My Year of Guns


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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58 Responses

  1. Avatar ClockworkOrange says:

    “Mr. Rice was a gun enthusiast, but one of a different feather than my father. For one thing, Mr. Rice did not hunt and wasn’t an outdoorsman. He collected military weapons and on Veteran’s Day dressed up in a Marine uniform that he bought at a military supply store, as he himself had not served. He liked to work on his guns in his garage with the door open. If you walked by their driveway on a Saturday or Sunday, you’d see him cleaning them while listening to a large Ham radio that picked up the fire and police channels.”

    So … you basically lived next door to this guy?

    heh …


  2. Avatar Mary says:

    You are an excellent story teller. Thank you for sharing.

    As a woman and a mother, I want to hunt down Mr. Rice (and any man like him). I would like to think that I would calmly explain why his behavior was unacceptable, but I’m afraid I would just slap him.

    “Mrs. Rice was blond, slender, and on the weekends walked around the neighborhood in a bikini top and hot pants, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of Cold Duck in the other, striking up conversations with the neighborhood dads as they tended to their lawns. My mother hated her.” As did every other woman within a 100 mile radius.

    Stories like these make me nervous. Just the other day there was another story on the news about a little boy bringing a loaded gun to school and shooting a nine year old girl. When I read that you snuck into your parent’s room and took the gun, all I could think was that you were going to shoot someone. Guns and children in the same area make me nervous, even if they are unloaded. Kids are crafty and smarter than adults give them credit. If they wanted to get bullets, they could.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Mary says:

      all I could think was that you were going to shoot someone

      That’s what I thought at first, too.  What a way for Tod to construct some narrative tension!Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Mary says:

      Thanks, Mary.  I hear stories similar to the one you mentioned every so often.  I wish that when we talked collectively about second amendments rights we did a better job of acknowledging that these things are part of the price we agree to pay for those rights.Report

      • Avatar Mary in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I’m not willing to pay that price if it means any human has an experience similar to yours, Annie’s, or the nine year old girl (who is still in critical condition, last I heard). The physical and psychological damage caused is too great, if you ask me.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mary says:

          My husband’s been lost in the backwoods up in Tennesee (in a place where you can’t turn around until you reach the end of the road — where the whiskey still is). He’s been shot at (and nearly hit — the bullet was spent by the time it got to the backseat of the car).

          But there’s the other turn — when you are miles out from a neighbor, and that shotgun might just be able to stop whosever’s coming — be they bear or man.

          I FAR prefer guns to the alternative. And trust me, the alternative would kill a lot more 9-year-olds.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mary says:

      The best way to keep kids away from guns is to introduce them to the guns early and often and make them a regular feature of the household. As soon as you hide them away they become tabboo.

      In our house my guns can sit out (unloaded) for weeks and the kids just ignore them. That’s the way it was when I grew up too. My grandfather’s service revolver hung on the chair of his desk when he got home and we knew it was there but also off-limits. My dad kept a rifle by the backdoor during deer season. Same deal.Report

  3. Avatar Murali says:


    The first real fire-arm that I ever shot was an AR-15 in the army during basic training. Even wearing earplugs, the sound of the rifle going off was surprising. That was also the first time I had ever smelt gun powder. And the silence afterwards was eerie.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Murali says:

      How long did you serve?  I’m going to confess my profound culture ignorance, but I have no idea if service would have been mandatory or voluntary for you.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Mandatory. I served 2 years 4 months full time after which I am part of the reserve where I am liable to return for 10 cycles of in-camp training, 7 of which are no less than 2 weeks long. Until I complete the tenth cycle, (They are nice enough not to call me up while I am studying) I am liable to take and pass an individual physical profficiency test every year beforemy birthday. Failure to attempt can get me court marshalled. Failure to pass for that year makes me liable to attend remedial physical training. Also until the end of the tenth cycle I am liable to be activated in which case I have to be in camp within 4 hrs.Report

  4. Avatar Katherine says:

    You have a genuine gift for narrative.

