I have a very real fear of guns. The fear is so intense that I literally tremble if I see a firearm and I cry if I try to hold one.
Why am I so afraid? I’ve never been the victim of gun violence, but two tragic incidents left an indelible mark on my psyche.
Seeing the first hand effects
My first exposure came when I was a journalism student. My classmates and I were sent to report on a Memphis murder trial that involved an 18-year-old thug who killed a young father during an attempted robbery.
The victim supported his family by working the night shift at the FedEx hub. After leaving his job in the early morning hours, he stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a few things. Thug-Boy, who had a curfew with his mother, had spent his evening looking for someone to rob. He saw his opportunity as the man entered the store. He broke into the car, ducked behind the driver’s seat and waited for the young father to return. When the father came back, Thug-Boy shoved the gun against the man’s head and demanded money. Apparently the father didn’t have enough, and Thug-Boy fired into the man’s skull.
The prosecutor asked Thug-Boy why he shot the man. Thug-Boy paused for a moment and then mumbled, “Because I didn’t want my mama to get mad at me for being out late.” He then smiled and waved at his family in the court room. I heard sobs coming from behind me. As I turned my head, I saw the young widow clutching the arm of an older woman. The widow’s head was down, and her body was shaking. My stomach twisted in knots, and I silently began to cry with her.
My second exposure came just a few months later. My friend Susan was having problems with an obsessive ex-boyfriend. He started stalking her on campus, but Susan, with her kind-hearted ways, didn’t want to report him because she worried he would be kicked out of the university. He convinced her to go to his house one night “just to talk” and there he showed her his gun and suicidal drawings. Susan returned back to our dorm, but brushed off our concerns. “He’s just depressed,” she said. “He would never hurt me.” A few days later Charles caught her in a parking lot and shot her. He then turned the gun on himself. There was no open casket at her funeral; the gunshot made it impossible to say goodbye.
Those experiences hit me hard. I couldn’t understand why two innocent people were killed. These two people were loved by family and friends, and they were on their way to making a real difference in this world; however, gunshots took it all away.
The danger is not the weapon, it’s the mind of the person wielding it
It took me many years to understand the deaths of my friend and the young father were not caused by guns; they were caused by people with obvious mental defects who had access to guns. Nonetheless, I find little comfort in the awareness.
The danger is not the weapon per se; it’s the mind of the person wielding it. Unfortunately, we have sociopaths in our society, and they will use anything they can find to harm others. We’ve seen these empathy-free monsters hurt and kill innocent people with bombs at the Boston Marathon, guns at Sandy Hook Elementary School and stabbings at a Houston college.
There is another side to this coin. Weapons can be used to hurt the innocent, but they can also be used to stop the dangerous. God bless our police officers, military personnel and ordinary folks like the 14-year-old Phoenix boy who protected his three younger siblings by shooting an armed man in their house or the Georgia mom who fired five shots into an intruder after he discovered her and her children hiding in an attic.
It’s time to tackle my fear with education and honor
I have made a deliberate effort to tackle one fear every year of my adult life. It started in my twenties when I forced myself to get over my fear of water by learning how to swim. However, I have put off tackling my greatest fear for two decades. I know too much about what guns can do. Even if we can keep firearms out of the hands of thugs and sociopaths, people still get hurt. I’ve heard the stories about people having their own weapon used against them, children being injured or killed while playing with unsecured guns, and innocent bystanders getting hit by crossfire.
I know too much, but I also know too little. Despite having friends and family who are hunters, police officers and military personnel, I am woefully ignorant about guns. I’ve never made an effort to learn.
That’s why I am designating the next 365 days as my time to get an education. I plan on taking a gun training class with a certified instructor. I need to push emotion aside and view firearms from a strictly academic perspective. My hands may be shaking during the first few exposures, but I hope to eventually muster the courage to actually hold and fire a gun without crying.
My education doesn’t stop with a class. During this year, I will show gratitude to the men and women whose job it is to protect us from those who want to do harm. I will make an effort to get their names and say “thank you” to all military personnel and military personnel I encounter.
Finally, I will honor the memory of those who have died or been injured because of gun violence. My friends and I keep Susan alive in our hearts. Her murder made all of us more vigilant about obsessive relationships and stalking. It brought us closer to God. Most importantly, it taught us to embrace today because no one’s tomorrow is guaranteed.
I’m starting my education today.
Take note that this post does not take a position on the gun debate; it presents multiple sides of the issue and encourages education and a honor rather than advocacy on any particular viewpoint.
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