By Julie D.
Every now and again as I’m moving wet laundry from the washer to the dryer, I hear the now familiar tinkle of metal on metal. Another empty shell casing forgotten in a pocket. I pause and reflect on how I came to this place of understanding and tolerance; not for my son’s lack of emptying his pockets before putting his clothes in the washer, but for understanding and appreciating how that casing ended up in his pocket to begin with.
I am many things. I am a college graduate. I have a successful career. I am a voter. I am a news junkie. I am a wife. But, most important; I am a mom. Juggling a career, kids, caring for my ailing father and trying to run a home has been hard sometimes; but make no mistake, my children are my passion. Like moms everywhere, I would give my own life to protect them from harm.
In this way I am probably like a lot of the members of Moms Demand Action.
I grew up and still live in Minnesota. Here, people fish in both winter and summer and hunt in the fall. I never gave guns much thought growing up, they were just the norm. It seemed everybody’s dad or brothers had guns. My dad was a businessman. Not the sports type, he took up golf, fishing and bought a shotgun to go hunting with his clients and customers. For him, the point wasn’t the score, the size of the catch or the number of birds. It was part of the art of the deal.
The fishing pole and the golf clubs were tucked in the corner of our garage next to the wood pile. They were always tipping over and getting stepped on. The unloaded gun was propped in the back corner of the basement closet. It would slide to the floor when we pulled out the vacuum. We’d shove it back in and forget about it.
I became addicted to the news at an early age. I remember watching the CBS Evening News in black and white with daily coverage of the Vietnam War. I remember the images of the soldiers slogging through the rice paddies with rifles strapped to their backs or firing their weapons into the jungle at the unseen enemy. I was gripped by sorrow and worry for this unimaginable thing called war.
Guns were in almost every frame, but again my attention and interest was not focused on the guns. Their presence was expected. I was focused on the raw emotion of the stories unfolding before my young eyes. I was frightened by what I saw. My parents comforted me and told me the war was far away and that I’m safe.
In the 60’s there was a lot of news about riots and protests, too. The police and the protesters got a lot of air time. The police carried guns. That was nothing new. They were supposed to. The rioters and protesters threw rocks and started fires and smashed windows. A lot of people got hurt. The guns didn’t capture my attention, the rage and the violence did. I never forgot that feeling. My parents comforted me again. You are safe here.
I married my childhood sweeetheart. He was from Arizona. He came from a family of avid hunters. I was fine with that. I just made him promise not to put his gun in the closet where it would get tangled up in the vacuum hose and tip over.
He was appalled. It was not a gun that he owned, it was guns. Guns, he pointed out don’t get stuffed in a closet. They belong in a safe. Except for the loaded gun you sometimes carry for protection and keep by the bed at night.
I wondered what life was like in Arizona. I pointed out that we live in Minnesota where it’s safe. We don’t carry around a gun with bullets in it. Somebody could get hurt. My dad’s gun never had shells in it. For all I know he had never even loaded it. He just carried it around like a prop, offered his client the first shot, and then he tossed it back into the closest with the vacuum when he got home.
My husband and I had our first fight about guns.
I won part of the battle, but lost the war. No guns in the open in our house. Period. Our son was born and as he grew, his favorite toy was a pop gun. If that wasn’t available, his fingers would do and he raced around the yard shooting at imaginary targets. I didn’t give it much thought, little boys do that.
Father and son forged a bond over guns. Pop guns and pointed fingers gave way to a BB gun for target practice with plenty of supervision from Dad. Gun safety was the mantra. I was pleased that father and son were bonding.
The BB gun was eventually replaced by a .22 along with formal firearms safety classes and I was horrified. There were real bullets in that thing. Then came the weekly trips to the range for more practice and their conversations took on a surreal quality. I felt as if I had wandered into a Fellini film with no subtitles.
Calibers and specs and Rugers and scopes. I had no idea what was going on, but I sensed that something radical had shifted in our world. Then, another gun safe was installed. “For what,” I asked? “We have four guns. Daddy’s hunting gun, his pistol, the BB gun and the .22.”
