Familiar with guns

As the gun control debate rages in the U.S., and continues on more quietly in Canada, one  idea that keeps popping up is that you have a different relationship with guns if you’ve ever actually used one. To those of us who’ve handled them, they don’t seem so strange and mysterious.

There may be something to this. I spent four years around weapons that ranged from a nine-millimetre pistol to hand grenades to the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle during my time in the Canadian Forces Land Reserve.

I don’t want to exaggerate the experience. It’s not like we were performing nightly patrols through the war-torn streets of Beacon Hill South — this was a summers-and-some-weekends-and-weeknights engagement, at least for me. And since I belonged to a medical platoon, proficiency with guns and rifles took a back seat to how quickly you could apply a field dressing or erect modular tentage for a field medical inspection room.

In my case, that was fortunate. Firing a C1 rifle, I only once managed a twelve-inch grouping at 100 yards from a prone position — and that on the target next to mine. And for about five years after I left the reserves, I had a lump of scar tissue over my right cheekbone from holding that same rifle improperly. (It had quite the kick.)

No question, though: I became familiar with guns, and they don’t hold much sense of mystique for me.

The damage they can do, though… that still preys on me.

A decade before I joined the reserves, my family lived in a tiny Southern Ontario town. There weren’t too many kids near our house, but I often played with the boy my age across the street.

That changed one evening.

My memories of that night aren’t clear or especially reliable. A lot of it I’ve had to reconstruct, and my parents told me more about it years later.

I don’t remember hearing a shot. I can remember someone banging on the fron door, my parents answering, my mom rushing me to my room as my dad bolted into the night. Him coming home later, hands bloodied; me again being rushed to my room.

And then the explanations from my mom in simple, reassuring sentences: my friend’s younger brother had taken his father’s rifle from the closet. My friend took it from his brother, pointed it at the wall to be safe. It went off, and somehow his father had been in the line of fire. My dad had gone over to help. My dad was okay. Don’t worry. Everything was fine.

My next memory is that my friend was at our house, white-faced, shaking. I was clinging to how everything was fine, and wanted him to feel the same way – so I joked about it. I can’t remember how he reacted, only that I realized as I soon as I’d spoken that something was much more desperately wrong than I knew.

That’s the last memory I have of my friend: an unwittingly, unspeakably cruel joke at the worst moment of his life. I can only hope he was too dazed to take it in, but that’s a pretty faint hope.

The reality was that his father had died on the floor while mine was doing his best to resuscitate him. I never saw my friend again. His family quickly moved out of town, and not long after, so did mine — hundreds of miles away.

So I don’t have a fear of guns’ mystical powers. But their real capacity to inflict terrible damage, instantly, irrevocably; to give poisonous delusions an outlet for carnage; to implicate a little boy in his father’s sudden death? That, at 150 yards or across the intimate distance of a living room, is still legitimately frightening.

3 thoughts on “Familiar with guns

  1. Joseph Singer

    Your comment about what happened and why it happened only re-enforces that guns are not safe unless put away where someone who’s not supposed to be able to access them in fact did with lethal results. Statistics says that having a loaded gun in a house will make it much more likely that an accident such as the one you related can happen. The fact that the gun wasn’t properly secured of course matters as well.

  2. Tina

    When my son was in grade 2, I moved to a small town in Kansas. Out of curiosity, I polled my co-workers about a few things. The results really surprised me. Only ONE of my co-workers did not have a gun in the house. She had MS and used a wheelchair to get around. She was also a single parent with a toddler. She said: “I would have one, but I am afraid that because of my chair, if my son got to the gun somehow, I would not be able to get to him fast enough to get it away from him.” Seems legit.

    All of the other of my 25 or so colleagues had guns in their homes. Kids in the high school had riffles in the back of their pick-up trucks ON SCHOOL PROPERTY. Nooooo problem. What?

    Now, one of my co-workers explained that she did a lot of coyote hunting. I asked her, “Where are the woods around here?” She said that basically coyote hunting involved putting a brick on the gas pedal and steering the truck with your legs while you shoot with your head sticking out of the sunroof. You do this as you slowly drive though different farmer’s fields. “The coyote has a fair chance because some of the other farmers don’t let you hunt on their property, so if the coyote goes on their land, you can’t get ‘em”. What?

    Here is the other surprising thing that I learned. Every single one of my co-workers was a creationist and did not believe in the theory of evolution. My son had terrible culture shock when we were in Kansas. I had to warn him not to get into fights in the school yard over the notion of life beginning in the sea or the age of the planet and so on. I did not think it would be so very different from Ontario. I was very, very wrong.

    I am sorry about what happened though. Mike once related the tragedy to me. It is a very sad story.

    When I was a kid, my dad was an RCMP officer. I used to look EVERYWHERE for his gun when my parents weren’t looking. In those days, cops brought their guns home. I understand that nowadays they do not. Anyways, I NEVER found it and I LOOKED ALL THE TIME. To this day I do not know where he hid it. I think he must have had a safe inside a wall or something because I am pretty sure I left no stone unturned. As a kid, I was very curious about my dad’s gun. It is probably a common thing for kids to be curious about them, sometimes with tragic results. I do not think I would risk having a gun in the house with children. I do think that gun safety and learning to operate a gun at a firing range is a reasonable skill for people to acquire…if you ever had to use one for any reason, for example, under extenuating circumstances, if you had never learned to handle a gun you could hurt yourself or others.

Whaddaya think?