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OUR OPINION: Florida shooting reinforces bad gun habits

Today's assignment: Go to the internet and look up the primary rules of North Dakota's hunter safety education course. The four primary rules of firearm safety -- as taught to young hunters in this state -- include: -Point the muzzle in a safe di...

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Today's assignment: Go to the internet and look up the primary rules of North Dakota's hunter safety education course.

The four primary rules of firearm safety - as taught to young hunters in this state - include:

-Point the muzzle in a safe direction.

-Treat every firearm with respect due a loaded gun.

-Be sure of your target and what is in front and beyond it.

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-Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

Later, on the same website, hunters are reminded to "never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot."

That's so important, and it's lesson No. 1 in gun safety. Anyone who has taken a Hunt Safe or equivalent course knows this by heart because it was drilled into our heads by well-intentioned, properly schooled instructors.

These lessons - again, as taught to young hunters - quickly came to mind as we heard that a woman was shot by a police officer during a training drill this week in Florida.

As reported in the Washington Post, Mary Knowlton was participating in a citizens police academy in Punta Gorda, Fla., Tuesday when she volunteered for a lethal-force simulation. Knowlton was playing the victim, the Post reported, and a police officer was portraying a "bad guy."

The officer pointed his weapon at Knowlton and fired. Evidently, he assumed he was shooting blanks; instead, a live round tore into Knowlton's chest and killed her as her husband and more than 30 others looked on.

How on earth could this have possibly happened? How could the golden rule of gun safety be so blatantly ignored by someone obviously trained to know better?

Do not incorrectly place the blame for this incident on police officers everywhere. That would be unfortunate, because we assume these drills are not taking place elsewhere.

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But after an incident such as this, it's important to reassess gun safety and proper handling of guns. It's important that if other police departments are conducting these types of drills that they immediately stop. And it's so important to stress, once again, the golden rule of gun safety.

Again for emphasis: Never, ever, point a real firearm at anything without the intent to shoot.

Unfortunately, there's nothing that can be done for the victim in this tragedy. She's gone as a result of what Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis called a "horrible accident."

"Our entire police department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event," Lewis said in the Washington Post report. "I am asking that you pray; you pray for Mary's husband and family and for all of the officers and witnesses involved in this accident."

This incident hurts, even all the way up here on the northern plains. It hurts because we know that around these parts, hunting is a way of life and firearms are in the hands of so many. It hurts because somewhere, someone around these parts also will die because of shoddy gun-handling practices. It's bound to happen because some people just don't really grasp how important it is that guns are handled with the utmost respect and safety. If a police department in Florida can't follow the golden rule, it's inevitable that others will make the same mistake.

Using real firearms for simulations only reinforces bad habits and potentially deadly practices.

It could be said the incident in Florida will be a setback to gun safety techniques. Maybe so.

But we hope Knowlton's needless death can at the very least be a sad and stark reminder for police departments, hunters, parents and children that handling guns is a serious business with no room for error.

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Korrie Wenzel for the Herald

Opinion by Korrie Wenzel
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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