When a Gun Gets Between Mom and Dad

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

Three quick anecdotes from readers on that theme:

My first experience with a gun was when my mom wrestled a pistol from my inebriated dad, who was threatening to use it. Whether he was planning to use it on himself or my siblings and mom, I don’t know. My mom and older brother (he was 12, I was ten) were dealing with my dad and somehow, the weapon made itself to me. I had no idea what to do or where I could put it where my dad wouldn’t find it again. I thought first about hiding it in the crawl space under the house, but I ended up taking it into the yard and throwing it as hard as I could into the vacant lot next door.  

Alcohol also played a central role in this reader’s traumatic memory:

My stepfather was a career Marine and served three tours in Vietnam. My first memories of guns come from the earliest period of my parents’ marriage, when he’d just come back from his third combat tour and would get drunk at the enlisted men’s club, come home, pick a fight with my mother and head for his gun rack.

I was four years old then. Eventually, my mother would just load my younger brother and me into the car instead of sticking around if he came home drunk enough to be scary. He never actually shot at us, but having a gun pointed at me was scary enough to give me a lifetime’s worth of nightmares.

My stepfather was also a hunter and taught us to shoot targets in the woods, and my younger brother and I were both schooled in gun safety, but somehow I never bought the idea that guns could be any less than dangerous. Not when the rules changed if a little whiskey was in the equation.

The genders are flipped in this reader’s account:

My earliest memory of guns was of hearing guns—that distinct crack of thunder on a sunny day echoing across the desert of the cattle ranching community where I grew up. But my earliest memory of seeing a gun was walking onto the porch to find my mother laid flat like a sniper, my father’s white truck in the sights of her Colt 45 handgun. But my mother didn’t shoot, and my father didn’t die that day.