I recently wrote about how, many years ago, my dad taught me how to shoot a gun. It was a heartwarming story, and I very much remember it as a time when the hard-won bond between me and my dad was cemented a little more.
Now I’ll tell you another gun story. It’s not too long.
One night when I was about 10, I woke up to the familiar sounds of my parents fighting. It was another doozy – my father’s drunken shouting, my mother’s shrill screaming, things going bump and bang as my father, I imagined from my bedroom, staggered around, and the sounds of slapping and hitting as the fight escalated. Alone in my room, I buried my head under my pillow, trying to block out the sounds. I lay there, rigid with fear, waiting for them to stop.
I was frozen in terror, afraid to move a muscle. A gun? I couldn’t get out of bed and call the police! I was just a little kid! My two brothers were in their room next to mine, and I imagine they were just as terrified as I was.
In a short time, the police did arrive. I don’t know if it was my mother who called them or a neighbor. They took my father away, though. I remember that I spent the rest of the night in my mother’s room, and that she cried all night.
They took my dad to what we called then “the funny farm.” He was pointing the gun at himself, apparently, threatening to shoot himself. I don’t remember how long he was in the psychiatric unit of the hospital – a day or two – but that night left a lasting impression on me. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can call it up like it was last week.
As I said in my recent post, my dad always had guns, for as long as I could remember. They were not locked up – they were stored under his bed and in his closet. We were never taught gun safety. We never talked about his guns at all as far as I remember; they were just part of the background at home, something I don’t think my brothers or I ever thought much about. I don’t even know why my dad had guns – he didn’t hunt, and he didn’t hang out at a firing range. Did he inherit them? Did he buy them himself? I have no idea.
Looking back, I feel extremely fortunate that nobody got hurt that night (at least not with a gun). Or any other time, really. My dad was often drunk and often volatile. My older brother was troubled and often violent as well. It makes me shudder to think how easily something truly horrible could have happened.
There’s no point to this story, really, except that guns are bad. Especially when in the wrong hands at the wrong time. And there’s really no way to predict when or if someone with access to a gun might snap. My dad had a history of alcoholism and violence, but there are plenty of seemingly rational, “normal” people who go off the deep end for one reason or another. And you know what? You never hear stories about people with guns saving other people, despite gun proponents’ insistence that bearing arms promotes safety; you hear about people with guns hurting other people.