Well, since guns have been in the news a lot lately, I thought I’d discuss my experience with guns. I grew up on a cattle ranch, and just about every boy I knew got a deer rifle when they were twelve years old. We were all taught gun safety by fathers, uncles, and in my case, my mom and my grandma. And it was taken very seriously.
On my twelveth birthday, I got a 30-30. That’s a powerful rifle with a powerful kick. I never shot anyone, nor did any of the kids that I knew. During deer season, many of the pickup trucks in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. So clearly, at that time, a 12-year-old boy was indeed mature enough to own, strip, clean, fire, and care for a gun.
The rules were clear. A gun is not a toy. Never play with it. Always treat your gun like it is loaded. Never point a gun at anyone. Take out all the bullets and check the chamber before you bring it in the house. Check it again before you clean it to make sure it’s entirely unloaded. Clean it every time you use it.
And we followed the rules, every time.
Nowadays, of course, we have young adults of eighteen telling us that they are far too immature to own guns … but somehow they think that they are easily mature enough to tell us what our gun laws should be.
All I can say is, what happened to the planet I grew up on?
I suspect that one of the problems is that it is no longer OK to be a boy. Boys are restless, foot tapping, jumping out of their skin, hating to sit at a dang desk all day long … but nowadays, those are all symptoms of mental illness. Attention Deficit Disorder, ADD. Hyperactivity Disorder, HD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD. Impulse Control Disorder, ICD. Intermittent Explosive Disorder, IED … sadly sharing the same initials with the Improvised Explosive Device. There are plenty of other diagnoses available. Show me the boy, I’ll give you the initials …
I had three brothers in grade school with me. All of us were hyperactive, as most boys are, and today, all of us would be diagnosed as such. Here are the official signs of this dangerous sickness, from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV):
- often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
- often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
- often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
- often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
- is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
- often talks excessively
- often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
Yep. That was me and my brothers to a T. We did every one of those things, all the time. My mom would say “Boys will be boys”.
But now, boys can’t be boys. A boy that does those things is told that he is one sick puppy, and he is given drugs … lots of drugs. Ritalin. Prozac. Zoloft. Adderal. Vyvanse. Strattera. Focalin. Kapvay (clonidine). Provigil (modafinil). Desoxyn (methamphetamine).
And if you look at the kids who are killing other kids, guess what you’ll find.
Boys full of drugs. Lots of drugs. Ritalin, Prozac, Zoloft, Adderal, and all of their chemical cousins. The overwhelming majority of the school shooters have been told that they are mentally ill, stuffed full of drugs, and then expected to act adult and mature.
Sadly, we are infantilizing our boys—telling them that they are ill, that the things they do are not their fault, saying that they are not responsible, assuring them it’s a mental disorder, packing them full of drugs … and then we’re surprised when they act irresponsibly.
Grrr … but enough of my thoughts on drugged out boys shooting other kids, that’s just angrifying my blood, and I set out to talk about my own experience with guns.
Now I’ve written a lot of stories about the sea, and at some point the ocean rolls in and out of many of my tales like a slightly demented uncle that lives upstairs who you only see occasionally. And I’ve dealt with guns at sea as well. But since I’ve written a previous autobiographical piece about tropical crime and punishment and guns on land, I thought I’d continue the theme of crime and guns on land and retell my story of home invasion.
I live in a kind of isolated location in Northern California, with houses on one side of our property and none on the other side, where there is just redwood forest. And thirty years ago, it was somewhat wilder. Before the kid was born, my gorgeous ex-fiancee and I used to keep a shotgun by the side of our bed up in the sleeping loft. It was kept loaded, but never a shell in the chamber of course. It was just for home protection.
Figure 1. The Beagle Boys, canine career criminals, prepared for a break-in.
I only ever picked that shotgun up in self-defense one time. For some reason I was alone that night, my gorgeous ex-fiancee was off somewhere. There was moonlight, but the redwoods are thick, so it was patchy. The house was quiet. I went to bed and read for a while, then turned off the light and was drifting off.
After a while, I’d gotten to the point where Morpheus the God of Sleep and I were just exchanging business cards. His card was made of black onyx with black lettering, and I was admiring it when a soft rapping on the door made me sit straight up.
“Hello?” I shouted. “Who’s there?”
There was no answer. I listened for a while. Nothing. I figured I’d heard branches on the roof or something. I settled back in bed and started sliding downhill into sleep again, when the rapping started up again, more insistent than before.
“Who’s there?”, I yelled. No answer. Again silence.
