In the last couple of days I've spent hours making notes and "writing" in my mind about the experiences that have made me believe we need better gun-control laws in this country. Each experience was a story that would stand alone, and I figured it would take several posts to tell you about all of them. As it turns out, between the constant news coverage and my own thought processes about the subject, I can no longer stand the idea of immersing myself in that dark place long enough to tell the stories in their entirety. Instead, I'll leave out the details to combine everything into one long post, and tomorrow I'll move on to focus on sunshine and fresh air.
Here are the short versions:
1. My grandfather, a WWI infantryman, kept his service revolver after the war was over. My mother, who was not supposed to touch it, remembered taking it out frequently to show it to visiting playmates. When she told me about it, she marveled at the fact that she'd lived through it to tell about it.
2. My own father, who fought in WWII, brought home a sword instead of a gun. I remember cowering in the corner of my childhood bedroom as my teenaged uncle took the sword from its sheath, pointed it at me and leaped around like a Samurai warrior. He was teasing, intending to scare me but not to harm me. I'm probably alive because he was teasing with a sword instead of a gun.
3. In the mid-'70s, a young man and his wife, not well known to me but related by marriage, were shot and killed by a friend of theirs. They left a three-year old daughter and two sets of devastated parents and siblings. The killer told the police that the three of them were "partying" together when the two men got into a friendly discussion about whether knives or guns made better weapons. The discussion never even escalated into an argument, because the killer, who happened to have his gun with him, used it to prove his point.
4. In the early '80s, I picked up my husband's gun, one that had been in our home throughout all the years we'd been married, to move it to a safer hiding place before an out-of-town trip. I was careful to hold it by the handle and not touch the trigger, but it didn't matter. Within two seconds after I picked it up, the gun went off and shot a hole through the bedroom wall, all the way through the outside brick. Thank God it was pointed away from me when it fired. And thank God my daughters weren't in the path of the shot that wasn't supposed to have fired.
5. In the course of the past 20 years, members of my family in Texas and Louisiana have mourned with three different sets of friends whose adolescent children, in separate incidents, killed themselves with their parents' guns. My own good friend, walking his dog in the woods behind his house one afternoon, stumbled across the body of his neighbor's teenaged daughter, who'd done the same thing. These four children all came from good families, familes who would have done anything possible to help if they'd only known help was needed. The children, unfortunately, were too young and inexperienced to understand that painful emotions usually don't last. They hurt, they had the means to stop the pain quickly, and they chose to bail out rather than talk about their feelings.
6. For two years in the late '90s, I volunteered as a crisis-intervention counselor on a suicide prevention hotline. Some of the people who called the hotline had given a lot of thought to the idea of killing themselves, and the individual methods by which they planned to do it covered a wide spectrum. Of all those callers, the ones who worried me most were the ones who had access to guns. Those were the people who, if they decided to set their plans in motion, wouldn't have the luxury of changing their minds at the last second and calling 911. Guns are too good at what they do.
I understand that guns can serve a useful purpose in well-trained hands, and I respect the rights of people to protect themselves. If guns were used strictly as defensive weapons, you wouldn't hear a peep out of me. What I don't understand is, if their purpose is protection, why so many of the guns being sold are called "assault weapons."
I totally get the concept that "guns don't kill people; people kill people," but the truth is that people with guns kill other people (and themselves) in numbers that are alarming in comparison to the number of deaths by other violent means. The statistics speak directly to the nature and efficiency of the weapon.
A gun in the hands of a curious child is a deadly accident waiting to happen. A gun in the hands of a despondent person may end his life before he can even begin to imagine a brighter tomorrow. Guns in the hands of street punks and drug dealers fill the ten o'clock news almost every night with stories of young lives ended abruptly and needlessly. And then there are the gun-toters who make the national news, the psychopaths who kill randomly at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and a peaceful Amish schoolhouse.
It isn't your gun I want to take; it's theirs. But promise me you'll be careful with yours.