Guns Don’t Kill People

…but people with guns do.

Based on my previous posts, most of you know how I view the world, which side of the aisle I would stand on.

Some of you know a couple dark details of my childhood.

None of you know my only encounter with a handgun.

My step-father was mentally ill. Is mentally ill. I’m not sure how exactly to phrase this, because (as far as I know) he is alive. But he is out of my life, and dead to me, anyways.

And so, for the sake of my story, he was mentally ill in some way or another. I’m not sure what plagued his mind, besides large amounts of alcohol. I’m not a mental health expert, and I won’t throw out terms to explain what was going on in his mind, because throughout my 21 years, I’ve learned that incorrect use of labels can do more harm than good. Just because I go from happy to bummed within an hour, I am not clinically “bipolar,” and just because I need to line up my boxes of cereal in the pantry doesn’t make me “OCD.” So I won’t bother trying to diagnose him.

All I can say is that under his thumb, my life was miserable. He was drunk most of the night, and on those multiple occasions he was unemployed, also most of the day. He was paranoid of the government, and even the Internet, along with a lot of the people we knew. He often shut us away from those that took an interest in our sad situation (I was banned from attending church as a teenager, because I loved it, and because much of the congregation saw him for what he really was).

He had been unemployed for two months when he came home with the gun. I’m not sure where he got it. It certainly wasn’t a legal transaction; his history of domestic violence and alcohol abuse would have prevented that. He probably bought it off a buddy, with what little spending money we had saved up. He brought it home, proud of his “protection” for the family. We would be safe, he claimed, from any crazy criminals who tried robbing our sparsely furnished shack of a home in Jacksonville Beach. I was twelve years old, and I still remember looking around our tiny house and thinking, “Yeah, we’ll be safe from the bad guys now!” The gun sat in a drawer in my parents’ room, and I didn’t think about it again for a month or so.

The night before my 13th birthday, he had drank so much the whites of his eyes were yellow. He slurred his insults that he threw at my mother, like a toddler attempting to throw darts at a target. He stumbled around the small living room, banging things and knocking things over. They were having an argument, and it was just another night. I was in the bathtub, reading a book and escaping the madness. All of a sudden, I noticed a change in the air. Like the first cool night of fall, the atmosphere of the air in the house had changed. I got chills all over my body, sitting in a hot bath. I got out, put on my pajamas, and stepped into the worst night of my life.

I’ll skip some things.

Two hours later, as the digital clock on the stove in our miniscule but hospital clean kitchen ticked closer to my birthday, we sat in a line. My pregnant mother, my younger siblings and I. The pieces of my mother’s cellphone, our only contact with the outside world, lay shattered around us. We couldn’t leave. He stood between us and the door, pushing and shoving us away from safety, grabbing my arm and leaving my only birthday present, a blue and black bracelet of bruises. He paced back and forth, trapped in his own sick mind, like a predator contemplating his prey.

Suddenly, there was his gun. He held the foreign, heavy black thing to his head, to my head. Time stood still. I wondered why nobody was barging in, demanding the screaming stop, demanding the madness stop. Didn’t our neighbors hear us crying, begging? Where was the “good guy with a gun” to defeat this “bad guy with a gun?”

It was my birthday.

He stalked around the small house, threatening, screaming. He finally left his post, walking to the backyard, to kill himself, he said.

My little brother, my precious, wonderful, sad little brother, just ten days from his ninth birthday, took his opportunity to save us. He ran out the front door, and disappeared into the night.

Soon, there were sirens. Red and blue lights. No bullets were fired that night. We found my brother two doors down, sitting on our neighbor’s couch, eating popcorn and watching a movie. As if it was a normal night. Which it was, for us.

He was released from jail the next afternoon. My mother bailed him out. The gun lived in their sock drawer for a few more years, until it was pawned for grocery money. I didn’t get a birthday cake.

I don’t mean to be overly emotional. Maybe I’m sharing too much. Maybe things like this need to stay in the past, away from strangers’ eyes. This is family business, not to be used to put a human face on gun violence.

If he had needed to submit a background check; if he had needed to wait for it; if it had been a more expensive and lengthy process; if he had needed to go through the government that he distrusted so vehemently; maybe I would have gotten a 13th birthday. Maybe my little brother wouldn’t have needed to run for safety. Maybe I would be on the other side of this gun control issue.

But sometimes guns don’t kill people. Sometimes guns kill childhoods.

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