It was a normal dinner on that evening in 1996. But it was also one that I can never forget: it was the day when I lost my father.
As always, we were watching the national news during dinner. Then one particular story made my father snort in derision; his voice dripping sarcasm, he snarled, “They’re gonna want gun control.”
The incident in question was a school shooting in Scotland. Most of the dead were children, children that were old enough to attend Kindergarten here in the States. But to my father, their deaths seemingly didn’t matter.
It was only about the guns.
Now, my father had started falling into his mid-life crisis; he often spoke of picking up and leaving North Carolina for the bush country of Alaska, of “living off the land”, and of actually owning the parcel of acreage that he might have purchased, without having to pay taxes. (Sounds great in theory. In reality, if you have a heart attack or your house catches on fire, you are on your own. His libertarian paradise contained that one glaringly obvious flaw.)
He had also started listening to right-wing radio. Daily, I had to hear the machinations of either G. Gordon Liddy or Rush Limbaugh, which quite frankly, made me want to put my fist through the nearest wall. But the worst thing about it all?
He swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, all their ideas. Which meant he went full on second amendment apologist.
That was the day I lost my father. I knew, intrinsically, that there was no reasoning with him when it came to guns and gun control, that the almighty pistol was his new idol, his chosen god. Father, son, and smoking gun. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
That was the day I learned that if it had been me, lying in a pool of my own blood, my eyes staring blankly at eternity, I wouldn’t have mattered. Not to him. Not to anyone who cared so much about their right to bear arms. It was only about the guns, protecting them and whatever access men like my father had to them. The guns mattered. The shattered body of a five year old? Not so much. Just an unfortunate byproduct of freedom.
I would have been sacrificed on the altar of the second amendment and no one would have blinked. I learned that horrifying truth a good decade and a half before the massacre at Sandy Hook, when most sane citizens of the United States said that we had lost the battle for sensible gun control and they were right. But I learned it well in advance.
Because I saw it one night at dinner. I heard it through the disgust in my father’s voice. I knew it in the sudden tightening of my stomach.
I learned it when I silently asked myself, “But what if it had been me?”