each person, and we have no unified standard available to the average person for any of it. Consequently, everyone is a responsible owner by their own standard. In every aspect of life, we all cut certain corners, and we justify to ourselves why those corners were acceptable to cut. The problems come when those cut corners begin to affect other people, as is the case with cars and deadly projectiles. That’s when it becomes everyone else’s business.

I know someone who keeps their deer rifle in a safe with three locking mechanisms, and their ammo at their brother’s house. I know someone who keeps a loaded .375 in a boot on the top shelf of their closet. I know a lot of people between these two extremes. The one thing every one of them has in common is that they’ll all tell you what a responsible owner they are if you ask, even my friend with the loaded .357 balanced precariously in a boot. He has looked me right in the eye and told me that’s safe practice, and given me reasons why he thinks that. I don’t agree, of course, but at this time, there’s no way to disagree officially with things like this. By and large, it’s left to the judgment of the individual.

When I was 10 years old, I was in a crowded farmers’ market, selling produce my family grew, and I heard the loudest sound I had ever heard in my life about 20 feet from me. Everyone gasped and then started yelling and running. It was mayhem for a solid ten minutes until a farmer across the aisle from my family’s table figured out what happened. A 7-year-old had gotten her dad’s .45 out of the glove compartment of the truck, and fired it. Luckily, the round lodged in the engine block, and while I don’t think that truck was much good to anybody anymore, nobody was hurt. When my dad later talked with the farmer whose daughter was involved in the incident, he assured him that he’s a responsible owner, that this was a fluke, that the glove compartment had been locked, and his daughter had gotten ahold of the keys, which normally never happens. My dad, of course, was not pleased with this, and proposed a no weapons policy in the market from there forward since it could have ended horribly if she’d fired it into the crowd rather than into the engine. The board of directors unanimously denied his motion to amend the policies, most people choosing to believe this could happen to anybody. If you think about it, that tells a lot about what responsible ownership consists of to the average person. That’s not reassuring.

Years later, when I joined the Army, my Drill Sergeant asked us one day, about 4 weeks into basic training, “Who knows a lot about marksmanship, hunting, or anything related? Who’s been doing this all their lives?” A few people raised their hands, fully expecting to be made leaders of something rifle related, no doubt.

He said, “You idiots are going to have a much harder time learning the fundamentals than everybody who’s coming into this cold, because you’ve had a whole lifetime to develop terrible habits, and you’re probably going to make me sick when I look at your form on the range.” (He is a Drill Sergeant. Insults are part of the job.)

Look past his words, and you’ll see that he actually highlighted a major issue with private ownership of firearms in the US. People do unsafe things because it’s the way they’ve always done them, because that’s the way their dad taught them, and the way his dad taught him, and so on. We have no federally legal way to tell them to do otherwise, so they continue doing what they’re doing, and when horrible things happen, usually by accident, they tell themselves and the world that it was a fluke, that it could happen to anybody, and that nothing else could have been done to prevent it. This is false, harmful, and we can change it.

We have changed a lot about our laws to reflect new knowledge about safety practices in other areas. Children have to use carseats until a certain age now, and there are laws governing how that’s done in each state because we know now that they prevent death and injury in car accidents. Every landlord is now required to provide smoke detectors at certain places in every unit they lease because we know that they save lives in the event of a fire. We change building codes when areas start getting more hurricanes because hurricane anchors drastically reduce the number of rooves that fall on people’s heads. Laws like this work. People are dying less of things that used to kill almost everyone in that situation.

With that in mind, as a part of responsible firearm legislation, can we quantify what it means to be a responsible owner? Can we debunk some of the traditions that are resulting in accidents, and even weapons falling into the wrong hands? We desperately need the CDC to study the effects of firearms in society, on injuries, deaths, accidents, etc. We need an immediate repeal of the laws barring them from conducting this research. I would like to see legislation on what types of safes are required, how ammunition is stored, and where in the homes these things can be kept. I want to see studies on how accidents happen, and a detailed analysis on what could minimize that.

