What’s Wrong with This Negligent Discharge Story?

 Bruce Holbert and friend (courtesy inlander.com)

The New York Times would have Americans believe that guns are too dangerous for civilians—unless those civilians are police officers. To that end, Joe Nocera’s been running a running tally of shootings in his recurring feature The Gun Report. Of course, propaganda by simple repetition isn’t enough. The Old Grey Lady needs to wave a bloody shirt; to provide anecdotal evidence of the inadvisability of exercising your Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. And so we get this “true story” of manslaughter by and from novelist Bruce Holbert. Something about his mea culpa, cultural condemnation and implied warning to JUST LEAVE THEM ALONE just doesn’t sound right . . .

It was the second week in August, a Friday the 13th, in fact, in 1982. I was with a group of college roommates who were getting ready to go to the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race. Three of us piled into a red Vega parked outside a friend’s house in Okanogan, Wash., me in the back seat. The driver, who worked with the county sheriff’s department, offered me his service revolver to examine. I turned the weapon onto its side, pointed it toward the door. The barrel, however, slipped when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty, and turned the gun toward the driver’s seat. When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing. When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round.

My friend, Doug, slumped in the driver’s seat, dying, and another friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, raced into the house for the phone.

I blame society. Well, no, I don’t. But Holbert does.

Like many other young men, I mythologized guns and the ideas of manhood associated with them.

The gun lobby likes to say guns don’t kill people, people do. And they’re right, of course. I killed my friend; no one else did; no mechanism did. But this oversimplifies matters (as does the gun control advocates’ position that eliminating weapons will end violent crime).

My friend was killed by a man who misunderstood guns, who imagined that comfort with — and affection for — guns was a vital component of manhood. I did not recognize a gun for what it was: a machine constructed for a purpose, one in which I had no real interest. I treated a tool as an essential part of my identity, and the result is a dead man and a grieving family and a survivor numbed by guilt whose story lacks anything resembling a proper ending.

Perhaps the New York Times would consider publishing a defensive gun use from someone who owes their life to their ability to use guns safely and appropriately? Or describe a country where gun rights don’t exist, where criminals run rampant (e.g. Mexico)?

Or maybe just explain how they’re OK with Mr. Holbert owning a gun given that

Though the charges against me were eventually dropped, I have since been given diagnoses of a range of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and adult attention deficit disorders. The pharmacists fill the appropriate prescriptions, which temporarily salve my conscience, but serve neither my story nor the truth.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m OK with it. I just thought the Times would be a bit more consistent in these things. Silly me.