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Being from Texas, I received my first shotgun, a 410, at age six.

Being from Texas, I received my first shotgun, a 410, at age six.  My father showed me how to load it (which I already knew from watching my elders fire countless rounds from countless varieties of guns), put it in my hands, and let me take a shot at a soda can 15 yards away.  I knocked it over easily, owing to the generous spread. We shot away the rest of the afternoon.   It was a happy occasion, but also a serious one.   I was not to use it unsupervised, and I was warned of dire consequences  if I ever  pointed it at myself  or others.

I was aware of a change in my perception.  I was holding something that could kill someone, and part of me wanted to put it down and walk away from it, just as much as part of me enjoyed being welcomed into the world of adult men.  The world was suddenly much less innocent,even if I did enjoy being complimented on my marksmanship.  I was afraid because I knew just KNEW that one day I would get careless and accidentally kill someone.  Or myself. But I couldn’t put it down and walk away.  I already knew that I was supposed to push that fear way down and not let anyone see it.  Because they are happy to welcome you into the family as an adult participant, and you should be happy to be welcomed.  But also because fear and self-doubt are the evidence of weakness. No one ever said those words to me, nor is my family the type to imply such things.  We all tend toward introspection a lot more, I suspect,  than the believers of stereotypes could imagine. But that feeling was there, and it scares me as how easy it is for kids to learn unspoken and unwise rules of conduct.

As I grew older, my friends and I played plenty of war games—Iwo Jima,Battle of the Bulge, sometimes cowboys and Indians.  Those toy guns felt good in our hands, and we loved the feeling of being heroic, even if it meant we had to die in battle protecting our loved ones.  We all took turns dying in battle, falling such beautiful falls, and delivering such impassioned last words, that it made dying seem like a pretty sweet deal.  And of course, we had to test it out when we got older.  I remember my cousin loading a 30-30 and saying, “Go hide behind that tree and DON’T even LOOK around it.”  I ran and slid behind it, and he opened fire.  He wanted to see what it was like to shoot AT someone, and I wanted to feel what it was like to be shot at.  Then we traded positions and I shot at him for awhile.  We made sure we wouldn't actually hit each other, but we craved a taste of danger.

Aside from that day, I have never shot at anyone else, at least not yet.  Though I am not actively afraid of being part of some gun-related tragedy, now that I have kids in my house, I am most definitely afraid for them. Statistics are pretty clear that having a gun in your home makes you much more likely to be injured or killed by a gun than not having one. Part of me wants to give away the relic I kept of that part of my life, a beautiful Ithaca .20 gauge pump.   But. One day a few years ago my father came home and found a strange truck in the driveway.  He pulled the .38 from under his car seat, went to see what was going on and was nearly run over as one of the thieves fled.  He held the other one at gunpoint and called the police. Before they could arrive, the man charged my father, who pulled the trigger and shot him once in the chest, killing him.  

My father confided that he was worried about how I would react when I found out.  He knows that I abhor violence and am no friend of the NRA's.  But I am grateful that things worked out the way they did.  What if my mom had come home early instead of my dad?  What if the thieves had found all of the guns and come out armed to the teeth?  There are many ways that day could have been much worse, though my father still has nightmares about it.  At the same time, when he pulled into the driveway and saw the strange truck, why didn't he simply fall back, call the cops,park his car to block them in, and move to safety?  That would have put him at less personal risk and still likely would have ended up with incapacitated thieves.

I wonder if his father had put a gun in his 6-year old hands, and I wonder if he had felt the same fear I did.  I wonder if on that day the line of his life  plotted a new point in space and time, the instant he had to pull the trigger 68 years later, there on the east side of the family home,maybe 50 yards away from the spot where I fired that 410 the first time.  I wonder if his whole life was leading to that moment, wonder, also, if we aren’t tempting fate just a bit when we put a weapon in a child’s hands and say, “You can kill someone with this.  But don’t.”