Mostly, can we be honest about the fact that most people need a class on this stuff? I don’t think anyone would argue that defensive driving classes are a bad idea. Like it or not, most of us are average drivers, and we benefit from that sort of thing. Why, then, is ownership of a device that launches high speed projectiles in a split second, often with deadly, injurious, or damaging results, considered more intuitive than driving? Most people are not responsible owners, just as most people are not above average drivers. Most people are average owners who would benefit from a class. It’s time we required one, just as most employers do for anyone who expects to drive their vehicles. The benefits outweigh the costs.

25 thoughts on “Are You a “Responsible Owner”?

  1. You have eloquently stated some things that I have thought for a long time. Particularly the bit about everyone thinking they are a “responsible gun owner” and how low the bar on the definition can be. I use my dad as my example of a responsible gun owner and I work to meet that standard every time I touch a gun. He had a gun safe. In addition to the safety practices he taught me, he put me in outside safety classes to make sure he didn’t miss anything. After each class, we discussed what I learned. I think one of the biggest things he taught me was that when handling guns your focus should be on what you are doing with the gun and nothing else. TV off, no chatting with friends, no answering the phone, etc. Even just the process of taking a gun in a case from the car to the gun safe should be done without distractions. 100% focus on what you are doing with the gun.

    I agree that safety courses (certified to ensure quality) should be mandatory for gun ownership. Many years ago, I said that to an owner of a gun store/indoor range I was visiting. He disagreed, got my name (I had been a repeat customer there) and jotted notes about me. Presumably about my being in favor about “gun control”. I don’t get it. You’d think that, if for no other reason, they’d be in favor of it because it would be a money maker for them. But, they’re not. They want nothing to interfere with they’re ability to sell you a gun.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thanks for another thoughtful, pertinent, and reasonable article. Although there are those that score high and low on things, the majority are, by definition, average. Thanks for the reminder.

    I think you might enjoy this short article published today in the New England Journal of Medicine of research detailing a drop in gun accidents during the time of the NRA Convention. Well researched and interesting reading.


  3. As Ronald Reagan once said…” Well, there you go again.” You continue to mix-n-match unrelated issues with your UnConstitutional desire to exercise your misguided intent to strip me of MY RIGHTS. A few of your coo-coo for cocoa puffs points need rebuttal.

    “We desperately need the CDC to study the effects of firearms in society, on injuries, deaths, accidents, etc.”

    First of all, it is NOT the mission nor the job of the CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL, to spend taxpayer dollars investigating CRIME. “Crime,” is NOT a disease process. It’s an Asshole problem. There are many reasons for crime, not the least of which is the breakdown of traditional society and its values. I want the CDC to investigate and research how to stop the next epidemic that could kill 20% of the world’s population…Spanish flu, anyone?! Your next point…

    “I would like to see legislation on what types of safes are required, how ammunition is stored, and where, in the home these things can be kept.”

    Sure, as soon as you allow me to come into your home and tell you how to store your steak and chefs knives! Afterall, MORE people are MURDERED every year with knives versus firearms.

    “Mostly, can we be honest about the fact that most people need a class on this stuff? I don’t think anyone would argue that defensive driving classes are a bad idea. Like it or not, most of us are average drivers, and we benefit from that sort of thing.”

    You people really need a class on the Constitution! Seriously. You do realize, probably not, that operating a motor vehicle on the public roadways IS A “PRIVILEGE” NOT A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT! Nowhere in the Constitution is it codified that you unlimited Rights to any mode of transportation, Unlike the RIGHT to “…Keep and bear arms…SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.” People who take CCW classes in order to carry a firearm for self-defense, receive education in the safe storage of firearms. I know this because I teach these classes.

    ” Most people are not responsible owners, just as most people are not above average drivers. Most people are average owners who would benefit from a class. It’s time we required one, just as most employers do for anyone who expects to drive their vehicles. The benefits outweigh the costs.”

