Some of my fondest memories are of helping my dad load shotgun shells on Monday nights while watching football. (You can tell I might lack the "girly-girl" gene.) Tuesday was a big trap shooting night. The most competitive guys at the club would line up to take turns shooting at clay pigeons flung out of a bunker manned by a teenager who clearly considered the risk of losing a body part as superior to working fast food. The contest was comprised of an elaborate set of rules where upon you could take down three or four of your competitors with one shot. Last man standing won the pot.
My parents started us young on gun safety. We took multi-day classes at the local junior high before we were old enough to attend junior high. (Yes, you read that right. Gun classes at the public school.) We each owned our own BB guns and the adults would set up shooting ranges for us on my grandparents' semi-secluded property. My sisters and I would fire our intimidating rounds of BBs then shout, "cease fire" -- loudly, even though there were only three of us. We were required to lay down our Daisy rifles before any of us were allowed to move beyond the well-defined firing line to check our accuracy on our targets.
My younger sister (by a year and a half) and I had come down with some sort of virus that kept us home from school. Both my parents worked, so we were home alone camped in our shared room. The bottom bunk was hers, the top mine. The arrangement made it easier for me to throw stuffed animals at her in the dark of night until she woke up to escort me to the bathroom that was three harrowing steps across the hall.
We heard noises. In hindsight, they were the kind of noises that an old house tends to make when resting its weary bones. But that day, we convinced ourselves that it was the noise of an intruder. Apparently, a very formidable intruder, because we decided that the most prudent thing to do would be to arm ourselves. We ninja'd our way to our parents' room next door and found a pistol in the drawer by their bed. Situated back in our own room, the gun felt scary and powerful at the same time. Ironically, given that my parents were so safety conscious, I was SURE -- 100% confident -- that they wouldn't keep a loaded gun just laying around the house.
So, I pulled the trigger.
I can't even begin to tell you what went through my mind as that bullet ricocheted around our room before finally settling into the wall behind our door. We both heard the whiz of the bullet flash past. Gratefully, its trajectory didn't include two terrified little girls. My stomach still lurches thinking about what could easily have been a very different and tragic ending.
The rest of the day was a blur of anxiety. We tried to figure out how to cover up my incredible mistake until finally realizing (kind of maturely, actually) that we couldn't. My mom turned several shades of pale when we confessed to the alarming events of the day. Though the bullet hadn't killed us, she knew my dad would - so she asked my uncle to patch up the walls before he got home.
Add this all up, and you can see why I had mixed feelings when my 20-year-old daughter asked to go to a firing range for her birthday. She is set on a career in law enforcement and decided it would be reasonable to have some experience handling a gun before she enters the academy. We have a few years until she will be finished earning her criminal justice degree. I selfishly hope in that time that she changes her mind and decides to use that degree on a less dangerous endeavor. But it's her life, I know she'll be amazing, and I'll support her even if it means premature aging on my part.
I paused and did a lot of soul searching. Yes, I have shot handguns on very rare occasions since that fateful day. But I can easily, happily envision a world full of art instead of guns. Maybe someday. Today though, I realized that as much as I wish it weren't so, in our society gun skills are an important requirement for being in law enforcement. I certainly don't want her to be at a disadvantage in a dangerous situation. But, before she picks up a gun, we've signed her up for a safety class. Let's hope she learns more from it than I seemed to.