The Ellmers episode casts a light on gun safety

October 23, 2013 

First, it must be said that the only good thing to note from the unfortunate theft of a rifle from the Dunn home of U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers is that the crime apparently occurred while no one was home. That is a blessing indeed and one for which all who know or even know of the congresswoman are grateful.

The incident reminds us that anyone can be touched by crime, even someone who is in Congress and whose husband is a physician in a small town.

The rifle is an AR-15, originally designed as a military weapon (called at one time the M16) for its light weight and dexterity. It can fire multiple rounds. And though it’s hardly a traditional hunting weapon, it does appear to be popular with collectors.

That type of gun gained a measure of infamy because a variation of it was used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last December in which 26 people, 20 of them children, died.

It’s perfectly legal for anyone of age to have an AR-15, as long as it is not modified to be an automatic weapon. In the United States, after all, restrictions on firearms are few and far between. Even after Newtown, the National Rifle Association saw to it that members of Congress were discouraged from bucking the gun lobby with further regulation.

Other nations do restrict gun ownership in a multitude of ways. Ireland, for instance, limits the number of rounds that a weapon such as the AR-15 can fire at once.

The gun stolen from Ellmers’ home was apparently owned by her college-age son, though her husband, Brent Ellmers, was listed as the victim of the crime on the police report.

Police reported that members of the family had been out target-shooting and that someone had leaned the gun against a gun safe in an “unsecured” garage.

There are laws in this state and elsewhere requiring gun storage, but they’re extremely lax. The N&O reported, for example, that the laws apply only when a minor gets unlawful access to a gun and fires it.

Ellmers, doubtless shaken by the episode, nonetheless has an opportunity for a teaching moment here. It would be a lesson about gun safety, perhaps about the need to strengthen laws on gun storage, certainly about the need to raise awareness of gun owners about these issues.

All are glad that the congresswoman and her family are safe. Perhaps the episode can help in some way to make others safer as well.

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