    Exactly what empirical data did you glean PROVING MOST people are not responsible gun owners? Engage in the fallacy of “false conclusion” much? Again, cars have nothing to do with gun ownership any more than car manufacturers are responsible for the acts of drunk drivers.

    Please stop speaking about this subject as you look more ignorant everytime you write about guns. Except to those liberal idiots who probably think you an expert. You’re Not.


    1. As for.someone that states (in overuse of all caps, no less) that someone else needs to take a class on the Constitution…

      …which well regulated militia do you belong to, because there’s only one, and it’s the National Guard.

      By the way, wolves are known as highly social and cooperative animals that intrinsically benefit their own species. Your cute attempt at being an internet hardass and using a Latin phrase actually exemplifies the writer’s entire argument.


      1. Oh, Trevor Valle. I SOOOO Love you. ❤
        Thank you for giving a beautifully eloquent and educated response to Mr. Singer, something on which I just couldn't force myself to spend time.


      2. Internet “hardass?” What’s YOUR background? Have YOU served your country by putting YOUR ass on the line? Have you served your community by putting YOUR ass on the line?
        As stated previously, the “National guard” didn’t come into being until WWI. Our Founding Fathers did NOT envision a National Guard, you moron. Oh, and Explain to me why does the State of Texas have BOTH a National Guard AND a State AUTHORIZED and separate Texas Militia??


      3. Uh… cause Texas be gun crazy?? Any reason to make a new gang of gun groupies in Texas is a good reason??

        But seriously, I think you’re just making the point even stronger that the general population is NOT a well-regulated militia…


      4. You have ZERO knowledge of history when it comes to guns in this country and apparently ZERO knowledge of court rulings to include the U.S. Supreme Court. Our Founding Fathers made their opinions very clear on this subject. Read the Federalist Papers and other writings of the time. If you’re going to speak about a subject, you have an informed opinion. Unless you intend to look stupid.


    2. Hi James,
      I am a USMC Veteran. I have been trained to use several different weapons proficiently and safely. I am not an idiot liberal. That by no means makes me an expert or better- knowledged than anybody else, but it does give me some perspective on the issue.

      There are some points I like to make. I feel the Author is speaking to using common sense in some gun regulation. I do not think sensible, well thought out, gun regulation is an infringement on your rights.

      The 4th amendment protects your right of free movement with the privileges and immunities clause. No where does it protect a “right” to own an operate a motor vehicle, it is a privilege to own and operate a vehicle. I think we agree so far?

      Does robust regulation on automobile traffic impede on your 4th amendment right? I don’t think it does and the Supreme court never ruled that it does.

      I too grow weary of comparing automobiles to guns. However there is a comparison that can be made. The privilege of owning and operating an automobile is a means to exercising your 4th amendment right, much like owning a particular firearm is a means of exercising your 2nd amendment rights.

      I do not feel there should be a ban on automobiles because there are many accidents killing people everyday. Common sense dictates that automobile traffic is essential for commerce, public safety, and exercising your right of free movement. But there should be sensible regulation so it is safer for the general public. Because of this we have traffic laws, automobiles are being made safer. We have State and federal agencies that are in charge of automobile traffic safety ( USDOT is an example). We have all these traffic safety laws and government agencies that enforce these laws, but yet our rights have not been violated.

      I do not feel we should repeal the 2nd amendment. However isn’t common sense that we adopt well thought out laws of regulation for the public safety, so we can enjoy and exercise the 2nd amendment?

      Next point,

      I think the author also points out that there is a lack of good training and habit with handling firearms by the general population. I am sorry but I couldn’t agree more. Having an unsecure loaded firearm, bad idea. Unsecure loaded firearm around children, really bad idea. I feel most of us have seen this situation. Its an example that many people just dont know how to handle firearms. In any common sense gun legislation, considerable training for the safe handling of firearms should be a requirement, among other things. Again I think this a common sense issue.

