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|I am currently attending UW-Madison and one of my classes required me to give an informal speech and do a q/a session afterwards. I hate public speaking and am scared silly of speaking in front of a crowd. It is supposed to be a fairly informal speech. I had originally tried writing one about pharmaceutical marketing techniques, but most everybody agreed with me on that and I figured that I would end up with a really boring q/a session. This made me change my mind and do gun control, which is an issue I feel strongly about and know most of my classmates disagree with me on. I don't want to sound condescending, but I do want to get my point across. I would really appreciate some input on either the format of the speech or the content thereof. Thanks.
Fire Extinguishers and Firearms
I am a fire extinguisher owner, like many Americans. When I tell somebody that I am also a firearms owner I am so often asked why I own firearms. However, I cannot recall a time when anybody has ever asked me why I own a fire extinguisher. I personally believe that if somebody can rationally explain to me why I should get rid of my fire extinguisher, I will gladly get rid of my guns.
First, I will explain my credentials for owning a fire extinguisher. I have absolutely no training in professional fire fighting. I respect the men and women who fight fires and put their lives on the line to save the rest of us. I know it’s a hard job and, just like any other profession, requires years of training to be able to do the job well. Firefighters are constantly learning new skills, keeping up on current firefighting techniques, and keeping in top physical shape. I, on the other hand, am overweight, know nothing of how to best keep flames under control, and have never had to put out a fire larger than a small grease flame-up I had on a stove once - it required only batting at with a dish towel. I have been trained how to operate a fire extinguisher on two separate occasions, both of which were required for my job as a nursing assistant. The training consisted of nothing more than some guy telling us to remember the acronym “PASS”, which stands for Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the flames, Squeeze the lever, and Sweep back and forth. Upon inspection of my fire extinguisher I noticed that, in case I forget how to use it, there are very clear directions written in both English and Spanish in large letters on the side as well as little pictures also explaining how to use it. Ultimately, what I intend to demonstrate is that even with my minimal firefighting knowledge, it is not only a good idea, but necessary for me to own a fire extinguisher.
I hope that an occasion that would cause me to have to use a fire extinguisher never arises. In a perfect world I wouldn’t need my extinguisher because there would be no tragic house fires. However, I realize that faulty electrical systems exist, lighting strikes happen in places you don’t want them to, and that accidents happen (particularly when I cook). I will take precautions against potential house fires by not letting my daughter play with matches, learning to make flaming cocktails outside, and making sure that my furnace is up to code. But, even with the best intentions, house fires still happen. Perhaps it could be one of my neighbors in my apartment complex that burns the whole place down, or it could be a lightning strike, or even an arsonist. All of these things are unpreventable by me taking safety precautions.
Does owning a fire extinguisher and knowing how to use one make me paranoid? No. Do I think there is an arsonist around every corner out to get me? No. We’ve all heard of tragic cases where college students our age were caught in house fires and were injured or died. Each death from house fires is tragic, and by no means do I wish to make light of anybody’s death or the pain and suffering that their friends and families go through. That said, the chances of dying in a house fire are 0.00151% for Americans. Does that mean that because the chances are so little I should throw away my fire extinguisher? I do not think so.
However, one could argue that, because fire extinguishers are dangerous, I should get rid of mine. They are very heavy objects and can be used in domestic violence crimes just like a baseball bat. They contain compressed chemicals that can turn into a bomb if heated to a certain temperature. CO2-based extinguishers can cause nasty burns if somebody should be sprayed with one because the gas is so cold. Yet, even though these dangers exist, I still keep my trusty little red fire extinguisher under my kitchen sink. Do I realize that when used incorrectly, my extinguisher, which I bought with only good intentions in mind, can be used for harm - particularly if my 2-year-old daughter were to get a hold of it? Yes, I do realize this. My daughter is not yet old enough to understand how to use a fire extinguisher. When she is ready to learn I will teach her how to use one so she can protect herself against house fires. One could argue that my daughter gives me even more reason to keep a fire extinguisher in the house. I would never want her to be hurt with an extinguisher, but I think the benefits of having one in my home outweigh the risks in this situation.
Another point about fires and fire extinguishers is that one could say that they are unnecessary in non-professional hands. We have fire departments and trained professionals on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have much more sophisticated equipment than my fire extinguisher and they know how to use it. They are just a phone call away whenever I need them and their telephone number is extremely easy to remember. Why should I try and put out a fire when they are obviously better trained to do so? First, in the event of a small fire (for example, a grease fire on a stove), I would shut the stove off, grab my fire extinguisher and try to put out the fire myself. I wouldn’t call 9-1-1 right away because I would be too busy using my fire extinguisher. If it worked, great, there would be no need for me to call 9-1-1. If I had called 9-1-1 right away the fire would have gotten larger and probably unmanageable for just my little extinguisher. The fire would have grown to much larger proportions and perhaps endangered my life and the lives of everybody else in my apartment complex. If I was unable to put the fire out myself I would get on my cell phone and call 9-1-1 right away, get out of the apartment, and alert my neighbors in my apartment complex to do the same. We, as an intelligent and informed society, definitely have a need for firefighters, but we also have a need for non-firefighters to have fire extinguishers in their homes and have some basic knowledge of how to use them properly.
