There’s an old story my mom likes to tell about my grandparents, both of whom passed away when I was a teenager. They were married for well over 50 years before my grandfather died peacefully in his sleep, and while I’m certain they loved each other deeply, they were known for their constant bickering.

Whenever I think of my long-departed grandpa, the first thing I picture is him shaking his cane in frustration and shouting “Oh shut up, Vivian!” to his continuously nagging wife. She had plenty to say in return, and he frequently grumbled that she sounded “like an old fishwife.” They were as charming as they sound and I loved them both dearly.

Shortly after my grandfather retired from his career with the railroad he took a job working nights as a security guard for a local business. He took his position very seriously and although he didn’t have much experience handling a firearm he was extremely proud of the pistol he carried on the job. My mom lovingly compared him to Barney Fife, saying he was full of heart and bravado but his confidence was not necessarily matched by his skill.

On his evenings off, Grandpa liked to sit at the dining room table carefully cleaning his beloved gun while Grandma sat in the recliner just in front of him, nagging him about being careful handling his pistol in the house. She didn’t trust him with a gun at the table and was convinced the “old fool” would end up killing someone. He would scoff at her worries, insisting he knew what he was doing and always kept the gun unloaded in the house.

One evening it finally happened. Grandpa was at the table cleaning his pistol while Grandma watched TV behind him, and the “unloaded” gun suddenly fired. The bullet whizzed right past Grandma and crashed through the window just behind her. Boy, was she pissed!

Grandpa was, by all accounts, mortified and apologetic, realizing his carelessness could have easily ended in tragedy. As often as they bickered, we sometimes joke that had he actually managed to shoot her no one would ever believe it was an accident.

All these years later we laugh when we tell the story of my grandpa’s sloppy mishap, but obviously carelessness with firearms is serious business. I have been personally acquainted with at least four people who have been accidentally shot here in Mobile, three of whom died from their injuries and two of whom were children.

We love our guns here in Alabama, with firearms in more than half of our homes and one of the highest rates of gun deaths in the nation. I wasn’t especially surprised when a map identifying the “most distinctive” cause of death for each state, which reached viral status on the Internet last week, listed “accidental discharge of firearms” as Alabama’s “most distinctive” cause of death, an honor we share with Tennessee.

The map, which was published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowed researchers to “present a more nuanced view of mortality variation within the United States than what can be seen by using only the 10 most common causes of death.”

The map was created by a researcher with the New York State Cancer Registry, who examined a list of death statistics in each state and compared the rates for 113 standard causes of death with the national average. He then determined the local cause of death in each state that was the largest multiple of the corresponding national rate. In each case the “most distinctive cause of death” in a particular state was at least double the national average.

In some cases the results made a lot of sense, such as pneumoconiosis (black lung disease) in the coal mining states of West Virginia and Kentucky. In other states the most distinctive cause of death was rather vague, such as Georgia’s “symptoms, signs and abnormal clinical and laboratory findings, not elsewhere classified.”

Considering “The Walking Dead” is set just outside Atlanta, I suspect that one has something to do with the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
Some results were downright intriguing, including Louisiana’s result of “syphilis,” and “legal intervention” in Oregon, Nevada and New Mexico. No one, however, seemed especially surprised by Alabama’s results.

I’m not a huge fan of guns personally, and to be honest it makes me kind of nervous just to be around them. However, my husband’s family loves them and considers them as basic a household item as your standard toaster.

It’s important to my husband that the kids and I at least know how to safely handle a weapon, so I usually agree to a little target practice when we visit his family out in the country. Apparently I’m not a terrible shot but I’ve never reached a point where I actually enjoy the feel of a gun in my hands.

I’ve long since accepted that I’m in the minority in this part of the world — even in my own family — and despite popular stereotypes of us dreaded wacky liberals, I’m not at all interested in taking guns away from my fellow responsible citizens. The keyword here is, of course, “responsible.”

I’m going to channel Grandma for a moment and take this opportunity to nag you guys about gun safety. Guns are merely tools and they don’t have to be dangerous if used properly. Learn the rules of firearm safety and practice them flawlessly, every time.

The vast majority of tragic accidents could be avoided by simply following the two most basic rules: Treat every gun as if it’s loaded, and never, ever point a gun at anything or anyone you do not wish to destroy. And for god’s sake, keep your firearms locked safely away from children at all times, no excuses.

It’s not that difficult, folks. Don’t be the one who makes things harder for the responsible adults.