    Guns aren’t a subject of any familiarity to me.  I don’t have the faintest idea how to use one.  A summer when I got a job in a small town, I was shocked to walk into the local outdoors store and see that they had guns.  When you say “trapping”, I think of old times in northern Canada when people had trap lines for rabbit and mink and such, but based on the “like a video game” that seems to be the wrong association.

    The Rice story is horrific, but what I can’t get over is the impact that must have had on his daughter.  Having a six-year-old pretend to shoot someone point-blank…I don’t have words for how disturbing that is.



    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Katherine says:

      Thank you, Katherine!  And yes, going back and looking at this story from the perspective of what the daughter was made to do is indeed even more chilling.Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to Katherine says:

      I wondered about the impact it had on his daughter as well, Katherine, and wonder what kind of woman she turned out to be, given what a sadistic bastard she had for a father. Same for the son. I hope he didn’t turn out to be a chip off the old block.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Great story Todd. I went to the gun show yesterday and have a post planned for later this week. I’ve been thinking a lot about American gun culture lately and this post is a fantastic example of the kind of thing I want to discuss.

    It’s fascinating to me how many men I know who had similar experiences to the ones you describe with parents away and handling their guns. I put a hole in the wall in my dad’s basement when I was about 13 because I just HAD to shoot the one pistol that was off-limits to me.Report

  6. Great story, Tod.

    Although it’s not relevant to the bulk of your story, I’ll say that I had a very similar upbringing vis-a-vis guns to the one you describe in the first section of your story.  My father owned several hundred rifles, shotguns, and handguns, and he went to several gun shows every year, probably at least once a month (although my memory might be faulty….there were some months where he seems to have gone almost every weekend and others where he probably didn’t go at all).  He even built a walk-in safe in the basement to store them.  We even had the rule of never pointing toy guns at people, except perhaps when it came to water pistols, which were 50 cent dinky and clear colored plastic things, not the realistic looking ones.Report

    • Several hundred!  Wow!

      I’m guessing that he was selling as well at the gun shows, yes?  Was it his career, or just a hobby that included the buying and selling of thing?Report

      • Yes, he usually sold.  He usually had two or three tables and everybody (it seemed) knew him at the gun shows, at least the ones he went to in Colorado.  (Less often, he went to ones in Reno, Los Angeles, Houston, Salt Lake, or Oklahoma.) Most of our family trips were actually trips to gun shows.  Although the trips themselves were usually fun, the gun show parts were kind of boring, for me at least.  Perhaps that’s one reason I never was really fascinated or even curious about guns–I don’t have the story of sneaking into my dad’s guns and pretending to shoot them, probably because I just found them a boring chore (I would sometimes help my dad unload the car whenever he got back).

        It wasn’t his career–he was an electrician by trade–but it was probably more than a hobby.  Maybe you could call it an avocation.

        Come to think of it, it’s possible that “several hundred” is an exaggeration.  But it was certainly more than a hundredReport

  7. Avatar North says:

    Powerful my Tod. Quite powerful. I agree with your Dad; it’s a very good thing you didn’t tell him at the time.Report

  8. Avatar Plinko says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Tod, and please keep writing them!


  9. Avatar Andrew says:

    Hi Tod,

    I remember you telling me that story when we were in high school, though not with this level of detail. I shudder to think of the “lesson” Mr. Rice taught his daughter. How could she even know whether or not it was loaded? Like you, I had little interest in guns as a child. I still have no particular love for them; however, I just used mine. I used it on a sheep. Since the breeding season is over, I put my old rams back with the young one I used for breeding this year. Normally, they face off in a gentlemanly fashion and butt heads until it is clear which ram is stronger. The young one, perhaps outmatched by my big old rams, instead waited until the oldest one was eating and gave him a hard shot to the flank – putting a hole right through the muscle wall. I found the old guy lying on his side, dying. Since I was fond of that even-tempered ram with the big curling horns, putting a bullet in him was very hard. Two others had been hit in the same place, and they succumbed as well. Not wanting to have a killer ram, I took him out too. Last night, we ate his shoulder, roasted with tarragon herb rub.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Andrew says:

      Hey, Andrew!

