I Inherited A Shotgun
I inherited a shotgun for my mother’s sister, Aunt Treva, in upstate New York Van Etten where they were born. My daughter, Mariah, was with me when we took the shotgun and bullets out of my aunt’s “Magee’s Closet” in her kitchen. I guess it must have belonged to her first husband, Verner, who was originally from Finland. He was a carpenter and a fisherman. I spent many summers helping him pour molten lead into molds in the garage for fishing sinkers, and I’m thinking now, I may have helped him mold bullets as well.
Mariah and I were worried about being pulled over by a State Trooper with the gun on the long trip down Route 17, back to Eastern Long Island, so we wrapped the shotgun and bullets in a brown plaid blanket and placed it on the floor behind the front seat. Once we got home, I decided to hide the bullets separately from the gun. I think I may have put the bullets into a fireproof safe and the gun, still wrapped in the blanket, was stuffed at the very top of my closet with the sweaters. I wonder how much protection it would have been if a robber appeared at the front door, given how long it would have taken to unlock the safe and put the bullets with the gun.
I would wake up at night with nightmares about accidentally shooting my own children when they unexpectedly returned home from college. So, I called my childhood friend, Lester to ask him what to do about it. Lester had always liked guns, even before he served in the military, and had quite a bit of land in Bridgehampton where he could practice with his guns. He used to set up bottles and pumpkins on top of barrels and practice shooting at them and he let me use his shotgun, too. I loved to see the pumpkins blow up and spray out all over the field. He also had a device, which released skeet into the high skies, which mimicked the flight of a bird. “Always aim in front of the skeet and let it fly into your bullet.” I have to say, I got pretty good at hitting my target. I didn’t like the fact that Lester and Buzzy would go down to the town dump which wasn’t too far from their house, and would shoot the rats with a great deal of glee. He said the town officer would go there to say that he had complaints about so many loud gunshots. However, the policeman would take out his pistol and join in the shooting!
So, Lester suggested that I take the gun and ammo over to the local gun dealer, Richard Hendrickson, (who recently tuned 100 years old) who was a very distant relative of mine. We set up an appointment to bring everything over. Looking the gun over, Mr. Hendrickson said it probably had been ordered through the Sears-Roebuck catalog in the 1940’s. He said it wasn’t of any interest to him, but he would like to buy the bullets. I begged him to take the gun off of my hands because I didn’t want it in my house any more. I didn’t want to be responsible for it and I was sorry I had ever brought it back from my aunt’s house in the first place. Grumbling, he agreed to pay $20 for the gun and quite a bit more for the bullets. I had to fill out a form in a booklet which noted the day and circumstances of the sale. Next to the line I had to say it was procured as an “inheritance.”
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had guns in my life before. When I was a child, I would go to the Memorial Day Parade and I would watch my Uncle Lloyd march with the World War Two soldiers with their uniforms, berets, and guns. A trumpet was sounded and a drum rolled, and they would volley off a 21-gun salute at the Bridgehampton War Monument by the flagpole. I’d hold my fingers in my ears and scrunch my eyes up, waiting for the loud reports to stop. Uncle Lloyd had fought in the Battle of the Bulge and had brought back post-traumatic syndrome from the experience. My mother had a run in with guns when she had to call the State Troopers to shoot a rabid cat that was in our back yard. It took about 7 pistol shots to bring him down!
In college at SUNY Cortland, I had to pick several sports for physical education, and I decided it wouldn’t make any sense to learn a team sport since my college mates wouldn’t be coming with me out into the real world to play a team sport. Therefore, I picked out bowling, archery, and riffle shooting as my sports. I learned how to shoot the bolt-action rifle in the standing, kneeling, and prone positions. After the initial excitement of this new sport wore off, I seemed to get worse and worse at hitting my target. The gun was heavy and drifted downwards when I tried to hold it steady. In both rifle practice and archery, the teachers really had strokes if a student started towards the target while other people were still shooting! That was a lesson we really had to learn very, very well.
Years later, I was being interviewed for a job to teach at the local county jail, when a SWAT team raced past me in the visitor’s room, gripping their rifles, clothed in helmets and face visors with bullets strapped around their waistlines. I found out later that the actual corrections officers weren’t allowed to carry weapons into the jail and they had to sign them into special lockers at the jail entrance when they arrived at work. They didn’t want the prisoners to overpower a guard and take his weapon away. Jail gates and a large number of guards were the physical deterrents to mutiny in the jail. That didn’t mean I didn’t find shivs, the knife-like homemade weapons, on the floor of my classroom once in a while. All I had to do if there was trouble was to step out of the door of the classroom and quietly say, ”Yo, CO,” and 20 officers would be there in one second to escort an offending prisoner away to solitary confinement. I’d write up a report, and generally speaking, I’d never see that student in my class ever again.
So, in summary, I have used guns for pleasure and to satisfy a course requirement. I have inherited one, which I later got rid of. Although I enjoyed hitting my targets and seeing the pumpkins blow up, I didn’t want the responsibility of keeping a gun in my house, because I was afraid of accidentally hurting someone. Guns would have protected me at the jail if there had been a riot, but they weren’t actually available for officer use within the jail because they were more dangerous being available to be stolen by inmates.
During the current gun discussions following the massacre of 20 young students and 6 teachers up in Newtown Ct., it appears that mental illness comes into play most of the time when killers go on a rampage. Availability of guns to these deranged individuals also plays into the equation that allows these mass shootings to happen. I believe that mental illness treatment and gun availability are important areas to address in gun-control legislation.
I took classes to learn about gun safety. I learned how to shoot and protect myself both in class and out in the field with target practice. Meanwhile, I did my part in helping to secure gun safety by selling off the gun and bullets that I had inherited, so that an accidental shooting couldn’t happen in my house.