Reporter's Notebook

Your Earliest Experience With Guns
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Readers from across the U.S. share what they remember about their introduction to firearms. To tell your story, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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The Damage Done by an Unfired Gun

This reader’s first experience with a firearm seems unimaginable to endure:

I felt it before I saw it. The gun was metallic, and it was hard. It pressed my T-shirt against my back and looked just exactly like a handgun always does in the movies. The man who held it had run up behind me before I could even see where he’d come from. We were on a dark street corner, and that was pretty much like the movies as well.

I was 15, female, in a quiet residential neighborhood in a liberal city on the West Coast. People didn’t own guns where I lived. We thought hunting was barbaric. We thought the NRA were nut cases. Half the girls in high school were vegetarian.

He pushed that gun in my back and shoved me through alleys for half an hour. He raped me.

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:

It’s been a year since we ran this reader series, which included a wide range of first encounters with guns—from fond memories of family bonding and summer camp to dark memories of domestic violence, burglary, and rape. A reader discovered the series this morning and shares a traumatic story from her childhood:

While sitting on the floor playing Monopoly with my older brother and younger sister, the game dragged on and on, and my sister and I wanted to call it quits. But my brother was winning, and wanted to win more, so he insisted we keep playing.

We didn’t hear our dad enter the house (because we automatically froze whenever he came home because no matter what we were doing, we pissed him off). He grabbed a rifle from the gun rack, held it to my sister’s head and screamed: “You want her dead? Will that make you happy?” We screamed for him to put the rifle down, but he wouldn’t stop until he shoved it up against all our heads, repeating his same lines, while our mother begged him to put the gun away.

“You damn kids!” he screamed. “Your mom is dying of cancer and you sit here fighting over a damn game!” Then he kicked my brother, slammed the rifle back in the rack, and drove back to the bar.