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Comment Preferences

  •  I don't remember when my dad said it, it might (7+ / 0-)

    have been that age or older, he said, "don't point a gun at anyone unless you want to kill them" or words to that effect. Didn't say dont point, just don't point unless your intent is to kill. Made an indelible impression on me.

    I don't see much morally wrong with shooting a thief who is running at you even when you've got the drop on him. That's a guy that is going to do bad things when he gets to you.

    Let me know if you want to get rid of the 20 ga, I'll pay all shipping costs. I want to hunt squirrels but I don't want to be shooting the 22 into the air.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Fri May 03, 2013 at 12:32:16 PM PDT

    •  Yeah... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock, Mayfly, chimene

      I remember hearing the same thing.  It was accepted wisdom, capital T truth.  

      No one ever said, "Don't point a gun at another human being."  It was ALWAYS, "Don't point at gun at another human being unless  you intend to kill him."  

      I don't have too many moral qualms about my dad having shot that guy.  I agree with your assessment (as did the guy's family, as it turned out).  I also think that if you job is breaking into people's homes in east  Texas, you have to know that one day you are going to go to work and leave with a hole in you.  That's just how that place is.  Sad that he died for what amounted to 50 bucks worth of costume jewelry.

    •  Instant death penalty for a thief... (0+ / 0-)
      even when you've got the drop on him.
      Doesn't say much about respect for due process, does it?

      Or morality.

  •  Thank you for a honest, sober diary re guns. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NearlySomebody

    Fiscal conservative: a Republican ready to spend $5 to save a dime--especially if that dime is helping a non-donor.

    by Mayfly on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:30:03 PM PDT

  •  There's something missing here... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gfv6800, andalusi, FrankRose
    Statistics are pretty clear that having a gun in your home makes you much more likely to be injured or killed by a gun than not having one.
    Back in school my physics teacher drilled into me that numbers were useless without the unit of measurement. What's the use of saying you were going speed 50, if it could be 50 miles per hour or 50 inches per second.

    That '11 times more likely' statistic is useless without knowing the base likelihood. Worse, it ends up being misleading to people. Certainly it doesn't mean folks are 11% likely to be injured or killed if there's a gun in the home, because that would mean MILLIONS of such events each year when the number is actually just in the thousands.

    Gun events are like plane crashes. One superbig news story event that captures everyone's attention while other mundane events slowly rack up a much bigger toll. Car deaths are crazy bigger than guns or planes in deaths per year but only make the front page of local newspaper if the dead were teens.

    •  There is absolutely nothing "mundane" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NearlySomebody

      about "actually just in the tens of thousands" of gun deaths and injuries each and every year.

      Really.

      •  Heart disease and diabetes kills orders more. (0+ / 0-)

        Add a zero to the biggest gun death number you can find, and your result is STILL less than the deaths that stem from our food industry's negative effects on our arteries and bodily systems with their additives and ingredients.

        Imagine, the food industry like monsanto responsible for ten Sandy Hook's, and then some. And ten Aurora's, and then some. And ten Tuscons, and then some. And so on, and on, and on. When someone is draining your pocket of twenty dollar bills, it's foolish to let them continue while you clutch the loose change. Most of the anti-gun movement is clutching at the loose change while the big bankers and big pharma and big food is draining us of our benjamins.

    •  Car deaths and gun deaths: same order of magnitude (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NearlySomebody

      According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the final total number of deaths from firearms was 31,672, while the total for automobiles was 33,687 (total for 2010, the latest year for which final confirmed totals are available.)

      The difference is about 2,000, or 6% bigger, which would not be called "crazy bigger" by people in my profession (PhD's in math, stat, epidemiology and so on who work in public health.) We would say it's the same order of magnitude, if that term is familiar to you.

      The estimate of 11-fold greater risk is in fact quite helpful to public health policy experts who are trying to figure out how to reduce a specific type of death, injury or illness. If you wanted to reduce deaths from prostate cancer (also around 30,000 per year), and you could find a widespread, modifiable risk factor that increased the risk 11-fold, you'd be overjoyed. And you'd immediately set out to try to find interventions that would reduce the risk.