      I’m finding that I am feeling saddened about both your loss and that it was you that had to pull the trigger – which must have been hard, even under the circumstances.  And yet I might also feel a little jealous about the roasted shoulder with tarragon rub.Report

      • Avatar Andrew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        He had two shoulders – come on out and I’ll cook you and your family the other one.

        In my memory of your story, Mr. Rice said he would kill your parents if you told them (and not surprisingly, you believed him). No? Well-told story, regardless. Audrey plans on using it for the unit on stories she is teaching.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Andrew says:

          I do not think that last bit happened.  If it did, I no longer remember it.

          I’ll talk to the family about traveling West for shoulder; we’d love to see you guys!  Plus now I’m really curious to find out how Audrey is going to use this story.Report

  10. Avatar mark boggs says:

    Riveting piece, Tod.  Excellent!!Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    What ever happened to the Rices?

    You paint a picture of a man dealing with a high degree of internalized fear. It’s hard to imagine many happy endings for him or his family.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I have no idea.  One year after we moved to Oregon some of our old neighbors stopped by on their way up to Canada, and spent the night.  They gave us a rundown of what everyone was up to, and I have a vague memory of them telling us that the Rice’s were divorced and had each moved out of the neighborhood.  But I might not be remembering that correctly; I be confusing that with another family from that night of catch up.Report

  12. Avatar Michelle says:

    You tell a great story, Tod, and write in a way that makes it easy to picture time, place, and emotions. I’m envious.Report

  13. Tod, this is fantastic, like some dark Wonder Years episode.Report

  14. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Rice sounds like the kind of guy who was all set for someone to jump out of the bushes and yell “yer money or yer life!”, and spent his life in a state of barely-contained rage that it hadn’t actually happened yet.Report

  15. Avatar Jeff Wong says:

    Wow. That is a really great story. There are just so many wrongness-esses there. You really made it easy for me to follow the story both with a child’s eyes and then as an adult (gun owner too).

    Did the transgression warrant any response at all? If so, did he need to be stern with you, really? If so, he did WHAT?

    The funny thing is, as a kid, I would not have thought much of it either other than the guilt if that was happening to me. Did you actually feel existential terror at that time?

    When I was a new gun owner, I always had this little fear in the back of my mind: “Is the gun really loaded? Will it really not go off when I pull the trigger?” As a children, I think that mortal danger is lost on us, especially those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s on “gun violence as artful entertainment.” I had the privilege of growing up in a Chinese-American family where watching John Woo movies was no big deal.

    Once, I dealt with some bullies by asking my little sister to go inside and grab a cheap, plastic water gun shaped like an Uzi submachine gun, which I had painted black. Those kids ran away pretty quick. Of course, if that happened today, it would be really bad and irresponsible. Oh, Delta Force Chuck Norris, you were such a great role model.

    I’m not an absolutist on gun rights. Although I would love to tell people to get bent and tough shit that’s freedom, 3 toddlers were killed by gunfire in nearby Oakland, California. Though they haven’t sounded a clarion call for more gun control, I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Guns come from someone’s house.

    Would I ban cars if someone I knew was killed by one? Heh, don’t even need death, a friend of mine got a Quasimodo-face from an SUV. And I may not return on my walk from the market tonight. I find it personally unfair that I can’t openly carry a submachine gun or personal defense weapon (PDW).Report

  16. Avatar Damon says:

    Jesus! That was a good story. A few comments.

    I grew up knowing how to handle firearms from an early age and I read this story with a growing sense of fear. There were so many red flags being thrown up about the Rices, and frankly, your own actions Tod, that I knew some “stuff” was going down.

    You’re fortunate the revolver was unloaded, and probably as well you didn’t tell you dad what Mr. Rice did. Your Dad would have probably done what I was thinking I’d do reading this..there would have been some “confrontation” going on up at the Rices.

    I don’t know about your Dad, but I knew what my Dad would have done if he’d caught me / found out, I’d messed with any firearm without his permission, let alone taken one. Yeah, I fall into the “old school gun enthusiasts” category. No ONE touches a firearm without personal training, education, and permission…EVER. I’ve seen too many fools get that adrenalin rush and do something dangerous.

