Thursday, December 20, 2012
The headline screamed from the editorial page of The New York Daily News, at the time in 1976, America’s largest selling daily newspaper.
“Keep Your Kids Away From Windows, Buy Yourself a .38.”
The message was loud and clear. Protect yourself and your family. Shoot to kill.
I was as proud of the essay as any I had ever written. I submitted the opinion piece to the paper because I meant business and wanted the whole country to know it. Come to my house looking to hurt me or my family and I would shoot you. I would kill you if necessary.
The paper’s editors paid me $100, the first journalism money I ever made.
I was working in a state prison at the time and received threats I attributed to an escaped convict who blamed me for his problems. The criminal had already fired a shotgun blast through the window of a police officer who he previously blamed for his problems. When I spotted my then wife’s 6-year-old son – mine, too, at the time, coloring in the sunlight streaming through the front window, I flipped.
“Get away,” I screamed. “Get away from the window.”
Although I had grown up with an armed state trooper for a father who had taught me how to shoot at an early age, I did not own a gun. So the night after the threat, New Year’s Eve, I borrowed a loaded .357 from a neighbor and stuffed into the waistband of my pants. I showed the gun off at a party. I drank beer and drove home in the early morning hours, watching as I pulled up to the apartment, waiting. I was a gun nut waiting to crack.
Neither smart nor legal, that’s just the way it was.
Within days I was at a sporting goods store handling a small .32 caliber pistol. I bought a little shoulder holster. I applied for and received a county permit to carry the concealed weapon. I was armed and dangerous.
After The Daily News published my piece, my bosses at the prison said I was no longer sensitive enough to work trying to rehabilitate criminals. My wife got nervous about the gun and me in the house.
I bought a bigger one and owned it when she took the kid, left for good and set the wheels I motion for divorce.
Working as a security guard in a city hospital, I attended an “international” academy for law enforcement in Pittsburgh to obtain a state lethal weapons permit. The “academy” was a farce and the mandated psychological exam was worse. The “teachers” gave a motley crew of walking personality disorders the answers in advance and we spit them back when we took the test.
The “major” who owned the business stamped our diplomas for gun safety and sent us on our way to protect and serve, credentialed to be lethal if we saw fit.
My new at work buddies were also gun nuts. We drank and practiced martial arts together. One day we walked through a mall with enough firepower concealed under our jackets to make us feel like superheroes. We were bad and we knew it. We also were insecure, aggressive and wound far too tight for anybody’s good.
We fired our guns at a survival training camp. We drank more beer. We congratulated each other on our success in facing the enemy. But we never faced an enemy. And it took me more than a few years to realize that the enemy was us.
We all needed work.
Still, I bought an even bigger, more powerful gun – a semi-automatic with a night sight and a 14-shot clip with one in the chamber, loaded with plastic-coated BAT bullets that would spin and turn as they entered and exited the body.
But one day I came to my senses. I realized that as long as I trained and practiced discipline, courage and honor with care, my brain was my most powerful weapon.
I sold my gun and began the slow process of training not to fight – of being prepared to help protect myself and others even at risk to my life. I learned to meditate, practiced aikido and yoga and honed my senses to become more aware of danger in a cruel world, including danger I might bring on myself by taking uncalculated risks.
I am stronger, more powerful, better equipped to face the unseen and unknown perils of the day. No longer a gun owner, I am more prepared to face the enemy without a gun than with one.
I healed. I got better. I set a good example for children by being a good role model and teaching non-violence through word and deed wherever and whenever I can. I work for peace and hope for protection and safety for everyone, particularly children.
We must do all we can to safeguard the life of any child who wants to color in the bright sunlight that streams through a window and casts a brilliant glow on tomorrow
We must do all we can do to save lives