      For example, the impact of smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day for 40 years is about an 11-fold increase in risk of lung cancer. Public health folks have succeeded in bringing lung cancer incidence down dramatically - reducing it by about 1/3 since 1985 - by getting smoking rates down, through a combination of social and policy initiatives. Even non-smokers benefit: no more cases like one teacher I know, who never smoked but developed lung cancer after years of concentrated smoke in the teachers' break room.

      The motor vehicle death rate has been reduced even more drastically, from about 90,000 per year in 1960 to the current number around 30,000, even though population is much greater and many more miles are driven. So even though you may not be aware of efforts to do something about motor vehicle deaths, the public health world has been pretty successful.

      Maybe it's time to take a serious, evidence-based look at reducing firearm deaths and injuries, just as we tackle other public health problems.

      •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

        You handled this with more patience than I would have.

        •  You're welcome! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NearlySomebody, WakeUpNeo

          I try. Hope I have learned some patience in 40 years of teaching!

          •  CDC numbers tell a different story. (0+ / 0-)

            2010 - 19,392 gun related suicides. Suicides are irrelevant, if someone wants to off themselves then that's their right. Don't like that point of view? The euthanasia argument is two threads that-a-way --->

            That leaves, according to the CDC, 11,078 gun related homicides.

            Now...
            11,078 compared to 33,687...

            Well, looks like gun killings was less than one third of car deaths. Or put another way, for every bodybag from a shooting there are three bodybags that came from a car wreck! Which one of those is going to fill up the morgue faster? My money would be on the cars.

            I know, I know, a gun murder isn't exactly the perfect comparison to a car death, but guns are not cars! The only perfect metaphor for a gun is a gun, so as in any comparison there will be some amount of incompatibility. And that's also why the argument that guns should be treated like cars also fails - because it's not a close enough comparison for treatment to be parallel.

            And oh by the way, who is it that keep squawking about the CDC not being allowed to collect firearm statistics because of the nra? The CDC has numbers, has been collecting numbers for a long time, so plainly the people that squawk that claim are lying.

            •  Thank you for your reflexive comment (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              WakeUpNeo

              I am not trying to talk you out of having guns, but don't bury your head  in the sand about them.  For starters, you cannot know how many successful suicides from guns would have been unsuccessful ones from another means.  You also can't say that if someone commits suicide with a gun, they definitely would have also committed suicide using a different, more difficult, or more time-consuming means.  What can be argued, and is, is that  states with higher rates of gun ownership and houses with guns have higher rates of suicide than those who do not.

              http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/...

              Anyway, the point of this diary was not to talk about how

              •  I don't like getting bogged down in stats. (0+ / 0-)

                I like being able to say "a couple weeks" and not have it translated into "14 days, not 13 and not 15, but exactly 14".

                I like being able to say I can have something ready in "a few days" and come in early at only a couple days and if something suddenly happens like I have to drive 375 miles to take a medication refill to dad then I'm not beyond my deadline, the deadline was vague specifically to allow for random life shit happening.

                Also, getting bogged down in numbers leads to that tedious "Well, how many is ok and how many is not ok?" argument. Stalin said one death is a tragedy but a million is a statistic - getting bogged down in the OCD attention to exactitude of numbers leads to wondering where is the borderline between tragedy and stat? Is it 499,999 tragedies but with one more bodybag earns the statistic label? WTF.

                My original intent from my top comment stands, I think.

                That "11 times more likely" statistic has nothing indicating the actual percentage.

                Try this analog. Pretend it's 11 times more likely to be hit by lightning if you are in a field. That's only helpful if you know the base likelihood.

                Is it a base likelihood of .01%? If so, then 11 times that means you have slightly higher than a tenth of a single percent chance of changing your name to Lightning Rod.

                Is it a base likelihood of 5%? If so, then 11 times THAT means you had better wear your insulating rubber underwear because you are more likely to be hit than to not be hit!

                See what I'm getting at? 11 times more likely to have a gun accident if you have a gun in the house, but what's the chance if you don't have a gun? It's a simple multiplication problem, and we need to know 11 times what?

