When I nearly Shot a Boy with a Gun —by Glenn W. Harrell
I was all of 14. I lived with my dad in a trailer. I was bored. I was told never to touch his guns. I didn’t until…
One day after school, another boy who lived in the park came by to say hi. He came in the trailer and we just chatted until somehow, we began to discuss guns. No other insecure teenage boy wants to brag and show off, but I did. And no, it wasn’t enough to just tell him the brand and model of each gun, I had to show him.
At 14, I had had zero hours of gun safety training and had never shot a gun. If this visiting kid had only known these facts AND what was about to happen to him, he would have run home to mamma and called me a fool much sooner than he did.
We strolled (mine was a cocky stroll – more of a Fonzie meander) to the back bedroom where I planned to spread my peacock feathers and impress the dickens out of this guy.
I opened the closet door where I knew the 12-gauge shotgun was kept. I denied the voice in my head,
“Boy -don’t you ever touch that gun without my permission”!
I picked the gun up and held it out for display like I was and Emperor revealing a new war strategy to his subjects. One look in this boy’s eye and I knew I had him. The only thing that could possibly have spoiled the moment was if he had told me that his dad’s gun was bigger. Or so I thought.
He asked me how it worked. This put a lot of pressure on my little brain and I did what any lamebrain would do–FAKE IT. I pointed the gun at the floor, pulled down on the trigger–the trigger moved, and nothing happened.
My left hand was on a small stock of wood that seemed to have movement.
Still desperately trying to impress him, I pulled on the trigger harder than ever, held it down, and I pulled up on that wood stock in my left hand.
The next thing I remember is being empty handed, in shock, watching that guy scream, and both of us shaking uncontrollably while condensed in the smoke, choking on the smell of gunpowder. He ran out of that trailer like an NFL linebacker up for a raise. It was the last I ever saw him or heard from him. If he is on medications today because of me, I am surely sorry.
The rest of the story is as follows.
After I quit shaking, I realized that my dad would be home within two hours. Considering the noise and jolt as the gun ejected itself from my hands, I really thought that an entire wall would be missing. But I could not find any damage at all to the trailer—UNTIL—Until I looked down at the baseboard where there was a perfectly round hole the size of a 12-gauge shotgun shell in the baseboard. It was small enough that I rationalized he might never see it.
I thought wow—this is good. I can fix that. Then my newly matured brain began to do some gymnastics. I panicked again. Where did the shot go? I ran outside and crawled under the trailer for a look-see. O my! Board and fiberglass were everywhere. You could hide a family of Opossums in this hole. It was not good. If my firearm skills were bad, so were my handyman talents. But I did the best I could, packing and poking until all was off the ground and holding together for the time being.
I left all the doors and windows open so that the odor would be gone when dad came home. And home he came. My heart was racing again. I had put in our regular supper—TV Dinners, hoping this would sooth matters were he to find out what I had done. Don’t know why. Those things were horrible. We talked. We ate. We went to bed. We did this for 14 more days and I really thought I had gotten away with the crime. Why didn’t I just tell him? I don’t know–stupid if you do, stupid if you don’t. I do know this—I avoided my father and I robbed us of any meaningful time together. I treated him as an enemy instead of a loved one.
My guilt and unconfessed sin defined me. I would discover later how that made him feel.
Some time in the third week, my dad asked me a question, much like a crime investigator would do. That same heart race—pounding in the chest took up residence once again. I could feel the force in my ears, and I knew that my face must be flush in fear. He said, “Son, did you know we have rats in the trailer?” I had dreamed up many scenarios with my dad but this one threw me. I said, “Rats?” He said, “Yep, go back there in my room and look at the hole he chewed in the floorboard.” Wanting to be the model obedient son, I marched my guilty self right on back to the scene of the crime. I stayed long enough to stare at the hole I forgot to cover up, then went back in and sat down.
“Yes sir”, I said, “We’ve got rats alright.” The look in his eyes told me that I was the rat, and not a very good one at that.
He held his silence for what felt like a teen-aged eternity (3 days) and I broke. I began crying as hard as I shook the day the gun went off. He let me cry until I couldn’t cry any longer. He then asked me why I didn’t just tell him what had happened, when it happened? I didn’t have an answer. Then came the most dreaded moment of all—certain punishment.
He said, “You know I will have to punish you for this don’t you?”
“Yes sir” I replied as I began crying all over again.
He interrupted me this time and told me, “I have known about this from day one. I just wanted you to trust me and tell me what you had done wrong. I would still have punished you, but you hurt us both by keeping it secret. We didn’t talk and you were in agony every day. I couldn’t let it go on any longer. Your punishment has been these two weeks. Do you think you might tell me in the future when you have done something wrong?”
Now this picture is weird because my dad was a welder, as rugged a man as you would ever meet. He didn’t tolerate foolishness. He could have punished me in any number of ways, but he chose to let me punish myself. And no, I never touched his gun again without his presence. In later years he taught me to hunt and how to be safe. Most of all how to be honest and forthright about my sin. Before he passed away, he handed down one of his guns to me. I cherish it to this day and I use it with my own son and daughter in training and recreation.
What I learned:
1-A loving father is also wise
2-A loving father will not let wrong go unpunished
3-The punishment will fit the crime
4-The lesson learned is worth the wait
5-Better to confess than hide. Secrecy destroys intimacy and love
6-A father’s love will always hug you for doing the right thing
7-Doing the right thing does not mean escaping punishment but it makes enduring it reasonable
8-I love my dad very much and miss him entirely
9-How to better discipline and train my own son and daughter
10-Guns are harmless until found in human hands. Train and secure. Respect them for their potential to harm.
Though I never asked my dad about why this gun was loaded, I suspect he learned a valuable lesson from my folly as well. Down the road as we would hunt, I would never sit near him on a dove shoot because I would never get to shoot the bird before him. He was a lefty with eagle eyes and a sure shot.
That same 12-gauge Remington 870 Wingmaster pump shotgun, in his hands, would best me yet again and again.
Glenn W. Harrell http://www.openhandspublications.com 08-10-2019