My Lucky Day
by Ramblin’ Rod
Sometimes you just get real lucky, you know?
Like the time, I guess it was forty years ago now, when I was about 12 or 13, and I was hanging out with my best friend in his upstairs bedroom. I think it would have been fair to characterize his older brother as a gun enthusiast. Still is, for that matter. Joined the Marines out of high school and immediately achieved the distinction of the top expert marksman award. He’s still justifiably proud of that.
Well, one of the gun-related things this brother liked to do was reload ammo. He had this neat little press thingy and he would save his spent cartridges, then refurbish them with new primers, powder, and bullets. I’m sure our Mike Dwyer is familiar with it and can tell you more about it than I can. Aside from saving probably not a lot of money, this allows you to make up custom loads–so many grains of powder with such and such a bullet to get the muzzle velocity you desired, I suppose.
So that day we’re just up there messing around and my friend gets his brother’s gunóa 30-30 IIRCóand goes rummaging around on the table. After a while he picks up a loaded cartridge and declares that it’s a practice cartridge that doesn’t have any powder in it. I have no idea how he thought he could tell it apart from the others. Anyway, he chambers the round, turns around and points it at me as I’m sitting on his bed.
“Jesus,” I complained, “don’t point that thing at me!”
“It’s okay,” he replied. “It doesn’t have any powder in it. See?”
Then he turns, points it through the window, and pulls the trigger…
… and proceeds to blow a nice, neat, hole in the screen.
As you can imagine, his mother comes charging up the stairs, bellowing his name. I don’t recall what she said exactly, but it was a lot and it was loud. I quickly exited, and made my way shakily home.
There are times when people like to use the phrase, “There, but for the grace of God.” Well, I’m not religious, but that was a There-But moment if there ever was one. We were just a finger-twitch away from me being a sad statistic and my friend forever being the guy that killed his best friend. As bad as it would have been for me, in a very real way, it would have been even worse for him. My pain would have been incredibly brief. His would be only starting. Can you even begin to imagine how you would feel having done that? Would you ever really be ìright’ again? And what of his mother and father? They were like second parents to me. Not to mention my parents and family and friends and… it just goes on in ever widening circles of consequences. His older brother is married to my oldest sister. Care to place bets on how their marriage would fare given that theirs was a gun household and ours wasn’t particularly? And even the way it actually went down, he was damn lucky. There was a house a couple hundred yards downrange and then a highway beyond that.
This isn’t an anti-gun screed. I vowed to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and that includes the Second Amendment. Furthermore, I’m not particularly squeamish about gunsówhile I don’t currently own any guns, I’ve hunted occasionally and I qualified* on the 45 cal in the Navy. And while I believe the current Supreme Court interpretation is wrong from a historical perspective, I support the right to self-defense using a firearm on general classical liberal grounds.
But we have to be honest with ourselves here. A gun is an inherently dangerous thing to have laying around the house. It’s not just like a lot of other things that have some benign and useful purpose but that can be dangerous in an accident or if misused. It’s a thing that is specifically designed to be lethal when used as directed, like rat poison. Therefore, it shouldn’t be controversial to say that gun owners carry a high level of obligation to ensure the safe storage and operation of these appliances. And that, in particular, kids don’t have unsupervised access.
One possible approach to gun safety vis-a-vis children is education. The NRA (and I applaud them here for the effort) has put together an educational program called Eddie Eagle, for younger children. It teaches kids to Stop, Don’t Touch, Leave the Area, and Call an Adult if they find a firearm. Unfortunately, the results aren’t encouraging. In a study of the efficacy of Just Say No gun safety programs conducted by Marjorie Hardy (MH), professor of psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, following participation in the Eddie Eagle program, ìof the 109 children participating […] 65% picked up, played with, and ‘shot’ the real guns when left alone.î There don’t appear to be any similar studies for older kids and adolescents, but I should point out that both my friend and I had completed the NRA-sponsored Hunter Safety Course that was a sort of rite of passage in our town. And while it’s been a few years and memory fades, I’m pretty sure there was something in there about not pointing loaded weapons at other people.
The simple fact is that kids are relatively dumb; that’s why we send them to school. And adolescents, boys in particular, are dumb as a bag of hammers when it comes to risky behavior and self-preservation. Yes, that includes your kid. When you were a teen, did your parents tell you to not drink, avoid drugs, not have premarital sex? And did you do these things? I think for most of us the answers would be yes, yes, sort of, and, hmmm… yeah. Why would guns be any different? And just for the record, my friend of the story above isn’t unintelligent. He’s currently an attorney practicing in the intermountain west. (He’s still also my best friend in the whole world.)
While I have some ideas for how to address the problem of gun violence in our culture, this essay isn’t a call for government action. I don’t know of any way to legislate being a responsible person. And while I’m skeptical that your odds of fending off an intruder exceed your odds of bringing harm to yourself or your loved ones, if you choose to own firearms for self-protection that’s your right, and I have no wish to take that away.
Rather, this essay is about personal responsibility. We’re constantly being told that we can’t infringe upon the rights of the law-abiding, responsible, gun owners in our efforts to reduce gun violence and death. Well, what does that look like, exactly? What is responsible gun ownership? I can start by giving you some thoughts about what it’s not. It’s not Mary Lanza keeping powerful weapons in her basement that her disturbed son could lay his hands on. And it’s not the 62% of online gun sellers who agreed to sell a weapon to someone who stated they probably couldn’t pass a background check. And to be frank, it wasn’t my friend’s brother who stored his weapons and ammo unlocked in the bedroom they shared.
On that last item, I’m willing to give him a pass because in matters of general safety awareness ca. 1970 was a completely different world than today. That was back when cars had seat belts but no one used them. When instead of riding in NHTSA approved child safety seats, kids were roving missiles of mass distraction. Back when we had lawn darts and clackers and plastigoop. You could smoke almost anywhere and playgrounds were commonly built over concrete.
And maybe our society has become a bit too risk averse. Perhaps this is one of those first-world problems like crappy cell coverage and slow microwave ovens; the kind of thing that we fret about only because we have the wealth and leisure to do so.
But in either case, I think it inevitable that we have a conversation of some sort about gun violence in the wake of an event like Sandy Hook. And this conversation needs to be respectful to both sides. Gun control advocates need to respect the legitimate rights of truly responsible gun owners and the gun owners need to get over their persecution complex given that the rest of us that don’t own guns can’t possibly be part of the problem.
As for me, whenever I read of yet another accidental gun death involving some kid, I’ll always remember My Lucky Day, the day I didn’t die.
* One day they set up a target range on the landing deck of our ship and had sailors who normally don’t shoot try to get their qualifications. My score was 21 out of 20. Yep, the woman (sorry girls, but it was) next to me landed one of her shots in my target.