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The Danger Of The Unloaded Gun

August 21, 2014

Mind if I look at it?

Sure. Keep it pointed in a safe direction. . .Oh, and pull the slide back and verify there isn’t a bullet in the chamber.

That last bit wasn’t necessary, was it?

I have an uncle who turned 72 this week. I don’t see him as much as I’d like. Last week was an exception. (I Never Again Had Friends Like I Did When I Was 12. . .Does Anyone?) My uncle is retired. He was a dam builder, a highway patrolman, a sheriff and various other professions. Now he mostly hangs out at his house on Lake Coeur d’Alene and drives the bus for the Shriners.

He’s also a bit of a gun nut. His collection includes various handguns, shotguns and even a hunting rifle that he built. Over the weekend, he picked up a handgun at a yardsale. Here’s picture of the type he had, although his was in a hard plastic carrying case.


(Photo Credit: Impact Guns)

We’ll leave the morality, or wisdom of bringing a firearm to a family reunion with little kids to another day. I was thinking about his safety warning. He made the same warning to everyone who wanted to hold the gun.

Why? He KNEW the gun wasn’t loaded. In fact, we didn’t even have any 9mm ammunition available. And after the first person or two checked the chamber, why continually make people check?

Everytime something breaks at work, I have to get involved. And with software and users, something breaks a lot. One of the most important parts of my job is to determine who was responsible for the breakage; us or the client. It’s not always an easy choice. But, sometimes it is.

Two months ago, we had an outage that was our fault. All our agent phones went dead. They computers, the phones, everything. As you can imagine this is a major incident that gets high visibility. We traced the problem down to a piece of computer equipment that one of our engineers thought was a test device. They didn’t know we had any production calls going through it. But, messing up a production device wouldn’t have caused an outage if we hadn’t done some changes in the middle of the day.

We failed that day because the engineer failed to check to see if there was a bullet in the chamber.

A few weeks later there was another outage. Similar symptoms. The root cause of this second outage was one of our suppliers. They scheduled their maintenance, but neglected to tell us. In other words, they forgot to say, “Check to make sure there isn’t a round in the chamber.”

Either of these outages could have been easily avoided. And the amount of time it took to correct them was minimal. Still, I really strive for perfection in my job and these type of unforced errors make me go crazy.

It would have been easy for someone walking up to my uncle, especially if they had just seen someone else handle the pistol and check the barrel, to say, “I don’t need to check the barrel. I know it’s empty.” And they would be correct. But, far too many firearm deaths in this country are a result of someone getting shot with a gun that was unloaded. . .or at least the shooter thought it was unloaded.

My uncle made everyone check, because each of us when we picked up that firearm were responsible to handle it in a safe manner. That is not a responsibility that we could pass off to someone else, or trust someone else to complete.

In computers, especially complex systems that involve multiple departments, it is the responsibility of the engineer to check and double-check themselves to ensure that their changes won’t impact production.

For me, personally, my uncle didn’t need to warn me to check the chamber. I already had the slide pulled back and was checking it.

Safety is my responsibility.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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