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.”