      Finally, if anybody really wants to use firearms and wave the flag at the same time, they should enlist in the military. You will get a lot of good free firearm training and serve your country.

      Semper Fi!


    3. People who speak in absolutes are ALWAYS the smartest! There is ONLY ONE right answer to EVERY question. And the way the Absolutist views history is NEVER wrong. EVERYONE knows history is black and white and cannot be Anything but What the Writer Says It Is.
      Try some Not. So Angry pills, Mr. Singer. It’ll do a body good! And maybe your soul too. 😀


      1. “Facts” and “Truth” often depend on where you stand. I’m guessing you’re a “Columbus Discovered America” kind of guy while I’m more of a “European Invasion of Haiti” type gal. Pretty sure it’s not worth wasting a lot of time on ya’, hence my last reply. You might have noticed the sarcasm. But maybe not. So I’ll close with “I’m rubber, you’re glue, it bounces off me and sticks to you!!” Thanks for playin’!! 😀
        (Seriously, have some fun, dude. You might get invited to more parties.)


  4. I wasn’t expecting an article on gun control, and was pleasantly surprised. I will say that my viewpoint on having any restrictions on guns has evolved. I too am tired of young men being able to get hold of an AR-15 or similar gun and kill children. I also recognize that the process of crafting a REASONABLE restriction on gun ownership by our government will be anything but simple.

    What seems simple to me is to limit ONE type of gun. But I doubt it is that simple. Between congresspeople adding on unrelated amendments to bills and people looking for and always finding loopholes, the process of getting even one gun limited seems difficult.

    I vehemently disagree with you that there should be restrictions on where we can store guns in our homes. That seems to me to go beyond the scope of what the government should be able to do. Recommendations, yes. Laws, no.


    1. I agree that domestic storage is a really hard nut to crack and in America where people think of themselves as “free”, it’s a hard sell. [We’re far from “free”, but people don’t like to hear that… Just try to buy alcohol if you’re not 21… or on a Sunday if you live in some places (though I think Indiana just changed that law).]
      But controlling storage in vehicles and public spaces, I believe is something we should be able to discuss. Unfortunately, I’ve found that most 2nd Amendment wavers have little ability to rationally discuss these things, preferring instead to distract with how knives and cars are not blamed for the dangers they pose so guns should not be either. I believe we all get that knives and cars can be dangerous, hence our care with keeping them from children or teens until they are trained to use them. I fail to see why guns should be any different. If you want to own one, a class should be in order. If you want to carry one outside your home, we should be able to talk about how we can all do this safely.
      I believe her point is that we all THINK we’re doing the right thing based on experience. But a better idea of best practices will always come from a bigger data pool of ideas. It would be nice if we could listen to each other more, seeking out solutions, rather than just beating any idea into silent submission with the balled up Constitution in our fist.


      1. People like me research some things and depend on others for other things. People like me would rather not have situations where someone goes into a school and shoots a bunch of kids. I don’t pretend to be an expert or have all the answers.

        I get that you do know a lot about guns and have very strong opinions. From those who adamantly resist any type of restrictions whatsoever on guns (people like you?), all I have heard is that the problem is parents, or society, or the family being messed up. But I haven’t heard anything that seems like it addresses the problem we have where people take guns and shoot a lot of people in a short time.

        You don’t need to be so disdainful of “people like me.” I am interested in learning. What do you think needs to happen? How do you respond to situations like Sandy Hook?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m disdainful of people who regurgitate one side or the other’s talking points instead of doing their own research. You cannot engage in any type of critical discourse based on talking-points.
        I believe what needs to happen is to ignore the gun issue all together. It’s not a gun issue. It’s a person issue. My friends and I took guns to school all of the time (in vehicles), and NO ONE ever got shot. What has changed in our society that has changed this? Clue, it’s not the guns.
        blaming the NRA for violent crimes in which the tool used was a gun, is like blaming AAA for cars being used in drunk driving crashes.
        Situations like Sandy Hook cannot be prevented. He murdered his mother to gain access to legally owned firearms. Parkland is different. This former student has issues. The school failed, DCF failed and, the police failed. The shooter even called a help line begging for help. Everyone failed him and then we’re surprised at what resulted from the failures. Instead we blame a gun. The bears no culpability for this event but, many others do.


