I want you to know that guns hurt and damage people. I know that seems like one of those, “of course” statements. But I want you to really understand that the impact goes far beyond the shot that hurt or killed someone. Gun violence has a ripple effect that colors our world.
My younger brother shot himself in my parent’s home almost 20 years ago. He was in physical pain from a bad back and had suffered with mental illness for many years. My parents took their adult son into their home, hoping to help him get back on his feet—or really get on his feet to begin with. While we knew he was depressed, he had not shared that he was contemplating suicide nor did we see any signs. As a psychologist, I will always question what I could have done to support and help him. A gun stopped me from being able to help him.
As you can imagine, it is horrific to wake up in the middle of the night to gunshot from the next room and stumble into the hallway and peer into your son’s room and find him laying in a pool of blood. The vision plays over and over again in my 90 year old mother’s brain..over and over again. She told me a few days ago that she welcomes death, if only so she doesn’t have to wake up to that scene yet again.
We learned after his death that he had purchased the gun legally (though with his mental illness he probably shouldn’t have been able to) many years before. By reading some of his papers, it became clear that he intended to use the gun to kill those who weren’t kind to him, including me and our parents. We aren’t sure what happened in the ensuing years to make him turn the gun on himself. All that time, we struggled to get affordable (or really any) mental health help for my brother.
My brother’s suicide happened months after a friend was shot and murdered returning home from working as a nurse-midwife. She had just delivered a baby at 2 am and took a quick detour on a side road to get back to bed quicker. It is unclear all that happened but a gun made sure she was not able to escape and live to tell what happened that gruesome night.
Sadly, in these last twenty years I have had too many close contacts with gun violence—a friend’s father who committed suicide, a co-worker’s son who was accidently killed while playing with a gun, a student in my college class who experienced Columbine, and most recently a friend’s daughter was collateral damage in a drive-by shooting. Never would I have imagined that I would experience these tragedies at such a close range. My experiences impact all of those around me too. My teaching, my parenting, and my friendships have all been colored by these experiences. My grief is always there.
So, America, please understand, guns hurt people and impact those around them. I am one white, middle-class, educated older woman who has been deeply impacted by loss inflicted by guns—more than once. I am not in the demographic that this might be “expected.” These events were not “one off.” There are too many of them. Guns have proliferated and are being used by those who should not have access to them. The pain I have endured is one thing but I mostly grieve for what might have been without the guns—not only the lives lost—but the relationships, present and future, that are colored by these experiences.