By now most of you have probably seen the story of the Idaho nuclear scientist, Veronica Rutledge, who was killed on December 30, 2014 when her two-year-old son reached into her purse and gained control of her pistol, discharging a single round into his mother. A lot of people have different takes on this particular tragedy, such as the usual grandstanding about guns being unsafe and a lot of pro-gun individuals clucking loudly about the dangers of carrying off-body. Details are still sketchy, at least from what I can find on the internet, but it appears to have been a semi-automatic, 9mm or smaller, and carried in a dedicated concealed carry purse that was left unattended in a shopping cart.
First off, please don't take anything I say as a condemnation of the mother. Everyone makes mistakes and some mistakes have far more significant consequences. Probably every one of us has made a mistake at some point that could have turned out like this, whether with a firearm or in some other part of our lives. What I will say is that this story does illustrate two very important truths: off-body carry requires an even greater level of attention than on-body carry in regards to retention, and even a second of complacency or inattention with a loaded firearm can turn tragic.
To my first point: when you carry off-body, for whatever reason, you are automatically giving up an amount of security in regards to your gun. Whether or not that compromise is worth it is something only you can decide. What this means for you is that you must be even more vigilant in regards to the location of your off-body carry. If you carry in a purse (for a woman), or a man-bag/gym bag/briefcase (for a man), there will be the temptation - or possibly the requirement - to put that bag down at some point. Once that bag is put down, you have given up even more control. What can you do? Stay observant. If you must put down the bag, think: "Am I placing my firearm into someone else's grab area?" "Is there an alternate way to secure this bag (locked in an office, a trunk, etc)?" "Am I making this bag a tempting target for a snatcher?" If you have children, this is even more important. I have two kids, and they get into everything. Children are naturally curious, and most of the time they have absolutely no idea what is dangerous for them. As much as possible, secure the firearm within the bag. If your bag has a purpose-built holster or section, use it. The biggest downside to some of these carry bags, especially the "tactical" bags, is that they section designated for the firearm cannot be physically secured. They are usually Velcro closed and are designed for rapid access, not security. Some of the women's purses have locks, but if you use the lock while you are actively carrying, it essentially negates having the firearm with you because you cannot access it in a timely manner. If you use a bag that is not purpose built, use a holster within the bag, such as the Raven Vanguard holster to cover the trigger and provide a small guard against prying fingers. Please keep in mind though, that even a holster will only provide a modest amount of protection once a child or other individual has gotten into the bag. You and the bag's exterior are the only real security, once someone has defeated those they essentially have control of the firearm.
My second point should go without saying, but even the most experienced shooter is complacent at times. Even our nation's special operations forces have lost guys due to complacency. From what I can gather about this story, this lady was raised around guns from a young age, and had a definite comfort level with them. She was also shopping, something she had done hundreds if not thousands of times before. This time, however, her complacency resulted in her death. Once again, I'm not attempting to condemn or vilify her. My only goal is to look back at what possibly occurred to prevent someone else from making the same mistake. I can't give you a magic formula to combat complacency. Vigilance is a mindset, one that you have to practice every day. You can raise or lower your level of vigilance based on your surroundings, but you can never shut it off if you want to remain safe. No matter how overwhelming things are around you, you must be able to prioritize risks and needs to ensure not only your safety, but the safety of those around you who may be unaware (whether adult or child). It's always something seemingly small that you let slip that will come back to bite you.
In summary, this is a tragedy for the woman's family. Instead of ringing in a joyous new year, they are prepping a funeral. It could have been avoided. Hopefully, we as gun owners can learn from her mistakes, and prevent a recurrence.
X Echo 1 is a 10 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at
various units including the International Training Division and Maritime
Security Response Team. He has held
qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action
Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents
and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security
Events in the US.