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:

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'Luckily He Was Usually Drunk and a Bad Shot'

A reader recalls a frightening childhood:

Guns were a big part of my life growing up in rural Florida. I had a small, lightweight rifle my step-father gave me to shoot with out back. My mom (born and raised in suburban New Jersey) learned to shoot and used a pistol to shoot critters who came in our back yard.

My step-father was a skilled gunsmith who did repairs in our family-owned gun shop while my mom worked the counter. Between the ages of three and six, I went to work with them during the day. Unfortunately, a gun shop even then was a target for thieves. The shop was broken into several times. My parents got guard dogs and the dogs were poisoned and the shop still broken into. Eventually they gave up.

Unfortunately, my step-father continued his love affair with guns.

I just learned the movie Natural Born Killers was inspired by two teenagers on a murder spree in 1950s Nebraska. This reader remembers it all too well:

My earliest memory of guns was in the late 1950s, when Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Fugate, were terrorizing Nebraska. In my memory, Fugate’s parents, two of the early victims, lived within walking distance of my grade school.  

At the time, my father drove a late ‘40s car, and all children walked to and from school (about a mile, in our case). One day, my dad arrived to pick up my sister and me in the middle of the afternoon, which was highly unusual. As I crawled up the running board and onto the bench front seat, I saw a pistol in a holster strapped to his right thigh.  

My father had grown up on a farm in rural Oklahoma and was comfortable with guns, but he had by that point finished a Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska and was about to join the faculty. We never spoke of that day, and Starkweather was quickly caught.

As we start to wind down this series, here are five great snapshots from readers raised in families with a strong hunting culture. For our first reader, guns were a necessity:

I only ever knew guns to be for hunting. Nobody in my family ever touched a gun except my father when he hunted. We ate tons of game when I was little because we were poor. I picked a lot of buckshot out of my food, but the gun was a tool to feed us—not a weapon of harm. Once we got rich enough to raise livestock to butcher, the gun was left to rust.

Another reader also got food through guns:

We lived in southwestern Colorado my first six years of life (1949-1955). My father had a double-barrel shotgun, and a single-barrel one, a .22 rifle, and a “deer rifle.” We ate more venison than beef and almost as much pheasant as chicken. He prided himself on using the .22 to shoot the head off a pheasant because he couldn’t abide biting down on buckshot. I never saw him do any target practice. Bullets cost too much, I think.

A reader from the Rust Belt has a remarkable followup to these stories:

I’ve always grown up around guns and have very mixed feelings about them. My father is a lifelong hunter. Venison, pheasant, and duck were regular staples in our household and most of the meat we eat came from him. He’s passed down guns and hunting traditions to my two teenage nephews—avid video gamers who, other than hunting, would practically never go outside. He’s taught my French fiancee and me how to shoot a bullseye in our backyard. (My fiancee, a true Parisien, particularly enjoyed the experience.)

My father has also always kept a handgun in the house for protection. In our neighborhood, break-ins and robberies are quite common and nearly all of our neighbors keep guns in their homes for peace of mind. A good half of them concealed carry everywhere they go.

Dad also started concealed carrying in the early 2000s when he survived a mass shooting at a factory in our hometown.

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.