Get close with At Close Range author Leesa Ross

The unthinkable tragedy that changed Leesa Ross’s life upended her priorities and pulled her into the conversation about guns in America. At Close Range spotlights a gun accident of a kind that Ross knows gun owners can do more to prevent. Hear from the author below on gun safety, the book, and more. Buy At Close Range in paperback and ebook.

The gun conversation is pretty polarized. What do you think gets lost in all the noise? Is there anything about guns you think we can all agree about? 

Training, awareness, and education can save more lives than gun control. We can agree on safety as essential.

Many more people die from accidents than from mass shootings. The attention goes to the tragic and widespread attacks. Suicides account for many more gun deaths. Eighty-eight people a day die from gun suicides. Veteran deaths account for 21 of those.

All gun violence is tragic, but a gun tragedy is often not violent. Attacks and assaults are a different event than accidental deaths and suicides. The effort to control gun ownership is a difficult one. An effort to make guns safer, and their owners more responsible and accountable, will deliver benefits with far less opposition. Both may be required, but safety is the lower-hanging fruit in a complex orchard. Owners can be the greatest force for good, and for love, in a world now at closer range to guns than ever.

The most dangerous gun to Americans is a handgun. AK-style rifles only account for 3 percent of gun deaths. Gun violence demands that we keep kids safe in schools. But in places where crimes are not being committed, we need to keep them safe in the streets and in homes, too.

I hope that accountability about ownership will be as essential as ammunition

Can you talk a little bit about your organization and its goals? 

Lock Arms for Life is devoted to making gun ownership less deadly to owners and bystanders. It uses an educational program, Get ACTIVE, to give owners, families and friends the safety practices that save lives. Lock Arms for Life distributes gun locks and promotes a safety pledge for the young adults and students who attend our presentations. We also educate lawmakers about gun safety and encourage state-level participation in and funding for gun safety programs.

You write about the need for parents to have a follow-up to “the talk” with their kids — one about guns instead of sex. Why is a conver­s­ation about guns just as important? What age should this start? What needs to be said? 

Like drunk driving, or unsupervised swimming pool use, my message of using commonsense habits for ownership, as well as protection from unauthorized firearm use, is at the heart of the talk with kids about gun safety. Lock Arms for Life stresses that this talk can’t start too early — but it must continue into teenaged and young adult years. We recognize that adolescent thinking and behaviors continue into a person’s mid-20s. That age is one where gun ownership is legal, so more gun accidents can occur and can be prevented.

Some owners talk about storage, but they can bring this talk into a larger community. They are the authorities on responsible use. What needs to be said are the rules of Get ACTIVE.

We want to meet gun owners where they already are: respecting Second Amendment rights and acknowledging that ownership is less likely to change among current owners. The ownership might be a family tradition, which makes it a different situation from reducing deaths from drunk driving or smoking deaths.

What do you hope people take away from At Close Range

Owning a gun is more than a right. It’s a responsibility that demands safety awareness. It’s an awareness about love and safety. You can always give one, but never be completely certain about the other.

I want the book to influence everyday firearm storage norms. By showing the advocacy through the story of a family, we want to influence families to adopt safer ownership and practices. I want readers to see that even a tragic death from a gun accident can propel positive advocacy — and that taking action is the best way to make a preventable death count for something that can save the lives of others.

I hope that firearm storage talks will become normal among families and friends and owners of guns. The lessons about responsible ownership should be taught in schools, in churches, and at dinner tables. I hope that accountability about ownership will be as essential as ammunition for a weapon. Guns protect lives, and so does gun safety. Owning a handgun for protection means that guns are more likely to be stored loaded, so safer practices are crucial to unintended use and accidental deaths.

We can leave a legacy to our younger generations with safety practices that are directly wired into gun ownership. We can also prevent suicides by securing guns, so that our efforts contribute to better mental health.