In 1976, my family had moved across the state. I’d left all of my friends behind. In December of that year I had the chance to go back for the Christmas holidays and spend a week at my best buddy’s house. We’ll call him T. We’d planned and plotted what we’d do when we got together. We knew it was going to be a week to remember. I had no idea how right we were . . .
T’s dad had taught us to clean his handguns. We were both well versed in the sequence: clear, disassemble, reassemble, test, load and put away. We needed money for the movies. So we jumped at his father’s offer to pay us to clean his firearms. T was going to clean the Luger. I was working on a Webley revolver.
As you may know, a Webley breaks at the back. The whole front assembly tips forward. So there was no real breakdown involved, just a simple opening and cleaning. It was a pretty quick process. I did my thing and then headed to the bathroom to answer nature’s call.
T came into the room. Seeing a cleaned gun and rounds laying on the bed, he presumed I was done. As I recall, there were only four rounds. T loaded them, closed the gun and put it back down pretty much where I’d left it.
We had a whole lot of serious bike riding and driver’s license fantasizing to do; we were both eager to get on with the day. When I got back from the bathroom, I sat down on the bed and picked up the revolver. I could hear T headed towards the room. I didn’t notice that the small pile of ammo was no longer there.
And then I pulled the trigger.
Hearing a firearm going off indoors without any sort of hearing protection was one the most startling experiences of my life. It’s not unlike a SWAT team’s flash-bang. I was literally stunned. It took me a few seconds to realize that T was in the room. I’d just shot him with a .38 caliber projectile at a distance of about four to five feet.
To this day I can still see the smoke from the shot hanging in the air between us in a slight circular pattern. I can still taste it too.
T didn’t fly backwards like they do in the movies. He didn’t yell out in pain. He simply said “Oh goddam” and carefully laid down on his side. I’d fired the Webley at a slightly upward cant hitting him in the solar plexus.
My first reaction: this had to be a joke. I opened the revolver and spilled the ammo onto the bed. I saw three live rounds and one spent casing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but T had a sucking chest wound. When I pulled his shirt up in front I saw it. I expected a gaping hole; all I saw was a small oozing spot and no exit wound.
We were both in shock, but I managed to call an ambulance and T’s mother. I had to tell my best friend’s mom that I had just shot her son.
The ambulance arrived. They quickly loaded in T. At that point we are both transported; T to the hospital and me to the police station. I gave them a statement.
The officers were waiting to hear T’s condition. A blank space in their report was ultimately filled in as “accidental shooting.” If things had gone differently, they’d have written “involuntary manslaughter.”
If T had died, I don’t know how the police would have dealt with me as a 15-year-old who’d committed homicide. Thankfully I never found out. The round went in and out of his left lung and stopped just short of exiting his body. It missed his heart by a few inches.
The police were actually quite kind to me at that point. They explained that even seasoned officers broke down after shooting someone. That didn’t really blunt what was going on in my head, but they did their best and I still appreciate it to this day.
I wanted to go to the hospital and check on T. I was so distracted by this need, it completely escaped me that once I got there, I’d be face to face with his parents.
I had always admired T’s dad. He was a proud Italian. An ex-boxer. As I rounded the corner in the Intensive Care Unit, T’s mom and dad were waiting for me. I stopped short. I prepared myself for a well-deserved beating right there in the lobby of the ICU.
Instead, they embraced me, triggering my complete and total breakdown. I’d realized what I’d done, but it had seemed abstract until then. T’s dad looked at me said, “OK, Chi Chi. Its OK.”
Finally, I got to see T. I’d never seen a bullet wound patient in an ICU before. It looked like they’d installed a highly intricate irrigation system in his body. There were tubes coming from every direction, all of them ending up somewhere inside T.
I visited him as many times as I could before I had to go back to the upstate and pretend everything was OK. Thankfully, I only had a few friends there at that time. Nobody really cared what I had done over the Christmas break.
I didn’t get another chance to sit down and hang out with T again until 2009. T and I are close friends again, but that meeting was truly one of the last great fears I have ever had to face.
Ultimately, I’ve taken responsibility for that negligent discharge. Back then, though, I blamed the gun. And that’s how I became an anti-gunner at the tender age of 15.
Bill Frady is a honey-toned gun rights advocate who podcasts for Gunowners Of America Radio. Click here to download his latest show.