So I grabbed the shotgun from the side of the bed there in the sleeping loft, and I went quickly down the stairs, “naked as a jaybird” as my beloved grandma used to say. I grabbed the flashlight from where it was stored. I noticed that my hands were unsteady. The pounding had stopped completely. I had no clue what was happening. I imagined and rejected a host of possibilities. The silence continued. I jacked a shell into the chamber of the shotgun.
The familiar snick-snack of the shotgun action was flat, foreboding, metallic. I waited. And waited. Finally, the pounding came again. I flung open the front door and shined the flashlight out through the door from inside the house. “Come out right now!”, I shouted, “Don’t mess with me, I’ve got a gun!”.
Silence. Nothing. Well, not nothing. The cold night wind blew in on my privates. I was freezing. But other than the wind, silence.
Silence. I thought about stepping outside. Silence. I thought about my privates. Silence.
“Perhaps I should reconsider my options”, I thought, and I closed the door against the cold wind and any possible intruders, and I reconsidered. I reconsidered my explanations for the pounding. I had none. I reconsidered my options. I didn’t see that I had too many of those either, unless hiding in my house with a shotgun counted as an option, and for me that didn’t cut it … the silence dragged on. I decided the next time, if there was a next time, I was gonna make my move, yes sirree, that’s what I’d do.
Suddenly, the pounding started again, and this time it was more urgent yet, slamming and thumping. I gritted my teeth, flung open the door and jumped through the door to the landing outside, my heart slamming against my ribs in fear. I looked ahead. Nothing. I turned the beam of my flashlight and the barrel of my shotgun to the right. Nothing. I spun around to the left, shotgun and flashlight moving as one. Nothing.
Nothing? How could there be nothing? I looked wildly around, to the front, to the right, to the left, up, around, nothing. What had been pounding on my door scant seconds before? My mind leapt to the wildest possibilities …
It was only when I looked down near my feet, just to the left of the door, that I finally saw the two opossums. I hadn’t noticed them because they were both “playing possum”, unmoving, pretending to be dead as opossums do when startled … but unless opossum passion is a big feature of the opossum afterlife, the intertwined nature and disposition of their “corpses” left little doubt that they had been rudely and cruelly interrupted at what was clearly a critical time for the survival of the opossum ospecies …
Now, there have been occasions when I have felt extremely foolish in my life. No one goes for seventy years without committing some monumental blunders, and I am assuredly no exception to that rule.
But this one was bizarrely crazy, because to my astonishment, I found that I felt exactly like in those dreams that I sometimes used to have as a kid. You might have had them too, the dream where you are involved in some kind of everyday public activity, maybe speaking to a crowd, when suddenly you look down and you realize to your extreme embarrassment that you forgot to put your pants or your dress on. You are completely nude, and everyone is looking at you, and they start pointing and laughing, and you are completely humiliated and ashamed? You know that dream?
That’s exactly how I felt. I felt totally embarrassed and ashamed that the possums could see me naked, even though those opossums looked like some stuffed museum exhibit designed to give the simplified explanation of opossum sex for the kids.
And it was like the dream most especially because even though their beady little opossum eyes were closed tight, I could feel those little buggers looking at me anyway—they have their sneaky methods. They were neither dead nor sleeping, they were vibrantly awake, with all senses cranked out to the limit. They knew exactly where I was, they would know if I stepped towards or away from them. Eyes closed or not, they were wired to me, they could see my every move, and I was embarrassed that they could see my nakedness. I could hear the silent cackling of their demented interior opossum laughter. I could tell they were pointing at my exposed (and frightfully shriveled) manhood and snickering. I melted under their unseen censure, just as in the dream.
And that all went through my head in an instant, and I was frozen in shock, just as happens in dreams sometimes, where you want to run and your feet are stuck, or you want to scream but your tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth and you can’t catch your breath, and I wanted to move, but I didn’t want to disturb them, and I wanted to melt through the porch in total embarrassment, and I wanted to scream and run, I couldn’t think, the gears were jammed, the lines were crossed, all the fuses were blown.
I stood frozen.
The cold wind was more insistent. I could see it twitching and pulling at the hairs on the possums, and it was definitely freezing my johnson because just like in the dream I was I was indeed completely starkers …
… and to my utter amazement, I found myself mumbling incoherent apologies to the opossums, about how I didn’t know it was them. I was babbling that I was sorry about scaring them with the shotgun … the wind blew over my shoulders and through my legs, a nagging, insistent wind that was stripping the heat from my body. I remember saying I hoped they wouldn’t hold it against me but I’d understand if they did, wild words, meaningless incantations of apology and regret …
Finally, the spell snapped and I realized the madness was broken, and I could move again. I snapped off the flashlight without another sound and ran back inside and closed the door and thrust the shotgun into the corner by the stove still loaded, still one in the chamber, and fled back up the stairs to my bed and dived under the covers, shivering.
