They were his coping mechanism, and they would be the death of her.
Caught in between it all was a little girl who feared them, yet was taught they were what kept her safe. Guns.
A 22. A Glock. A sawed-off shotgun.
My earliest memory of a gun is staring into the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. I was too little to get into our jacked up 1974 Ford pickup from the passenger side. I needed the steering wheel to lift my little body into the cab. My five year old hand would stretch up and my little fingers would just manage to wrap around the wheel. With a tight grip, I would secure my saltwater sandal on the door frame, and just before I put all the effort my little body could muster to lift myself into the truck cab, I would come eye-to-eye with the barrel of the shotgun. Safely stashed under the seat with the barrel facing towards the door. I was at the perfect height to be eye to eye. I never told my parents the reason I would get in the truck so quickly, nor why I didn’t like sitting properly in the truck. I always wanted to sit cross-legged. I mean, in my five year old mind, what if we hit a bump and the gun accidentally went off? All I knew was that I really wanted my legs.
Luckily I was a girl, and a stereotypical one with friends just like me. I had no interest in the guns that lived among us. I was told not to touch them, so I didn’t. Growing up, guns were a part of my every day life. Loaded guns. My girlfriends and I would pile into that truck with the shotgun lurking under us, mom and I baked cookies with a 22 on top of the fridge, and I learned how to drive with a Glock in the glovebox. When we went anywhere with my dad, there was always one with us to protect us. As I got older, I was taught how the one on the fridge functioned. Just in case. Just in case of what? I quickly came up with my own answer. I discerned at a young age that if we were always making sure we were so well protected, then the world must be full of people trying to hurt me. In my father’s attempt to keep me safe, he created a very fearful little girl. As a parent myself, I know that in our attempts to do our best for our children, sometimes we can make mistakes. This was one of his.
My father should’ve never been allowed to have guns. His story, sadly, is not unique. My dad has PTSD. He lived, unknowingly coping, for 30 years. I remember hearing his nightmares rip through the house in the middle of the night, and when I was older, my mother sharing her fears of waking him from the nightmares he suffered next to her. The guns I lived with helped to keep my dad sane all those years, yet we never knew that, not until he finally "came home” 30 years later. He hit his low point when he decided to kill himself. A gun in one hand, the phone in the other. Fortunately, my father chose the phone and called the VA Suicide Hotline. At that point, my Dad entered the VA system for the first time. He went through psychiatric evaluation and counseling, yet the guns remained in our home, his concealed weapons license safely tucked in his wallet. Interestingly, guns were never a topic between my father and the VA. He called in as a suicide threat, they diagnosed him with PTSD, yet never considered he may not be the wisest person to have guns in his home environment.
In the most ironic twist I hope to ever occur in my lifetime, my mother woke up one morning and for reasons only she will ever truly know, took the 22 from the top of the fridge. The one that we were really to never touch, and she used it on herself. My Dad was home. Oh how I wish it had malfunctioned as he said it could do and blown up in her hand, but it didn’t. She died.
When I got the news she tried to kill herself, I was also told that my Dad wouldn’t be coming to the hospital to comfort me while the trauma unit fought to save her. He was being held pending what ended up being a brief homicide investigation.
In the years following her suicide, my father fought a daily battle to live, yet the guns remained. After his first hospitalization on a suicide threat and subsequent mandatory mental health counseling, the guns remained. No one ever even mentioned that maybe his guns should be taken away from him except me. When I asked his VA mental health counselor to do something, I was just told it was his 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. That’s when I knew our forefathers didn’t have this situation in mind when they wrote the “right to bear arms” into our great country’s constitution. In the end, his fearful little girl ended up being the one to tear the guns away from him, one gun at a time.
I don’t have the answers to this very severe problem our country is facing, but I do know it’s the 21st century, not the 18th century. The way of American life changed drastically over the past 200 years. Our needs changed. Our beliefs changed. Our laws need to reflect this change as well.