Neil Mahmoud had every reason to live. Newly married and on the verge of a career as a computer programmer, the 23-year-old student saw little peril in his job at an Apple Valley convenience store. The job entailed ejecting the occasional troublemaker, of course, and just this July Mahmoud tossed out two young men who tried to rob the place with a pellet gun. But the neighborhood was regarded as supremely safe, and locals were shocked late last month when Mahmoud was found on the shop floor bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. How could such horror invade a tranquil town?
It invaded not because a criminal came to call, but because the store's owner had recently purchased a gun. The weapon was meant to deter robbers and protect employees, but -- as too often is the case -- ended up underwriting a tragedy. The person who shot Mahmoud, police have determined, wasn't an intruder. All evidence suggests that Mahmoud shot himself -- accidentally.
The accident may seem a fluke, a rare and unfortunate happenstance hardly worth a second thought. In truth, Mahmoud's needless death vividly illustrates the folly of counting on guns for safety. Thousands of accidental gun deaths occur in this country every year. The key to reducing the number is clear.
More than a decade ago, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that private gun ownership heightens a household's risk of homicide threefold and raises the likelihood of suicide five times above that of a gun-free household.
In short, having a gun close at hand is generally more dangerous than not having one. Plain logic suggests that this is true not just on the home front but in the workplace as well -- and research bears out the speculation. Workplace violence has become an American commonplace, and those who study it insist that blessing the presence of guns on the job can only bring more bloodshed.
As researcher Dean Schaner has argued in a book about employer liability, "It is far more foreseeable that an employee will be injured in a workplace full of guns and an environment reminiscent of the Old West, than one in which weapons are prohibited."
All tragedies give rise to a flood of "if onlies." Surely all who cared for Neil Mahmoud are consumed with thoughts about how his life might have been saved. Yet such thoughts should preoccupy not just those mourning this charming young man, but all Minnesotans. This tragedy teaches a lesson to which employers -- and all of us -- should hold fast: To keep the workplace safe, banish weapons.