                What does it do to the gun control argument if it's a .01% chance of a gun accident in a gun free home, and a .11% chance of a gun accident in a gun having home? It would look pretty lame for the gun control argument, so rather than put those numbers out they would spotlight that it's 11 times more likely and leave out the rest of the information.

                What I want from you is to bring us the rest of the information. You point out "Statistics are pretty clear that having a gun in your home makes you much more likely to be injured or killed by a gun than not having one." but over and over the gun control proponents have failed to provide the full information.

                So what is it? What is the likelihood of gun injury / death for a non-gun home? That would be truly informative.

                •  Oh, I see. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  WakeUpNeo

                  You think that gun control is a bad idea because ownership of a gun makes you more likely to be killed by a gun.

                •  Quantitative epidemiology, but does require stat. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  NearlySomebody

                  I am a little bit at a loss here. You say you "don't like getting bogged down in stats". I'm guessing that you may not have had a lot of training in epidemiology, biostatistics, or related disciplines. But your posts on this thread keep coming back to the quantitative summaries. I hope that you're actually trying to understand, and not just trying to throw up a smoke screen in defense of firearms. If it's the latter, let me know, and I'll get back to actual constructive work. But before I give up, let's see if I can help you, assuming you actually want to understand the numbers a little better.

                  First, let's talk about what that 11-fold increased risk tells us. It says that if you live in a household with a gun, compared to an otherwise similar household (so far as we can measure the other characteristics - one of the parts of the research that the NRA-sponsored regulations have made much harder to do on federal funding), you are 11 times more likely to show up as a firearm death. And yes, suicide counts. Suicide is typically an impulsive act, and people who have tried with pills (the second most common method) are much more likely to survive. I'll give you medical literature references if you like but don't want to "bog you down" in too much technical stuff

                  What's the background risk for a gun-owning household? About the same in a given year as that for an adult male to die of prostate cancer, as it happens. Your name and language suggest that you probably are male, and thus equipped with a prostate. Suppose someone told you how to cut your risk 11-fold of prostate cancer death (which involves having your personal body parts carved up with a knife and fried with high-dose radiation and your androgens subsequently wiped out with chemotherapy, and then dying anyway.) I'm guessing, if you found this description icky, that you might like to avoid even the relatively small risk of such a death. I wish I knew how to keep my husband safe by an 11-fold reduction in risk of prostate cancer death.

                  You want to know what's the likelihood of gun injury or gun death for a non-gun home. Let's just take gun deaths. Roughly speaking, let's take the prevalence of gun homes as 1/3, and the US population as around 300,000,000 (round numbers to make the math simple so you won't get bogged down), and assume gun owning homes are same size as non-gun homes. One then constructs a 2x2 table where the row totals are 100,000,000 and 200,000,000, and the column totals are 30,000 and 299,970,000, and the cell entries have odds ratio (approximately speaking same as the risk ratio for a low-risk setting) of 11. You can solve this - a basic algebra problem - and work out that the risk of gun death for a non-gun-owning household is about 2 in 100,000 people annually. I didn't work out the risk per household; it is a little higher, say 8 in 100,000 households if we assume an average household has 4 people. As I said, this is a rough approximation but it will give an order-of-magnitude correct estimate.

                  Of course the problem is that, while the CDC is allowed to collect cause-of-death data, and hospital admissions data, prospective and retrospective case-controlled epidemiological studies of risk factors and deaths have not been funded by the feds since the laws were passed. Foundations have made up some of the difference but not a lot. My 2x2 table was constructed by combining data from different studies. You might want to read the medical literature summarizing the chilling effect the laws have had on federally (and in some cases state) funded research, before you accuse people of lying. A good starting point is J Amer Med Assoc, 13 Feb 2013.

                  If you are serious about wanting to understand the epidemiology behind these studies, you could check any standard epidemiology textbook out of a library. Some background in math at the level of college algebra and statistics at the level of a one-year applied course would also be useful. If you just wanna play, well, I will go on about my business of trying to do research that might save some lives.

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