Want to Protect Yourself? Don't Buy a Gun

In the wake of yet another shooting, people immediately wanted to know what influenced and motivated another young man to open fire on a crowd, this time during a July 4 parade. As usual, their curiosity stemmed in part from a belief that if we can simply identify the next probable shooter in time, we can prevent the next massacre. In other words, we can make sure that only good guys, not the bad guys, get to have guns.

Sadly, this isn’t a workable solution. It never has been.

I grew up in Texas in the ‘60s and ‘70s before mass shootings were commonplace, though I knew plenty of men who owned guns. I remember one of these men in particular. I’ll call him Max. Thankfully, Max is probably still alive, so what I have to say is a cautionary tale, as opposed to another tragedy.

Max was a smart guy, and by all accounts, he was mentally healthy, the kind of guy who would easily pass any background check. He was a good boyfriend, too, but since we were about as different as two people could be, I didn’t envision a future together. I figured he felt the same way, so when I broke things off, I assumed he would take it well. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

A few hours after our breakup, he insisted I come over to talk things through. I didn’t want to go, but in the end I agreed in part because my roommates reminded me how I had felt after a difficult breakup. In retrospect, I should have stayed at home.

When I arrived at Max’s apartment, it was quiet and he was alone. I followed him into his bedroom, and that’s when I saw the gun on his nightstand. It wasn’t his hunting rifle, but a handgun, one I’d never seen before. I turned to look at him as though I hadn’t noticed the gun. I willed myself to remain calm. Did he want to kill me or himself, or both of us? I wasn’t sure, but leaving didn’t feel like a safe option for either of us.

I sat down on the bed on the side closest to the gun, hoping I would say the right things.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I thought you’d be okay with this.”

He shook his head in frustration, as though he thought I was completely clueless and insensitive. I probably was, but he sat down on the bed opposite me, and after a while he began to talk. I don’t remember much of what he said, because I was too preoccupied with the metal object on the nightstand.

After what seemed like an eternity, he went to the bathroom. As soon as the door shut behind him, I grabbed the gun, and moving at lightning speed, I shoved it behind some books on the shelf across the room. Then I returned to the bed as though nothing had happened. I don’t think it occurred to me to leave, with or without the gun. When he came out of the bathroom, he zeroed in on the nightstand and demanded I tell him what I’d done with his gun.

“You can’t have it,” I said.

My words came out in a voice that was firm and unwavering, not unlike the voice I would later use with my child when he needed to hear something in no uncertain terms.

It seemed to work. Max held my gaze, but after a few seconds, he came back to himself, back to the sane and mentally healthy boyfriend he had always been. I breathed a sigh of relief. I still felt shaky, but I managed to settle down enough to finally talk things through, though the image of the gun remained in my mind. It probably always will.

Looking back, I see now that events could have gone another way, as they have in so many cases, often with deadly results.

According to a 2022 study from Stanford University, people who live with someone who owns a gun are far more likely to be shot by a spouse or intimate partner, and the majority of these victims are women. Death by suicide is also higher in households with guns, in part because guns make both homicide and suicide far too easy. Approximately 90 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm result in death compared to less than 5 percent by all other methods combined.

Identifying those who are likely to shoot others or themselves is a worthwhile goal, but it won’t be enough to end gun violence, not as long as we continue to arm more and more Americans each day. That’s because even mentally stable people, the so-called good guys, can take a turn for the worse on a moment’s notice, and with access to a gun, the consequences are irreversible.

We need to shatter the illusion that gun owners are better at protecting themselves. It simply isn’t true. It’s a dangerous illusion, one that threatens to kill us all. We need to follow the example of forward-thinking countries who faced the problem and took a no-nonsense approach to solving it. Only then can we ensure our survival, and more importantly, the survival of our children and the generations to come. Enough is enough.

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