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Mother gunned down by son, 2
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That Idaho mother shot to death by her 2-year-old son in a Walmart store? Judging by Veronica Jean Rutledge's biography, you can be just about certain that she'd driven to the store wearing a seat belt, with her little boy buckled carefully into his car seat.
By all accounts, Rutledge, age 29, was that kind of mother: loving, diligent and careful. A high school valedictorian, Rutledge graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in chemistry. She was a promising research scientist at Battelle's Idaho National Laboratory, working on reducing the toxicity of nuclear waste.
And yet she carried a loaded semi-automatic handgun in her purse on a post-Christmas shopping trip and left it unattended in a shopping cart, where the child took it out and somehow pulled the trigger.
Rutledge died instantly there in the electronics aisle.
In the immediate aftermath, Terry Rutledge, Veronica's father-in-law, gave an ill-advised interview to a Washington Post reporter expressing anger that anybody would use the tragedy "as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights," as the article put it.
Nevertheless, Rutledge made an incomprehensible blunder, and it cost her her life. The blunder, as I see it, of carrying a loaded handgun -- with a chambered round, no less.
Her close friend Sheri Sandow explained that for all her academic accomplishments, Rutledge was "as comfortable at a campground or a gun range as she was in a classroom."
OK fine, but why Walmart? Not because she was fearful, Sandow explained.
"In Idaho, we don't have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that," she said. "And to see someone with a gun isn't bizarre. (Veronica) wasn't carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns. This was just a horrible accident."
Indeed, she needn't have felt unsafe. The most recent homicide in Blackfoot, Idaho, where the family lived, was six years ago.
The scientist in Veronica Rutledge, had she allowed herself to think about it rationally, would have understood that the pistol in her purse was far more dangerous to her and her child than any external threat. As an NRA adept and a big fan of the website, however, she evidently become so habituated to carrying a gun around she forgot she had it.
In a recent New Yorker article, Adam Gopnik explains the political psychology of guns. The great majority of Americans agree that there should be sensible limitations on the possession and use of tools whose function is killing, "while a small minority feels, with a fanatic passion, that there shouldn't."
Terry Rutledge, however, can rest easy. If the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre failed to bring reform, his daughter-in-law's death won't change anything significant.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at