DEAR ABBY: Concerning the letter from "Debra in Oklahoma City" whose father informed her that guns are still loaded when the clip is removed -- let me state my qualifications for writing. I am a former Army officer specializing in instructing small arms and hand-to-hand combat, and a former police officer.
Anyone who doesn't have the sense to open the action of his (or her) automatic weapon to remove any round left in the chamber -- as illustrated by the letter in your column -- should have second thoughts about owning one. Having a loaded weapon lying around if one has no intention of using it is asking for a disaster.
If someone knows nothing about firearms and has no interest in owning one, I have no quarrel with that. However, if someone has no knowledge of firearms and is intent on owning one -- PLEASE get qualified help before purchasing one! -- D.A.J., HERMISTON, ORE.
DEAR D.A.J.: Good advice from a weapons expert. Predictably, Debra's letter brought me a fusillade of mail. For a sample, read on:
DEAR ABBY: I hope no other family has to learn how true "Debra's" statement is about there being a bullet still in the chamber after the clip has been removed.
On Oct. 31, 1999, my 4-year-old and 2-year-old great-grandsons were playing with a 9 mm gun at their home. They found it in an unlocked case within their reach. The 2-year-old pulled the trigger and fatally shot the 4-year-old. Yes, the clip had been removed, but a bullet was still in the chamber.
Parents, please lock up those guns, because even a 2-year-old can fire a gun! -- GRIEVING GRANDMOTHER IN ARIZONA
DEAR GRANDMOTHER: I offer my sincere sympathy for the tragic loss that has befallen your family. I hope your chilling letter will be a wake-up call for those who need one. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: It amazes me that someone with such little knowledge of firearms would purchase and carry a semiautomatic handgun. My brother-in-law, who is a responsible and knowledgeable gun owner, left a bullet in the chamber of his gun -- and accidentally shot himself in the hand. Even longtime gun owners can have accidents.
New gun owners should make it a priority to become familiar with their weapon. Go to a gun range and practice with it. Learn how to handle it safely. Learn proper storage of the weapon. The law states that all firearms must be stored out of the reach of children. Remember, what you hold in your hand has the power to take a life -- yours, a loved one's, or an innocent bystander's. -- RICK ETZ, COCOA, FLA.
DEAR RICK: It's frightening how often that law is misunderstood or ignored. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: My only daughter and dearest friend, Tara, was killed three years ago by a man well-versed in gun safety. He's an ex-Marine and NRA member. As he sat in his apartment cleaning his guns, he failed to notice that one was loaded. The bullet penetrated the common wall and struck my daughter in the head.
The senselessness of my daughter's death and the resulting trauma will forever be in our lives. -- ANNE COAKLEY, BOULDER, COLO.
DEAR ANNE: Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. No parent should ever have to face the heartache of burying a child. Let's hope that your letter serves as an important lesson that could prevent a tragedy. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: The level of ignorance in this country runs from street level to administrative. In U.S. News magazine, I recently saw a photograph of a table full of guns from a "buyback" -- with police officers and officials touting safer streets. Unfortunately, they forgot to ensure their own safety. Several of the weapons had their hammers back -- presumably ready to fire! -- DR. ALLAN QUERENS JR., METAIRIE, LA.
DEAR DR. QUERENS: So much for guns being safe in the hands of gun experts -- experts who should be more safety conscious.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600