What's Your Earliest Experience With Guns?

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

Having grown up in Indiana, and with family in rural Illinois (where the itinerary for a family reunion in 2014 included a trick shooting show and a two-hour block of time for “introduction to firearms”), I know more than a few people for whom owning guns is a significant part of their lives. When I’ve asked an ex’s father or a second cousin why they hunt or maintain a collection of firearms, they’ve typically said something about growing up with them in the house, or that they were the focal accessory in bonding time with a mentor.

That’s also the gist of several comments in this discussion thread I found. This passage in particular shows a striking dichotomy of early exposure to guns:

I have an extremely negative memory for my first experience with a gun. My older cousin (who was about 16 or 18 at the time) tried to shoot me. I was about five years old.

My four-year-old cousin saw him aim the gun at where I was swinging. She jumped off of her swing and pulled me back. I was really mad at her until I heard the crack of the rifle. I froze while realizing what happened. The bullet missed me but went through the window of our trailer. He walked away, angry.  I still have no idea why he tried to shoot me. I can’t ask him because his younger brother killed him about seven years ago.

Luckily a short while after this incident, my father gave me a positive memory with a firearm. He taught me how to shoot. It was a great bonding experience. He taught me how to aim and care for a gun, mentioning that the most important things were to treat guns and people with respect and to properly clean guns. We spend most of the afternoon shooting the target in the yard.  I think it was a mock-up of a deer.

“Guns brought my father and I closer together,” the commenter says in a later post. “It was something he knew well that he was able to teach me. I will pass on the same values to my little one.”

As part of our special project on police, crime, and guns in America, we’d like to hear from you about your earliest memories of guns. Was it a positive or negative experience? To share your story, email hello@theatlantic.com.