Chances are pretty good that when 29-year-old Veronica Rutledge dropped her handgun into her purse last Tuesday morning, she thought she was just a little bit safer.
She was not. Not long after Veronica armed herself, while she was shopping with family members in a Wal-Mart in Idaho, her two-year-old son stuck his hand in that purse and pulled out that gun and killed Veronica.
Veronica Rutledge was not a stupid person. She was a chemical engineer who worked in a nuclear physics laboratory. She was, by all accounts, well-schooled in the handling and use of a handgun. But she died because she had a concealed carry permit. Yes, yes, people who like to carry guns around will squawk that it’s not that simple but, in the end, it really is. If she hadn't had the permit, she wouldn’t have had the gun in that special purse her husband gave her for Christmas, and then her two-year-old child wouldn’t have gotten his hands on it, and it wouldn’t have gone off and killed her. It is the very definition of irony that Rutledge armed herself in order to be safer and ended up dead for it.
We want to place blame, but on whom? Not the two-year-old; he didn’t know any better. Not on the victim; she believed the gun was safe in the special zippered compartment of her purse. Not on her husband, who gave her the purse for Christmas and, no doubt, tutored her on how to use the gun. In the end, officials investigating her death are calling it a “very tragic accident.”
Are we, then, to simply accept the death of a young mother as a condition of our times, as if she’d been killed in an auto accident? With the mushrooming number of people carrying guns on their persons for whatever reason they can think up, are we now to chalk up “accidental” gun deaths to the price of living in this society?
That’s not a price we should have to pay. What if the child had pointed the gun at someone other than his mother? It will come to that, as surely as you are reading these words. It truly frightens me that my wife and I might be shopping in Wal-Mart one day and a gun will go off, quite unintentionally, and one of us will be the victim of a “tragic accident.”
Fans of concealed carry are fond of comparing gun death accidents with other kinds of accidents, yet they know that such comparisons are disingenuous. Guns are not like automobiles, or anything else, for that matter. Guns are designed and built to kill people and animals. Having been raised by a gunsmith, I know well the history of firearms, and they were invented as weapons of war. Their purpose is lethal and they cannot be compared with anything else in life except, perhaps, sabers and poleaxes and other weapons designed to kill people. And yet we treat them as accoutrements to life in an age of unfounded fear.
If Veronica Rutledge had left her handgun at home that day instead of taking it with her in her new purse made just for a concealed weapon, she wouldn’t have enjoyed the false feeling of safety that came from being armed. She might have denied herself the pleasure of using her new Christmas gift. She may have even disappointed her husband. But she would still be alive.
She should have left the gun at home. We all should leave our guns at home.