I hope to be a parent someday. And that hope brings on another—I hope I’m not a tyrant like my own parents were to me.
Oh sure, they got lucky on a few things—“Don’t touch the stove!” and “Get down off that roof right now, young man!”—but generally their “advice” was a needless power trip.
One of the most ridiculous regulations they imposed was a strict gun ban. There were no guns in our house, and even our water guns had to be splattered with bright cartoonish paint so as to not resemble a real gun, the likes of which my sisters and I would surely use to murder one another.
Every other boy I knew had a BB gun. But not me. Nope, I may as well have donned my loin cloth as the neighborhood Ghandi, and that would have been fine and all if not for the caged desire that lived within me—I wanted to pull a trigger and see a result. I wouldn’t shoot my sisters, I promised, I only wanted to build little targets and wage wars on trees and the like. Even cats would be safe, I swore it.
But these parents of mine were unrelenting in their oppression. “You’ll shoot your eye out,” they delivered the standard line, “or worse, you’ll shoot your sisters.” So, not only were they complete dictators, they also played favorites. Why were my sisters so much more valuable than my eye?
It was awful and nonsensical, and each Christmas, as I opened up my pacifistic toys—the most violent being “Food Fighters”, little pizzas and burgers and hot dogs with legs, arms, and faces, that would shoot catsup “guns” and sling mustard “bombs” at each other—I waged a tiny war in my heart.
Then, at 18, I graduated and my high school girlfriend gave me a BB gun. “Happy graduation,” she said, “Your mom said I could get this for you.”
Finally, after years of waiting! I pumped the little Walmart BB gun with gusto, and took to the small patch of woods behind our home. That day I fired hundreds of BBs—at trees, at rocks, at the very past. Full of cathartic whimsy, I shot BBs straight into the sky, then stood staring upwards, with both eyes open, tempting fate to prove my parents right. I walked home vision intact, and complete.
I was ready for Betsy—what I named my BB gun—and I always had been. My parents had not enabled me to develop responsibility; they had robbed me from realizing the very discernment that I had already taken hold of at a much earlier age. I was a mature gun owner, and I always had been, just minus the gun.
A few days later I shot a rabbit. I didn’t really mean to—I mean, I was aiming at where the rabbit may end up running, but how was I to know the thing wasn’t going to veer off course or hop as creatures of this ilk are known to do?
The rabbit sprang upward after the BB struck its hind parts. It shot wildly into the air, and then landed in a seizure of shakes and starts. It was exhilarating, but also gross. It staggered eventually off into the woods with the trees I had already wounded—a collection of my causalities gathered in trembling fear.
I felt bad and didn’t shoot my gun for at least a couple hours.
But I got over it. We had a dart board at our house, and I began using it for target practice. I would wear protective glasses from my stepfather’s shop, so any rebounds wouldn’t end up being prophetic fulfillment. There is still a BB lodged in the bulls-eye of that old dartboard.
Some friends came over around that special time in my life and we decided to play some poker. We had spent all our money on a variety of things—for me, it was cases of BBs, a subscription to “Marksmen” magazine, and my NRA Annual Dues—so we decided we would play for a dare: The loser of our card tournament would have to accept a consequence of the winner’s choosing.
As we negotiated what was “in play” regarding said dare, a brilliant thought came to my mind and then out my mouth, “We could just shoot the loser!”
The room got momentarily quiet, and then an uproar of agreement ensued and the cards were dealt.
It was decided that the last place person would be shot in the rear-end by the first place finisher. As the number of pumps determined the BB’s velocity, a tame BB gun pump count of five was also agreed upon.
Out of the thousands of poker games played in that basement, never had one lasted so long without a casualty, never had play been so determined. But fate was a ravenous beast, and after a few hours of ducking and dodging, finally Seth, the biggest in our group, went belly up chasing a straight.
It was fast moving after that. Seth sat on the couch, trying to talk us out of “The Shot” and reflecting on his impending doom.
We laughed in the other room and took turns putting the BB gun to our eye and imagining the joy we would feel at aiming it at our friend and pulling the trigger. We all wanted it so bad. So very, very bad.
The game whittled down to the final two, and I was one of them, sitting there poker-faced, gun across my lap. The card-play had been back-and-forth, with no discernible break in sight; and then I got dealt a couple of hearts. I decided this was the hand, and looking down at the 7 and 9 of hearts, I chased more hearts with the fullness of my own.
Nate, my opponent, had top two pair, but when the final card, the 10 of hearts, flopped on the table giving me a flush, I gave the BB gun a preparatory pump, matching the very pump of my own chest. I had won!
We allowed Seth to shoot the existing BB from the gun’s chamber into a pillow and then reload and pump the gun five times in keeping with the terms. It was only right for us to allow him this.
We also permitted him to use the bathroom—he was afraid the shock of the BB colliding with his backside might cause a flutter in his bladder. While he was in there we took turns pumping the BB gun like madmen. It had to have been at near a hundred pumps when we heard the toilet flush and the door knob begin to turn. We threw the BB gun to the sofa and directed feigned interest at the NBA game on the television.
Seth turned and dropped his shorts. He had a pair of whitey-tighties on and we insisted he keep them on—we weren’t heathens after all; dignity and honor were to be upheld in matters of corporal punishment, plus, come on, who wants to see their friend’s backside?
Michael then read Seth his rights and got Seth’s verbal consent to be shot.
Then from three paces—we convinced Seth that BBs could sometimes veer wildly off target and we wanted to be sure to get him in the cheek and not elsewhere . . . if you get the meaning—I took aim.
All the statements of my parents about my “responsibility” and lack thereof being the reason I couldn’t have guns played through my mind. It was a painful flashback that brought back distrustful memories and a fair bit of hurt. They didn’t think I could be trusted, yet what if they could see me now? Standing here, responsibly being sure to miss any vital organs and allowing my friend to keep his underpants on before shooting him in the behind . . . seriously, could we have been more responsible? And without a single sister in sight, to boot!
The shot sounded like a cannon blast, and the subsequent howling matched if it had been. The BB had broken through the cotton underwear and had gone through the skin! Seth howled in pain and we howled with laughter. After getting bandages to stop the bleeding, Seth smiled too, and, after turning on the safety, I shook my nearly naked friend’s hand, proud at how I had proved my senseless parents wrong.