All of this information on fire extinguishers can easily be compared to another tool for protection: firearms. To some, even the word firearm or gun itself is scary. But to others a gun means protection just like a fire extinguisher does. For the sake of convenience we will leave out the discussions about guns that encompass things like hunting, target shooting, and sport shooting, as well as the discussion of whether the second amendment applies to militias only or is an individual right. I will focus solely on owning guns for self defense purposes.
Firstly, my credentials for owning a firearm are not anywhere close to those who serve in the military and members of law enforcement have. But I have passed a hunter safety course when I was 12 years old (and I passed with flying colors). For those of you who haven’t taken hunter’s safety, failing that class has got to be harder than failing Pencil Sharpening 101. Outside of that class, the firearm training I received started from a very young age. Just like all parents teach their children not to play with matches, I was taught the basics of firearm safety. There was a constant teaching going on in my childhood. When I saw a firearm being improperly handled on television or in a movie my dad (who was my main teacher when it came to guns) would explain to me what was being done wrong and how the gun should have been handled. I was taught that if I ever saw anybody handling a gun like that to call the police immediately. The most important thing my dad taught me was the four cardinal rules of safe firearm handling: 1) always treat every gun as if it were loaded, 2) always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, 3) keep your finger off of the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot, and 4) be sure of your target and what is beyond. Even though my training in firearms is not even close to what law enforcement has, I still own a gun. I know that it is simply not possible for the police to protect everyone from criminals all of the time, just like it is not possible for firefighters to protect every person against house fires all of the time.
I learned to shoot when I was 8 years old and developed a fondness for the sport. I was always supervised by my dad, all of the guns were kept locked in gun safes in an inoperable condition, ammunition was stored separately from the guns in a locked box, and there was always a trigger lock on every gun whether it could fire or not. It was made very clear to me that if I ever once handled a gun in an unsafe manner either on or off the range, with malicious intent or by stupidity, my shooting days would be over, no discussion. I also learned that there are no shooting accidents. Every time that somebody has been hurt with a gun, somebody has either had malicious intent or one of the four cardinal rules was ignored or broken. There is no excuse for breaking any one of these four rules and ignorance and stupidity are not excuses.
When it comes to self-defense, I hope that I never have to use a gun to defend myself, my family, or anybody. When confronted with a situation like a mugging or rape, I would much rather run away and have the police deal with it. But, sometimes the police can’t get to the scene of a crime fast enough. Take for example the murder of so many at Virginia Tech or even one of the many murders that has occurred in our own city of Madison within the last year; the police came in all of those situations, but by the time they got there it was too late. The loss of innocent lives had already happened and the police were left with trying to put together the pieces and attempt to find a way to prevent this kind of crime in the future. Just like if I were to use my little fire extinguisher to put out a grease fire that would have burned my apartment down had I waited for firemen to arrive, I can use my gun to help stop a rapist, robber, or other criminal from taking my life, my daughter’s life, or the life of anybody else that I am with.
When it comes to violet crime, I take precautions. I don’t get drunk and go home with random people I just met, I am careful about where and when I walk alone, I lock my doors at night. I do these things for the same reason I teach my daughter not to play with matches, make sure my furnace is up to code, and learn to make flaming cocktails outside: prevention is better than having to make that call to 9-1-1. Does owning a firearm and knowing how to use it make me paranoid? It makes me no more paranoid than anybody who owns a fire extinguisher. Do I expect a robber or rapist around every corner? No. The chances of me, an American woman, being the victim of a violent crime are 2.0%. That means that a majority of women are not the victims of violent crimes. But that number is a whole lot more than number of people who are the victims of house fires, and just think of the number of people who think that those odds necessitate keeping a fire extinguisher at home. By the same rationale, I keep firearms in my home. I do so legally and safely. I have no delusions of having an action movie scene happen in my home, just like people who own fire extinguishers don’t have delusions of running into a burning building like a movie star and rescuing 4 kids (and a really cute puppy).
In conclusion, if somebody can give me a rational reason that I should get rid of my fire extinguisher, I will be more than happy to get rid of my guns. Until then, I will continue to own guns and still lead a normal, non-paranoid lifestyle. However, I will be reassured that in the event of a grease fire in my kitchen or an act of violence that threatens my life, I will at least have a chance while I wait for emergency services to arrive and provide professional assistance.