Guns In My Life

A shadow box sits on my mantle. In it are the effects of my great uncle Homer who was killed in WW I serving as a U.S. volunteer in the Canadian forces deployment to Europe. Thereafter my family were pacifists. Pacifism, however, does not seem to shield you from danger anywhere on the scale from accident to terrorism to war.

My personal experience with guns started as a pre-teen. My father, drafted in WW II, managed to stay out of the fighting until the very end by teaching marksmanship at home until deployed as a company commander. He taught me marksmanship. Skill with a rifle did not serve me when, at age fourteen, I found myself looking at the muzzle of a loaded gun. A split second later I was shot in the throat, no time to react, to move, to speak, only to realize that in a split second I was going to be shot.

It was an accident. My best friend had picked up the rifle we had just been hunting with and thinking it was no longer loaded, pulled the trigger. He was smiling when he pointed it, a kids game, a toy gun like we played with for countless hours theretofore. This time there was real gun powder and lead and primer. This time the look on his face changed from play to terror as he heard the report and saw a hole appear in my larynx.

I was shot, knew it, felt it hit like the doctor would wrap your knee with his reflex testing hammer. The flesh didn't much resist. If I'd not seen the muzzle, the grin, heard the blast and seen the flash I might not have known I'd been shot. The bullet, a .22, bored a path from larynx to spine in a classic curve from the rifling and came to rest short of severing the brachial nerve of my right arm. I noticed a dull pain when I moved my right arm. The bullet rested there until it was removed during a six hour surgery. My parents were distraught, but a little plastic surgery later the only ill effects were a weak voice and a lightning shaped scar from jawbone to clavicle.

I was lucky. I was lucky beyond the reasonable. My mother's sister was lucky on August 1, 1966. That was the day that marks my first awareness of any mass shooting ever, when Charles Whitman began shooting people from the University of Texas Library tower. My aunt was on campus that day. But for the good old boys stopping their pickup trucks, grabbing their deer rifles out of their gun racks and shooting back, the toll might have been higher than 16 dead. She was lucky.

During the fall of 1970 I was at work in a gas station and got a call from my girlfriend, a nurse working for an obstetrician with addiction issues. She was at his home and implored me to come help her with him. He was intoxicated on some unknown substance. When I arrived she was calling the doctor's psychiatrist. She asked me to go check on the doctor while she remained on the phone. He was in his bedroom. As I entered I was frozen by the sight of the man sitting on the floor beside the bed loading a revolver. What went through my mind is that harm could come to any one or all of us there if he were to finish loading that revolver. I walked over slowly, squatted down in front of him and gently but quickly slid my finger between the frame of the revolver and the ammo holding cylinder, knowing that if you couldn't close the cylinder the gun couldn't be fired. I asked him, "What are you going to do with that gun doc?". He said, "I'm going to kill myself". I said, "I can't let you do that". He tried to close the cylinder three or four times and then gave up. I took it from him just in time for the psychiatrist to be showing up. I gave the gun to the shrink and went back to work. The doctor, the psychiatrist and my girlfriend were all lucky. So might I have been.

No guns were involved in Oklahoma City on April 19 1995 when Tim McVeigh blew up the Federal Building there. Another aunt of mine was in that building on yet another fateful day in the sad history of Americans doing violence to Americans with no rational explanation. She was facing the blast when it came, talking to a woman standing in front of her desk. That woman shielded her from a torrent of glass, concrete and steel shards so violent it tore the woman to shreds. My aunt witnessed it, mourned as only a survivor can mourn the caprice of fate, and survived. She was lucky. She was lucky enough to live to bear the searing yoke of survivor guilt, but she lived. She died a few months later of cancer, but had time to resolve with and bid farewell to her family, a peace not afforded to the family of the shredded woman.

In 1995 along Coal Creek Parkway in Newcastle WA a King County deputy discovered a naked man in an intersection on Coal Creek Parkway. He stopped his patrol car and attempted to talk to the naked man who thereupon grabbed the officer's gun and shot him to death. I passed through that intersection not five minutes before, carrying a gun as I'm licensed to do. Had I passed five minutes later I could have, and given my lackadaisical regard for personal safety probably would have, come to the officer's aid, as a distraction for the naked assailant at least. Officer Herzog was not lucky.

There is no tabulation of the lucky. There are only long lists of the innocent unlucky, the in the wrong place at the wrong time, the reckless and the criminal. Having lived through much and survived so far myself, having witnessed random violence visited on my family, I find it irreconcilable that solutions for violence that respect both personal liberty and personal safety appear to be beyond the ability of our political system to find. My luck, of which I've had plenty, may run out some day, and as a rule I depend on it much less that I used to. Neither should your family and children have to depend on luck for the sole apparent purposes of salving the paranoia of the 10% extreme wing of the NRA or the making of electoral math of the GOP easier.