'Short Enough to Run Beneath the Bullets'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

We’ve heard from many of you about your first experience with guns, so thanks to everyone who’s emailed so far. The details of this reader’s account jumped out among the dozens in our inbox:

When I was maybe four years old, my father brought my older brother and me along with him to the shooting range. He and a friend brought a variety of shotguns and pistols, as well as a supply of cotton balls to stuff into our ears.

Now, this range was an outdoor range, and it was just a bit windy. In the course of watching the others shoot, one of the cotton balls fell out of my ear and went blowing down the shooting range. I—of course—chased it.

Picture it, if you will: five or six people shooting downrange and a four-year-old running out in the middle of the range. Looking back at this, I do wonder what my father was thinking. (Unfortunately I never thought to ask him about the experience, and now he has Alzheimer’s, so I doubt he'd recall it.)

Fortunately all I got was a spanking and a yelling at, rather than a bullet. And at some point I got to shoot a 12-gauge shotgun, which knocked me down. (How many four-year-olds know to pull the shotgun tight to their shoulder?) I don’t remember whether I got to shoot before or after I nearly got myself shot.

Forty years later, I can still remember the cotton ball rolling along the ground, me stooped over running after it, being short enough to run beneath the bullets.