Several readers have sent me this tragic story from the St. Louis area, about a mentally challenged 20-year-old man named Marcus Anderson who reportedly shot and killed his 15-year-old sister with a loaded shotgun he found behind a dresser. The shotgun, which belonged to a family friend, had been spray-painted gold, and Anderson apparently thought it was a toy. He has been arrested and charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter. The owner of the gun, as far as I know, has not been charged with anything; nor has Anderson’s mother, who, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, told police that she was the one who hid the gun behind the dresser.
This isn’t the sort of unintentional shooting that I usually write about—usually, the shooters are much younger than 20—but I’m going to make an exception here so I can make a point that, really, I shouldn’t have to make: Do not paint or otherwise alter your gun such that it could be mistaken for a toy, especially if you’re going to be leaving it out in the open in a house where children or mentally challenged adults might find it and shoot it. A gun is not like a car, a house, or any other private possession that one might repaint. If you paint your house gold, your neighbors will laugh at you, but that’s about it for consequences. Painting a gun gold, though, fundamentally alters the way that people interact with it, because people know that real guns aren’t gold, and thus might surmise that your golden gun obviously isn’t real.
The consequences of doing something as seemingly pointless as painting a gun gold can be all too real. In this case, a 15-year-old girl is dead. The punishment for irresponsibly leaving a repainted gun out in the open, loaded, for curious and untrained hands to find and shoot ought to reflect that devastating reality.