There was another shooting at a school in America this week. You’re watching the story, and you’re listening to the politicians and the pundits and the victims and the survivors. And if you’re like me, your heart hurts. And you’re mad.
I don’t really have the words to talk about Parkland directly, so instead, I am going to protect myself inside the framework of this blog — a blog about my personal experiences and human relationships — to tell you about my human relationship with guns…
Chad and I had been dating a couple of months when he suggested taking me shooting one afternoon. I don’t know why I agreed to go, but I did. Watching him thoughtfully select which weapons (because he owned many) would come with us before he methodically loaded his ammo cases made my heart pound so hard and fast my eyeballs and the tips of my toes hurt. He handed me a magazine clip. I swallowed air instead of inhaling it in a cartoonish “gulp.”
The truth is, I knew exactly why I wanted to go to the gun range: I wanted to understand what it was that made gun owners so passionate about owning and shooting guns that they were able to render our government impotent in passing gun control legislation.
Gun violence doesn’t have to lead to a funeral to ruin a life, or destroy a family. I experienced this first hand when I was a teenager, and I was desperate to understand why the Second Amendment was so worth fighting for.
My father briefly served in the South African military. When he talked about it, he talked about driving tanks. Today, he doesn’t have any ephemera from that time in his life, but in my early youth he still had his army-issued rifle. I remembered being about 5 and stumbling on it in the basement. It wasn’t too far from my mother’s fencing foils. The next time I saw my father’s rifle, I was 13. He was walking to his car, hurt in his face, pain in his body, and the vintage firearm in his hand. Its destiny was permanent disposal.
“There will never be another gun in or anywhere near this house,” he said before pulling out of the driveway.
That was the day after my cousin, his only nephew, nearly killed my father. Luckily, my cousin was a terrible shot when he was drunk (this, of course, is the flip and abbreviated version of the story.)
We can talk as much as want about what types of guns or magazine clips should or shouldn’t be on the market, but what I learned that night when I was 13 is that it only takes one bullet to change a life.
My experience with Chad nearly two decades later also taught me a lot. First, it turns out I’m a pretty damn good shot: a bulls-eye on my second shot. It was a rush of adrenaline, pulling the trigger, hearing the pop and watching the casing fly. I was profoundly aware of the power in my hands, and a competitive side in me wanted to keep shooting for another bulls-eye. It was addictive. Once I got my breathing under control, I understood the appeal.
And then I ran out of bullets.
Chad pulled the target in and handed it to me. I ran my fingers over my “trophy,” and suddenly I was 13 again and standing in my cousin’s apartment, now a retired crime scene, running my fingers over the holes in the wall from the bullets that had been aimed at my father, but missed.
Those bullet holes have since been spackled and painted over, probably more than once. But spackle is only a patch. The holes are still there. Physically and emotionally.
What my own experience shooting confirmed for me is that firing a gun is inherently a destructive and violent act. When you pull the trigger, the goal and end result is to remove a part of a whole. You will never convince me that I have or need the right to remove a part of someone, a part of some family, or a part some community in such an irreversible way.