- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Rep. Bob Barr, a board member of the National Rifle Association, was handling an antique .38-caliber pistol at a reception last weekend when it discharged, shooting a bullet through a glass door.

Nobody was injured in the incident, which occurred Friday in an Atlanta suburb, but gun-control advocates say that if it can happen to a leader of the organization that bills itself as the nation's premier gun-safety group, it underscores the dangers of handling handguns.

"It's the quintessential example of not practicing common-sense gun safety," said Amy Stilwell, spokeswoman for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "You're pulling out a gun at a reception. How can that possibly be a good idea?

"It's not just anybody Bob Barr is a board member of the NRA," Miss Stilwell said. "The NRA we beg to differ, but they're always talking about how they're the masters of gun safety. This wasn't gun safety."

Mr. Barr, a Georgia Republican, is locked in a tight September 10 primary battle with fellow Rep. John Linder in the newly redrawn 7th District in Georgia, and he has been touting his conservative credentials, including his support for Second Amendment rights.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the reception host was handing the 1908 Colt pistol to Mr. Barr when "one of us hit the trigger" and fired the gun into a basement glass door. The host, lobbyist Bruce Widener, said he had removed the magazine from the pistol, but did not realize there was a round in the chamber.

The NRA has three rules for gun safety: Keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction, don't finger the trigger until ready to shoot, and always keep the firearm unloaded until ready to use.

Gun-control advocates said at least one of those rules was obviously violated.

"Shootings like this happen every day in America," said Naomi Seligman, spokeswoman for the Violence Policy Center. "Bob Barr is merely today's poster boy for the hazards of handguns."

Mr. Widener took the full blame for the incident in a statement released by the Barr campaign.

"The gun is almost 100 years old, and I was not aware it was loaded," he said. "Even though the gun was locked in a cabinet, this was not a safe manner in which to store the firearm, and this incident underscores the importance of following proper safety practices."

The NRA agreed the fault lies with Mr. Widener.

"That is the responsibility of the gun owner, so I think the congressman is an unfair target," said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the association. "He obviously adhered to one of the most important tenets of safe gun handling, and that is keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction."

Mr. Barr said in a statement that the incident "only underscores the importance of proven gun-safety measures, especially when owning and handling antique firearms."

But some questioned the Barr campaign's version of events including Mr. Linder, who said the facts, as reported in the Journal-Constitution, seem contradictory.

"A board member of the NRA who needs more gun-safety classes and less TV time causes the biggest damage to the pro-gun movement in my career in Congress and then lies about it," Mr. Linder said, noting that he defeated Mr. Widener during an earlier run for the state House.

But Mr. Barr said Mr. Linder is taking "political cheap shots."

"John wasn't there last Friday, and he doesn't know what happened, so it's disappointing that, in his desperate rush to score political points, he would make such irresponsible statements," Mr. Barr said.

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