Their eyes rolled as they looked at each other conspiratorially. We have lots of guns, Mom. Surprise! Long ones, short ones, black ones, silver ones and a few painted with camouflage. We have guns from America and guns from other countries too! “Well, aren’t you two clever,” I said. “I hope that you left the price tags on because they are all going back.”
I lost that battle, too.
The news continued to occupy me. The CBS Evening News in black and white had given way to CNN. A 24/7 barrage of graphic, gory coverage in real time and in color. Wars and terrorist bombings in other countries. How sad for those people. How frightened those mothers must be for their children, I thought.
Then came the Oklahoma City bombing and the horrible loss of life. All those innocent people. The children in that daycare killed and injured. Those could have been my children. Stories of gang violence in places like Chicago and California and right here in Minnesota. Drive-by shootings in neighborhoods. In. This. Country.
I was outraged. Innocent men, women and children were getting shot and killed right in their own front yards, for God’s sake, by a bunch of hoodlums shooting AK-47s and “assault rifles.” Then came Columbine. Newtown. Parkland. This has to stop. Something has to be done, I thought. I thought the place to start was in my own home. I was a mom on a mission. It was time to turn this bus around.
I sat my guys down at the kitchen table for “the talk.” I had what I thought was a rational argument to present. I had a lesson to teach and I meant to teach it. I imagine my outline pretty much followed the passion underlying the platform of the Moms who Demand Action.
I pledged my love for my husband, my son and our daughter. I tried to help them to see through my eyes, through my heart, that the thought of losing any of them to gun violence was unimaginable.
Guns don’t belong in a civilized society. Guns don’t belong in our home or our lives. AK-47s? Those belong in the hands of the Soviet army, not in the hands of kids in street gangs. People are getting hurt. People are dying for nothing. This is no longer about wars in faraway places. This is happening right here in America.
They listened to what I had to say. They were attentive and respectful of my anguish and my fears. Then my son asked to speak. He said there was far more to this than I understood. He asked me if I wanted to learn what he had learned and had come to understand, so that I might look at this a little differently. I agreed to hear him out. I didn’t expect to change my mind.
The teacher became the student.
At our kitchen table the night of “the talk” — and in hundreds of conversations since — I have listened to my son, now a young man, speak of the Second Amendment and what our forefathers intended. He has taught me about our country’s laws and legislation. He spoke of the more subtle nuances of our Constitution. He brought forward ideas of the anti-federalists, quoted men long dead, and spoke of seeing the Bill of Rights as a list of rights inalienable from birth until death.
He spoke of his experiences hunting and what he had learned in the marshes, fields and forests. He talked about the pleasure and pride he took from his training in marksmanship and in competitive shooting. He helped me understand that a gun was like a tool, no different than a hammer or a knife that could be used in many different ways. Used properly, safely, and legally, all are useful. Used improperly, all can be lethal weapons.
The tool is not the problem. What is in the heart and mind of the user is the problem. Evil people do evil things. If one tool for destruction is not available, they will find another. Not a shot was fired on September 11, 2001, yet the loss of life was staggering.
For him, for his father, and millions and millions of people in this country who own and use guns properly, responsibly and legally as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, this is a very big deal. They have committed no crime and have no intention of doing so. They have not hurt anyone. The hype generated around this issue by the media and politicians eager to grab the spotlight after each new incident have so muddied the waters that rational reflection and dialogue have become almost impossible.
My son has spoken before hundreds assembled at our state capital to speak out against proposed legislation to further erode the rights of law abiding gun owners.
Do we still have violence in our country? Yes. Will changing the size of a gun’s magazine or banning an entire class of guns, or further restricting law-abiding citizens from legally purchasing and using guns for sport, pleasure or self-defense solve the problem? No.
To all the moms out there, I gotta tell you; my son has grown into a great young man. He hears your concern and shares your outrage and your pain at the horrible tragedies that families across the country have experienced at the hands of bad people doing bad things. My son talks about the value of life and how precious it is. My son is a good man who owns guns.
I would love for you to meet him, to listen to the other side of the story. You could learn a lot from him. I did.