PORTLAND, MAINE — A well renowned columnist for the Portland Press Herald died from an apparent gunshot wound after he passed a loaded handgun to a 16-year-old. The incident was mired with grief and tragedy as the columnist invited guests over to his home and appeared to entirely skip the step of unloading and clearing a firearm before passing it to another person.
The Portland Press Herald reported that Michael D. Harmon, 71, died inside his home before police arrived to investigate the scene. The teenager negligently discharged the firearm while Harmon was showing it to him.
Harmon was a champion of gun rights in the state of Maine, covering many controversial topics surrounding the passing of the permitless carry bill that was recently made into law.
While the investigation of the events leading up to Harmon’s death are still under review, his wife and others are calling the incident an “accidental tragedy”.
Tragedy is right.
Now, we’ve covered a number of topics relating to educating family members about the use of firearms and we encourage each household that has guns to educate everyone that lives within that home on their proper usage and safe handling.
Slip-ups like this happen when someone dismisses the importance of firearm safety — a core component of competent, responsible firearms handling.
- Don’t pass a loaded gun to anyone without the firearm pointed down range AND only after the range is confirmed to be clear of all people or animals.
- Don’t pass a loaded gun to anyone before confirming that person is competent with the basics of firearm safety.
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
- Keep your finger clear and off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
- Do not point the gun at anything you do not intend to shoot.
- Know what is in front of and behind your target.
Pretty easy. The problem with firearm safety is that it is so deceptively easy that even veterans of the firearms community may see those points as a given and assume the person they are dealing with is as competent as they are.
That’s why we can’t ever make assumptions with live firearms.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend people don’t hand off loaded firearms to one another at a firing range. In a range setting or similar training environment, it may even be necessary in limited context with professional oversight and clear, unambiguous direction.
The preferred method of transferring a firearm from one person to another is to do the following:
While ensuring the firearm is pointed in a safe direction…
- Eject the magazine
- Rack and lock the upper receiver to the rear (thus ejecting any round in the chamber)
- Visually inspect the upper receiver to ensure no round is still inside
- And THEN pass the firearm to whomever you wish.
If you DO NOT do this, you are putting yourself and the people around you at grave risk.
There is no problem with handing off a firearm to a teenager so he may inspect it. The problem is not clearing the firearm PRIOR to handing it off to that teenager.
Harmon, unfortunately, paid dearly for that mistake and we’ve lost a great proponent for the firearms community in New England. However, his oversight was easily avoided.
I personally wish the best for his family during the grieving process and certainly hope that teenager is able to cope with the negligent taking of another person’s life. We don’t water down these sorts of things in the firearm community because it’s so very important to hammer home the reality that mistakes cost lives.
Never forget the importance of firearm safety for yourself and everyone around you. Happy New Year’s Eve to everyone and have a fantastic New Year.