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Peter Lucier: McCloskeys' lack of weapons discipline underscores a gun-rights problem

Peter Lucier: McCloskeys' lack of weapons discipline underscores a gun-rights problem

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As St. Louis once again finds itself in the national headlines and our country confronts its troubling and ongoing racial history, we all ought to agree on at least one thing: The local man and woman who emerged from their Central West End house with firearms displayed a shocking lack of weapons safety.

When it comes to matters of race, I most often find myself listening rather than talking. I have been to several local protests in support of Expect Us and Black Lives Matter. I try to stand with Black and brown communities as they march for a more just world. I don’t often speak up, because I don’t often have much to say. But today I do.

In the days after the incident in St. Louis, a vigorous debate has continued about whether Mark McCloskey and his wife, Patricia, were within their rights — legally or morally — to brandish weapons on their own property as protesters gathered in front of their house. Some argue that property damage and trespassing account for their necessity to arm themselves. The McCloskeys’ lawyer claims a threat from “bad actors” caused the couple’s response. Others cite Missouri statutes to make the case as to whether the McCloskeys broke the law.

I leave the criminal analysis to the experts. But I know guns.

I’ve made a living carrying a weapon professionally on and off for my entire adult life. By the standards in which I was instructed, and by those same standards that I have striven to impart to shooters I have instructed, the McCloskeys violated basic weapons safety principles. Violating those principles can cost lives.

I am a Marine Corps combat veteran. I was a marksmanship instructor who coached hundreds of shooters through their annual rifle and pistol qualifications. On the range, and in combat, weapons safety is paramount. On the range, I would not tolerate Marines who did not adhere to basic weapons safety, and I would not want to deploy to combat with Marines who didn’t exercise trigger display, or who recklessly pointed their weapons at others, an action known as flagging.

I was in a video meeting with five veterans when I screen-shared the images of the McCloskeys waving their guns at protesters from the front lawn of the home near the Central West End. The first response came from a Marine Corps combat veteran, “Oh, my God, he’s flagging his wife!”

I often have such exasperated reactions to poor weapons safety. The internet is awash with folks who point weapons at their genitals, who don’t keep their weapons on “safe,” who display poor muzzle discipline. No matter what you may think of Mr. McCloskey’s choices that day — and to be clear, I found his force posture entirely inappropriate to the situation — his lack of discipline when utilizing a firearm is absolutely unacceptable, full stop.

In the military, we are trained to have strict discipline with any weapons system we are allowed to operate. From a handgun to a tank — training, safety and accountability are at the core of our weapons utilization.

Learning how to handle a firearm begins with dummy rifles and continues on the range and into live fire exercises. Training never ends, as service members continually perfect their craft. But it’s on Day One of training that we learn: Always keep the muzzle down range and never point the weapon at something or someone you don’t intend to kill — flagging.

Any instructors worth their salt will, gently or not so gently, impress upon recruits: Don’t you ever, ever, ever flag your buddy. I can neither confirm nor deny that recruits in basic training were tackled for flagging others.

It’s inconceivable and abhorrent to me that gun owners could be so careless, and that as a society we haven’t taken the steps to require proper training, safety and accountability measures for civilian gun ownership.

Our legislators need to reexamine the gun laws in this country — especially in Missouri. Responsible gun owners need to be vocal about safety and decry those who don’t practice it.

When the McCloskeys pointed their weapons at a crowd, demonstrating lethal intent when none was warranted, I wasn’t there to relay the kind of message any instructor would have done in basic training. As a civilian, I can’t make them do push-ups until lactic acid pumps through their arms and they can’t hold a rifle upright. But we can and we should and we must do more to ensure that those who possess firearms learn and practice basic safety principles.

What happened in our city demonstrates significant flaws in how we as a society approach firearms. As we strive for a more just world, let’s strive for a safer one as well.

Peter Lucier is a Marine Corps veteran and a student at St. Louis University School of Law. He is a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council.

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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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