A two-year old sitting in a shopping cart shot his mother dead at point blank range in a Walmart, after finding a loaded pistol in the mother’s open purse. It is such a horrible story that journalists are reluctant to call attention to its obvious lessons. Veronica Jean Rutledge engaged in grossly irresponsible conduct as a mother, a citizen and a gun owner. If her actions, which constituted child endangerment of all four of the children in her charge, as well as a public menace to unsuspecting shoppers in a public store, were to result in anyone’s death or injury, she was the best possible victim. This was all her fault.
The analogy might be a parent who leaves an infant locked in over-heated car, but this is far, far worse. Carrying a loaded gun in public without observing gun safety principles—safety off, for example— posed a threat to everyone around Rutledge. (UPDATE: It is apparently illegal in Idaho to carry a concealed, loaded gun.) Leaving any gun accessible to children is criminal negligence. She was lucky—yes, lucky—that her toddler didn’t shoot one or more of the three girls, all under 11, participating in the shopping trip, or himself. Now the boy will live with the trauma of knowing that he killed his own mother. He will be lucky not to be psychologically scarred for life.
Who knows how many times Rutledge had left her firearm, safety off, within reach of children? I find it hard to believe this was the first time. I find it difficult to believe that she didn’t regularly leave her child in peril, if she would do this even once. Allowing a child access to a loaded gun ready to fire is the equivalent of leaving an open bottle of rat poison within reach of an infant, allowing a child to share a home with a pet wolf, leaving a child alone without supervision while the mother partied and got stoned, or perhaps letting a toddler run free in a home meth lab. If any of these resulted in the death of the child, public outrage against the parent would be merciless and deafening. It should not be any less intense in this case, simply because moral luck took a relatively merciful turn.
Veronica Jean Rutledge was an unforgivably unethical gun owner, citizen, caretaker and mother, and it killed her.
If there had to be a victim, she was the right one.
UPDATE: From the Washington Post 12/31:
Rutledge isn’t just sad — he’s angry. Not at his grandson. Nor at his dead daughter-in-law, “who didn’t have a malicious fiber in her body,” he said. He’s angry at the observers already using the accident as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights.
“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said.
- That link from Post reporter Terrence McCoy comes right back to this post. I’d like to know where “gun rights” are mentioned or even implied above, much less used to “grandstand.” I can’t even figure out what gun rights point McCoy thinks I’m trying to make (I’m for them, by the way.)
- VERONICA WAS NOT IRRESPONSIBLE????? This is res ipsa loquitur: if you get shot by a toddler because you left your loaded pistol, safety off, where he could get it while you are in a public place with 4 kids under your care, you ARE irresponsible: negligent, incompetent, reckless, ignorant of gun and safety obligations, careless. The facts speak for themselves; no further proof is necessary.