The Real Death of Innocence

Tuesday, December 30 in Hayden, Idaho, a 2-year-old boy pulled a handgun from his mother’s purse, raised it, and shot her dead. This was, of course, a horrible accident. But it reminded me of my childhood, and I want to share that memory with you.

When I was a child growing up in Georgia, guns were a part of my family’s life. My parents had guns in their bedroom and the glove compartment of both cars we traveled in. There were rifles in the closet at the house where I was raised. My siblings and I knew those guns were there, we knew they were loaded, and our father had explained to us that guns were only for adults. If we ever got caught touching or playing with one, it was made perfectly clear, there would be serious corporal punishment as a result. And let me tell you, when my dad gave you a spanking, you knew you had been spanked. Your butt usually stung for hours afterwards. In today’s world, I guess that would be called child abuse, but I’m not sorry my parents were so strict. Had they not been, I might well have been out of control.

But what the story of the child in Idaho did most reminded me of is the fact that my paternal grandmother–we called her Nana–also carried a gun in her purse everywhere she went. It was, she explained, for protection. My Nana was not a big woman–about 5-3 and 98 lbs. soaking wet–but she was tough as nails and knew how to take care of herself and her family. This is a woman who put herself through nursing school and could watch open heart surgery without batting an eye. As they say in today’s lingo, she was hardcore. The gun my Nana carried was small, just like her. It was a .22 snubnose pistol, but as she liked to say, “If you shoot someone in the right place with it, they’ll go down.” I had no doubts at all that my grandmother could and would use that weapon if the situation presented itself. I knew that gun was in her purse, so why did I never reach in there like the boy in the Idaho Wal-Mart? Fear? Yes, there was some of that. But I also think it was because I knew guns weren’t for kids to play with. Don’t get me wrong: I was a very curious and nosy child. I was the kind of kid who liked to shake wrapped Christmas presents and try to determine what was inside the box. (I was often correct, which drove my parents batty.) I wanted to touch and examine just about everything I saw. But not the guns. Something always stopped me from letting my curiosity get the better of me when it came to guns. I am eternally thankful for that.

So what of this terrible tragedy which has befallen the family in Idaho? Not only have the woman’s children lost their mother, the 2-year-old now must carry the guilt of having killed the person who gave birth to him and loved him unconditionally. What must that poor child be feeling right now? How will his siblings look at him from now on? As the person who killed their mother? Children, I know, are incredibly resilient, but is it possible to recover from a horrible accident like this one? For their sakes, I hope and pray it is.

Now that I’m an adult, and a father, I do not have guns in my house. I have an 8-year-old daughter whom I cherish more than life itself. What if someone were to break into our house one night and threaten her? How would I defend my child’s life? Well, something tells me that’s where our pet pit bull mix would spring into action. She is 80 lbs. of muscle and sinew. Yet she is also the most gentle, loving dog I have ever had the honor and pleasure to have in my house. She loves my daughter completely and even, in a sense, dotes on her. Yes, I know some reading this will say that pit bulls are vicious animals who will turn on children and kill them. That is a myth. A pit bull is no more likely to attack than any other breed. But perhaps the best thing about a dog as opposed to a gun is that a dog can love you back. Can a shotgun love you unconditionally and look at you with loving brown eyes that can melt your heart?

I often wonder why it is in this country that we feel all our problems can be solved with violence, and as a logical extension of that, why we feel a need to arm ourselves to the teeth in an effort to keep the bad guys at bay. I’m not saying guns should be taken away. No, what I am calling for is a few minutes of self-examination as we stand on the cusp of another New Year. Is force and violence the inheritance we want to leave to our children? If it is, then we too are just as afflicted, just as in need of sympathy and prayer as that little boy in Idaho.

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