    A motto of sorts I’ve used is this: “never point the barrel at anything you’re not prepared to see destroyed, and be willing to accept / live with the consequences of destroying it.” It tends to focus the mind. Again, nice story!Report

  17. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    an unused weapon is a useless weapon. i believe i first heard this in a in a classic film of the espionage genre, Spies Like Us. i was reminded of this some months back when power was shut off in most of southern california. my neighbors were in the middle of our cul de sac discussing the snippets of news they had heard and speculating on the causes. my elderly neighbor (who usually busies himself by taking pictures of people he believes are speeding from his yard) was standing there with a .45 trying to convince the group that it was al-qaeda. after i brought out my phone and pulled up news stories discussing the cause of the blackout, he pivoted to the inevitable looting of our neighborhood and implored us to be vigilant and armed. i did go in my house and made sure our handgun was loaded. not because i was afraid of looting. it was because my neighbor’s behavior put me ill at ease.Report

  18. Avatar James Hanley says:

    When I was a kid, my neighbor took me upstairs to his parents bedroom to show me his dad’s rifle. He took it out of the closet and pointed it right at my chest. He swore it wasn’t loaded, but I was a bit more than pissed off, and left.

    I’ve not shot guns frequently in my life, but there was a year where a friend of mine took me to the range regularly and taught me to shoot properly, and I even participated in his competitive shooting club a couple of times. The first time I accidentally swept someone without realizing it. They put me straight right away, and I felt like shit, even though they were exceptionally nice about it.

    A couple of years ago I performed in Of Mice and Men, which required us to go onstage with rifles at the end. The guy who supplied the rifles checked them before every show, and again at intermission. I was the first guy off the stage before we grabbed them, and I also checked each one before handing them to the other guys as they came backstage. So I knew they were as certainly empty as any gun can be, but one night as we were just about to go back on-stage, one of the other guys was holding his carelessly so that it was pointed straight at my head. He was a great guy, he just didn’t know guns at all, and at first he chuckled when I said, “Don’t point that fucking gun at my head.” When I said, “I’m serious,” my tone of voice must have been pretty convincing, because he instantly looked shocked and apologetic.

    And if that’s all the gun-pointing stories I accumulate through my life, I’ll be more than satisfied that it’s already a few too many.Report

    • Avatar joey jo jo in reply to James Hanley says:

      from the “ought to know better” files, an almost Navy Seal (the media persisted in calling him a SEAL but he was really just a BUD/S graduate) made a fatal mistake not too long ago. he brought a girl home, she objected to the firearms in his house. he assured her it was not loaded and placed one to his head and fired.

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      Is it a “fucking gun” if it’s a prop in a play you’re choosing to be part of?  Seems like you’re bound to have some untrained people among you in the cast of a play. He might actually have believed you  were serious the first time if you’d been a little more calm about it.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        This is really none of my business, so pls disregard.  And I do understand that these were *real fucking guns* – I get the impulse.  But I’m just still kind of struck by that level of brusqueness as an initial move to communicate that problem in that setting.  But who cares that I’m struck by it?  James should handle his life as he sees fit.  Apologies. 😉Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

          Eh, tone doesn’t come off on the internet well.  It wasn’t as brusque in real life–the reason he didn’t believe I was serious the first time is because I wasn’t that brusque. And for me, “fucking” is an all purpose adjective.  I just got back from Tim Hortons–my apple fritter was fuckin’ awesome!Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to James Hanley says:

            There’s a Japanese comedian who does a pretty good impression of Quentin Tarantino. He just stands there in a popped-collar suit with dark sunglasses screaming “fucking guuunnn! Fucking guuuuunnnnn!” over and over again.Report

      • “Seems like you’re bound to have some untrained people among you in the cast of a play.” – I’m reminded of Waiting for Guffman. Ever seen it?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          I know of it, but haven’t seen it.

          The funny thing in this case is that the guy just looks like a guy who’d have grown up hunting, but it turns out he’d never handled a gun in his life.  In case my initial comment gave the wrong impression, he’s a great guy, and we had a great time performing together. I don’t have any ill-will towards him.Report

  19. Avatar Jeff says:

    I agree — this is a great story.Report