In March, The Huffington Post began talking to teens and adults throughout the United States about their experiences with gun violence. This is one individual's story. You can read others here.
Deen Tyler, 31, watched one of his best friends die during a shootout in Miami. He now works with young people in Oakland, Calif., to help eliminate violence in their communities:
Most of the men I grew up around had guns. Either they had them on them all the time, or in the car, in the house. I never looked at them as violent-prone or aggressors, I just saw them as protectors. These were real responsible men.
I saw owning a gun as part of growing up and becoming a man. You know, you get hair on your face, you get a deep voice, you get muscles and you get a gun. Starting from real young, I saw this as part of the man’s tool belt.
My father took me out very young and we shot the gun. I was young; definitely elementary-school age. We shot the gun and then he sat me down and he said, "I want you to understand that this is a gun. It’s dangerous; you can hurt yourself. You can hurt people with it. I don’t want you to bother the gun when I’m not around. I’m not going to hide it from you, but under no circumstances are you to touch the gun when I’m not around. If you want to shoot it, if you feel that urge or whatever, just come get me and we’ll shoot it ’til you’re blue in the face. But when I’m not around, don’t touch it."
That’s gotta sound crazy to people, but I never had an urge to play with his gun, to go look at it, to touch it. I never had that urge. I knew it could kill someone. I was a gun fanatic as a child; I had a whole arsenal of toy guns. But just by that conversation with my dad alone, I never had the urge to touch it. I never, ever played with a real gun. And I think that conversation had a lot to do with it.
One day, at school, my friend showed me inside his book bag. He had a .32 revolver. He was like, let me know if you have any problems. I was in sixth grade. It was in his book bag that he brought to school. In middle school, there were these two kids who were wounded in this shootout that was happening between these two gangs. They were shooting across a major street in Miami. I guess the kids were looking, trying to see what was happening, and they got wounded.
In my lifetime, there’s a long list of people I went to middle school with, high school with, played sports with, who have been killed. I lost three of my homeboys in the span of three years.
I was actually there when the last one happened. I was in between two victims; the one on my left was wounded in the neck and the other one was shot in the head. We were at a club and got into a conflict with some guys there. When we were leaving, they were waiting for us in the parking lot. And one thing led to another.
For a long time I didn’t leave my house without a gun. To go anywhere. McDonald’s, church, I would not leave without it. I felt like in that moment, I had no control over what was going to happen in my life. The only thing I could have done differently is to have been armed in that process. That’s the only thing I could do to protect myself. It’s not about being a violent person. It’s just having a legitimate concern about the possibility of losing your life.
As told to Carly Schwartz.