When you have a gun — and a teenage son — in the house

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When you have a gun — and a teenage son — in the house

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When you have a gun — and a teenage son — in the house

Editor’s Note: This column originally ran on azcentral.com.


Every time there is a mass shooting, the idea of a gun, any gun, even the one locked safely away in my house, makes me uneasy.

I like having it, though I’m not sure why.

I rarely shoot it, usually just to be sure it’s in working order — and that I am.

It doesn’t make me feel safe. I have a security alarm, a dog and a titanium baseball bat in the hallway closet for that.

But I like that it is there if I ever need it (say, in the event of a zombie apocalypse).

It belonged to my dad, so it is also a link to him.

My teen discovered I had a gun in the house

Weapons of all sorts seem to capture the interest of boys. Here Sawyer and buddy Landon try archery. (Credit: Lesley Hooser/Special for The Republic)

Weapons of all sorts seem to capture the interest of boys. Here, Sawyer and buddy Landon try archery.
(Credit: Lesley Hooser/Special for The Republic)

My son was 14 years old before he knew it was in the house. I wrote about it then and went back to read that column in the days after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where three adults and 14 children were slaughtered.

“We have a gun?” Sawyer had asked, incredulously, back then.

“No,” I had answered him. We do not have a gun. I have a gun.”

I had locked it up before he was born, separating it from its ammunition. I had read too many stories about what happens when kids get hold of guns.

As I locked the door on the gun that first time, tugging it to make sure it was secure, I heard noises in the backyard. I could see through the French doors that workers had arrived to put a fence up around the pool, a sturdy metal one with a self-latching gate. It was almost summer, and I was about to have a baby.

Pool fences can’t prevent every tragedy, and neither can simply locking a gun away. But both felt safer.

Keeping the gun locked as my teen grew up

On his 12th birthday, Sawyer's mom took him and his friends to play paintball. (Photo: KarinaOn his 12th birthday, Sawyer's mom took him and his friends to play paintball. (Photo: Karina Bland/The Republic) Bland/The Republic)

On his 12th birthday, Sawyer’s mom took him and his friends to play paintball. (Photo: Karina Bland/The Republic)

As Sawyer grew, from blow-up water wings to backflips in the deep end, the pool fence rusted, its green paint bubbling and flaking off. Friends helped me pull it down. The gun stayed locked up.

Although he never knew about the gun, Sawyer’s surprise at its existence was likely because I’ve been pretty choosy over the years about the gun-like toys I’ve allowed him to have.

When he was 4, I let him have a Buzz Lightyear laser gun (finally — he’d been asking for a year). I said yes to lightsabers and wooden swords, but no to cap guns.

Still, Sawyer turned every stick into a rifle; once, he chewed a ham sandwich into the shape of a handgun.

A Jango Fett Blaster led to a wave of Super Soakers and an eventual arsenal of Nerf guns. I said no to an airsoft gun when all his friends got them but relented a year later when family friends wanted to buy him one for his 11th birthday.

On his 12th, I took Sawyer and his friends to play paintball. But he had to beg and cajole for any video game that involved gun play. Practically all of them do.

The world has changed

Sad scenes of remembrances are still playing out at the Parkland amphitheater on Feb. 17, 2018. Crosses have been set up to honor those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Credit: Andrew West, The News-Press via USA TODAY Network

Sad scenes of remembrances at the Parkland amphitheater on Feb. 17, 2018. Crosses have been set up to honor those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Credit: Andrew West, The News-Press via USA TODAY Network

Because during those same years, between the time the pool fence went up and then came down, the world changed.

There always have been gun accidents involving children, but they seemed to be happening more and more often, the shooters ridiculously young.

Now there are way too many examples of the damage a gun can do in the wrong hands — in a grocery-store parking lot near Tucson, a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., a school in Newtown, Conn.

In the two weeks since the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High, as teenagers have continued to express their thoughts and their outrage, online and to reporters, marched out of school, and converged on lawmakers and even the White House, my thoughts turned again to that gun. My gun.

I know it’s not the same kind of gun used in that massacre, nor are any of my circumstances the same. But it makes me think about why I keep it.

I know the statistics. It is more dangerous to the children in my life than to me, including my son, who’s 18 now, not much older than the students who were shot and killed and the ones demanding change.

Reaching the right decision about what to do with my gun

Most super heroes have a weapon of some sort. At 4, Sawyer begged for Buzz Lightyear's laser blaster. (Photo: Karina Bland/The Republic)

Most super heroes have a weapon of some sort. At 4, Sawyer begged for Buzz Lightyear’s laser blaster. (Photo: Karina Bland/The Republic)

As I wrote before, I would give my gun away only if I could be sure it would be destroyed. I wouldn’t want my gun to end up in the hands of someone who might do something terrible with it.

Would it make a difference if it was destroyed? It would be one fewer gun.

Would we be more safe with it, or without it?

When the pool fence rusted and Sawyer and his friends were all tall enough to see over it, I got rid of it without hesitation. It didn’t say anything about what I believed about individual freedoms or the Constitution. I didn’t feel like I had to pick a side.

I made a responsible decision about when we needed a pool fence — and when we no longer did. I didn’t need to read up on it, compare poll results or examine it in the context of a national debate.

It turns out I didn’t need any of that to make up my mind about the gun, either. I just listened to my instincts and decided.

And it felt safe then.

Reach Bland at karina.bland@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8614.

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