  5. Wow, you really *are* an engineer! I once read about a proposal to manufacture guns that only shoot when the shooter is wearing the paired electronic bracelet. To me, this is the sort of non-intrusive gun legislation that EVERYBODY should be able to get behind. If you’re one of those people who think you need a gun in your purse for protection, you can just wear the bracelet all the time. At least this way your toddler wont grab the gun while riding in the shopping cart and shoot you by mistake… or worse, shoot himself. Thanks for another great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOVE this idea. Would like to hear more on these kind of solutions. I’m sure there will be someone soon explaining why this “can’t” work. But I hope that those who believe it can are already working on bringing it to life. I’ve always believed that those who say things can’t happen should get out of the way of those making them happen. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Never give an engineer a marker.” BWAHAHAHA!!! I can so relate! And, once again, you have nailed your topic of the day.
    As a Metallurgical Engineer who spent her last 8 years in the Steel Industry as the Quality Engineer for a Mini-mill in Indiana, I can’t tell you how many of our failures and accidents were the result of “people doing what they thought was best” (or, more likely, what they thought was easiest, cheapest, fastest, or required the least amount of effort in putting on safety gear as possible) rather then following the Standard Operating Practices and Job Safety Analyses. There is a REASON for SOPs and JSAs. I was able to convince some but, humans thinking they are awesome and not being easily convinced otherwise, as you have pointed out, made it quite difficult at times.
    Everyone wants to believe they are doing their best. I believe we try (at least most of us, most days). But I also know that we are fallible. We like short cuts. We don’t want to put in more effort than we need to most days. We’re cheapskates. And we’re curious. We’re “Human”, as they say.
    That said, we ought to be able to admit that things like Standard Operating Practices will give a more consistent quality product and Job Safety Analyses will provide guidance to people so they can do a job in the safest way possible, even if it’s the first time they’ve done it. The experience and data tapped in writing these SOPs and JSAs are what help us find best practices. The fact that these are living documents, meant to be updated as new information, technology, and ideas becomes available, means that, if you have a great idea or new technique, we could check it out and see if it works better. Continuous Improvement, viola!
    But there is always the person out there who will tell you it “can’t work” or “we’ve already tried it that way” or something to try to shut you down so he can maintain the status quo – especially if he’s the one who wrote the SOP or JSA in the first place. No one likes to be told they didn’t have the best idea! That’s why I was so unpopular with some on meeting me – I was always trying to think outside the box and find a better, faster, easier, cheaper way to do things without sacrificing safety or quality. I was always trying to understand WHY things failed and how we could prevent it from recurring. And I always thought a team of people did this best. And those people who knew this were the ones who championed me back to popularity after we had success in making some new change.
    It is time we think outside the box on gun safety. I comprehend that “this is a free country” but when it comes to the safety of others, there are regulations we all need to follow. You can’t just build something for someone without assuring it will not kill them once they use it. We should have similar safety measures in place for our guns. But this will be a hard one to implement. Most of us do what we do and there won’t be much stopping us from our domestic storage practices. But when the gun is in public, I am all for whatever ideas we can find to prevent these “flukes” from happening. There’s a PDCA for EVERYTHING. 😉
    Thanks again for another thoughtful and entertaining blog.


  7. This is an excellent discussion of an important issue. Mass murder is one side of the killer gun epidemic; the many killings that take place daily in homes due to accidents and domestic violence are another, significant side. Thank you for handling this subject with logical thought and in non-threatening terms, although you obviously have one reader, above, who disagrees. Yikes! Are Russian bots infiltrating blog posts now?


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