I often get asked how I can support policies banning concealed carry at gun shows but completely oppose it for other public places. The answer is simple: you’re not handling guns at those other locations.
In any other public place, your gun stays in your holster unless needed. But at a gun show, you’re showing guns to people, trying out holsters, and otherwise handling firearms. Even for someone who has no intention of touching their concealed firearm, a split second’s lapse of attention could have disastrous results.
Several accidents from this weekend illustrate why gun safety rules and policies at gun shows are so important.
In the first, a private seller bought a gun from one of the show attendees that turned out to be loaded. While attempting to unload the gun he failed to follow proper procedure and ended up shooting his friend who was working the booth with him in the arm and groin. He correctly removed the magazine first, but only racked the slide once and didn’t check the chamber before pulling the trigger to decock. The extractor failed to remove the chambered round and the gun discharged.
When unloading a semi-automatic handgun you must remove the magazine first, of course. Then, the slide should be racked three times to provide ample opportunity for the extractor to do its job. Then, after locking the slide back, insert your finger into the chamber to feel for a round and visually inspect the chamber. Finally, if you do decide to decock a gun without an external hammer by pulling the trigger you must do so with the gun pointed in a safe direction. At your buddy is NOT a safe direction!
Of course, the entire situation could have been avoided had a loaded gun not been brought to the show in the first place. The seller should not have handed a loaded gun over to the buyer without unloading it, and it should have been checked at the door in the first place. Since the identity of the seller is not known, it may never be determined if he negligently bypassed the screeners or simply made a mistake.
In another accidental discharge, a shotgun fired while the case it was in was being unzipped for inspection prior to entering the show, injuring three. Firearms should not be kept loaded during long term storage (this does not apply to guns kept ready at hand for defensive purposes, but this one was not in that category). It is likely the owner of the gun forgot he had left it loaded and also negligently left it in a condition ready to fire without a safety engaged or the hammer cocked back. Safe storage is extremely important!
A third incident left a man self-injured when he was trying to load his gun after the show and it discharged. Anytime a firearm is handled there is an opportunity for an accident to occur, which is why I generally favor leaving a carried firearm in its holster and not loading and unloading it in public. In this case, the victim had likely unloaded his gun to take it into the show and was re-loading it as he was leaving. He made a mistake, the gun was not pointed in a safe direction and perhaps he had his finger on the trigger, and he ended up injured.
Guns should always be loaded or unloaded while pointed in a safe direction and while you are fully focused on the task. If he wanted to show that firearm for sale it should have been unloaded at home and if not sold then reloaded back at home. Another gun should have been his defensive firearm, not only to avoid loading and unloading in public but also since if he had sold it he would not have it available anyway.
All of these accidents could have been prevented had the three NRA rules of gun safety been followed:
1. Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
3. Always keep guns unloaded until ready to use