Last Friday, as my family and I gathered for Christmas, I shot a hole in our bedroom door.
What follows will go down in the annals of monumental Stallard Stupidity — quite possibly taking the top spot in a long list of personal blunders spanning more than 50 years.
My brother-in-law, a fellow veteran, was visiting for the holiday. He’d purchased a pistol, and we were comparing notes. I told him about mine, and he asked to see it. This wasn’t some testosterone-fueled show-off session. It was just two guys who know guns having a seemingly innocent conversation.
Innocent enough, until I screwed up.
From the very first time I ever touched a gun, I followed the necessary safety precautions drilled into me first by my dad and later with Marine Corps instructors. I know to keep the barrel pointed downward and only raise it when I’m ready to aim and shoot. I know to check to see if the weapon is loaded, especially when it comes to the pistols on which I was trained: first by seeing if there’s a magazine seated (and ejecting it if there is one) and next by clearing the weapon, jacking the slide to eject any possible round in the chamber. I also know to lower the hammer with my thumb and never, ever pull the trigger. One doesn’t dry-fire any weapon. Period.
What steps did I skip? First, because I never keep a clip inside my pistol (I’d only loaded it a month ago because of reports of local break-ins), fastening one to the grip with a rubber band instead, for some reason I didn’t bother looking to see if one was there. Just as bad, I haven’t fired this pistol in years; I haven’t kept myself in practice by going to a range and rehashing my training. If I had, I’d have known by the weapon’s weight that it was loaded. I’ve grown embarrassingly complacent over the years.
I also committed the unpardonable sin of squeezing the trigger. In my house. Thank God I at least remembered to keep the weapon pointed downward.
I didn’t even jump when the pistol went off. I knew immediately what I’d done. Instead, my knees went weak and my stomach heaved realizing what happened — and what the consequences could have been. Earlier, my wife and kids had been on our back porch drinking coffee and visiting. What if, instead of going semi-stupid with one mistake, I’d gone full-auto moron and worsened the situation by forgetting to keep the barrel pointed downward (the round hit the door inches above the floor)? The glass in our door wasn’t going to stop a .45 round, and had there been anyone sitting outside in that event, my family would have endured a tragedy for which I’d have been unforgivably responsible. I’ve suffered horrible dreams all week, and I couldn’t even look my wife and kids in their eyes for the rest of the day. I have weapons in my home to offer some sense of security for my family. If they think I’m too reckless and irresponsible to have one, their worries extend to me — the very man who’s supposed to protect them.
I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life around weapons. Through the Marine Corps, I’ve been exposed to some of the very best training available — not only in how to use a weapon, but also in the critical safety practices my instructors demanded. Even now, I run through the safety measures by rote, with no more thought to the process than I give tying my shoes. I know guns are designed to kill ... period. I know how dangerous they are. I’ve witnessed some catastrophic incidents involving those less focused than I’ve been: the guy on the range who struggled to pull the slide on his pistol and ended up blowing a hole through the bill of his cover (cap) — just inches from his face. My high school classmate who came in from a hunting trip and laid his loaded shotgun on his bed while he changed clothes. When he finished dressing, he reached for the barrel and dragged the gun toward him. The trigger snagged in a blanket, the shotgun discharged and my friend died before his 17th birthday.
I know what happens with an instant of carelessness. I’ve never once been the reason for any sort of accident whatsoever. Not a single incident. Ever.
I realize I’m setting myself up for ridicule. “You can’t have a gun. You’ll shoot your door out.” “Hey, Stallard, you gonna mount that poor door over your fireplace?”
Bring it on. I deserve every bit of it.
So why would I share this humiliating experience instead of hiding my head in shame and praying no one ever hears of it?
Today, Jan. 1, is the first day of the new open-carry laws in our state. Citizens who wish to carry arms in public are now, as long as they’re properly licensed, able to do so legally. Because of the number of high-profile shootings across our nation and around the rest of the world, record numbers of potential owners are purchasing rifles and pistols for protection. On Black Friday, the FBI reported a record number of background checks from applicants waiting to purchase guns. Some of them have participated in the proper training, but I guarantee not all of them have.
While plenty of the new owners have experience, many — far too many — will not.
And if a guy with my background and training can do something as careless and incredibly stupid as I just did, it’s a bet someone else carries at least some of the same risk. There’s no room for nonchalance when holding a weapon. A gun has no clue how much experience one does or doesn’t have. It doesn’t discern between intended or unintended targets. A gun just follows orders.
If I haven’t gotten your attention yet, check this: According to gunviolencearchive.com, 682 children (ages 0-11), 2,640 teens (ages 12-17) and 1,878 adults died or were injured in gun-related accidents in 2015. This week alone, I’ve read three stories of children dying from accidental discharges.
God, how close was I to adding a loved one to those numbers?
I’m begging you. Get the right kind of training. Be paranoid every time you pick up a weapon. Treat it with respect. Don’t skip a single safety step.
And please, please, keep careless and stupid away from it all.
Gary Stallard is a regular contributor to the Opinion page of The Lufkin News. His email address is email@example.com.