And there, for the next while, I tried really really hard not to think about the colossally, stupendously embarrassing mental image, the picture in my mind that a pint of eyebleach would hardly touch, the “god’s-eye-view” from above and to the side of a stark naked fully grown idiot with a loaded shotgun in his hand, shell in the chamber and finger on the trigger, shivering outdoors in the moonlight at midnight with a frigid wind blowing on his albondigas, and babbling profuse apologies to a couple of unmoving opossums frozen solid right in the hottest, sweetest, and least optimal option of maximal opassion …
… after I lay there a while trying to convince the mental eraser to function just this once, the pounding started up again and got louder and louder. I decided the part I had said about them holding it against me, that that was anthropomorphism, they couldn’t care less. Heck, I might have just upped their passion levels, danger does that. Ask any adrenaline junkie like myself, for example, we’ll tell you it’s a rush. In the end, I went to sleep contented, knowing the opossum ospecies was going to survive.
And as you can tell from this story … the eyebleach never did work.
My best to you all, treat your guns with respect, stay safe, hug your loved ones, life is far too short …
PS—For the record:
• Eric Harris age 17 (first on Zoloft then Luvox) and Dylan Klebold aged 18 (Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado), killed 12 students and 1 teacher, and wounded 23 others, before killing themselves. Klebold’s medical records have never been made available to the public.
• Jeff Weise, age 16, had been prescribed 60 mg/day of Prozac (three times the average starting dose for adults!) when he shot his grandfather, his grandfather’s girlfriend and many fellow students at Red Lake, Minnesota. He then shot himself. 10 dead, 12 wounded.
• Cory Baadsgaard, age 16, Wahluke (Washington state) High School, was on Paxil (which caused him to have hallucinations) when he took a rifle to his high school and held 23 classmates hostage. He has no memory of the event.
• Chris Fetters, age 13, killed his favorite aunt while taking Prozac.
• Christopher Pittman, age 12, murdered both his grandparents while taking Zoloft.
• Mathew Miller, age 13, hung himself in his bedroom closet after taking Zoloft for 6 days.
• Kip Kinkel, age 15, (on Prozac and Ritalin) shot his parents while they slept then went to school and opened fire killing 2 classmates and injuring 22 shortly after beginning Prozac treatment.
• Luke Woodham, age 16 (Prozac) killed his mother and then killed two students, wounding six others.
• A boy in Pocatello, ID (Zoloft) in 1998 had a Zoloft-induced seizure that caused an armed stand off at his school.
• Michael Carneal (Ritalin), age 14, opened fire on students at a high school prayer meeting in West Paducah, Kentucky. Three teenagers were killed, five others were wounded..
• A young man in Huntsville, Alabama (Ritalin) went psychotic chopping up his parents with an ax and also killing one sibling and almost murdering another.
• Andrew Golden, age 11, (Ritalin) and Mitchell Johnson, aged 14, (Ritalin) shot 15 people, killing four students, one teacher, and wounding 10 others.
• TJ Solomon, age 15, (Ritalin) high school student in Conyers, Georgia opened fire on and wounded six of his class mates.
• Rod Mathews, age 14, (Ritalin) beat a classmate to death with a bat.
• James Wilson, age 19, (various psychiatric drugs) from Breenwood, South Carolina, took a .22 caliber revolver into an elementary school killing two young girls, and wounding seven other children and two teachers.
• Elizabeth Bush, age 13, (Paxil) was responsible for a school shooting in Pennsylvania
• Jason Hoffman (Effexor and Celexa) – school shooting in El Cajon, California
• Jarred Viktor, age 15, (Paxil), after five days on Paxil he stabbed his grandmother 61 times.
• Chris Shanahan, age 15 (Paxil) in Rigby, ID who out of the blue killed a woman.
• Jeff Franklin (Prozac and Ritalin), Huntsville, AL, killed his parents as they came home from work using a sledge hammer, hatchet, butcher knife and mechanic’s file, then attacked his younger brothers and sister.
• Neal Furrow (Prozac) in LA Jewish school shooting reported to have been court-ordered to be on Prozac along with several other medications.
• Kevin Rider, age 14, was withdrawing from Prozac when he died from a gunshot wound to his head. Initially it was ruled a suicide, but two years later, the investigation into his death was opened as a possible homicide. The prime suspect, also age 14, had been taking Zoloft and other SSRI antidepressants.
• Alex Kim, age 13, hung himself shortly after his Lexapro prescription had been doubled.
• Diane Routhier was prescribed Welbutrin for gallstone problems. Six days later, after suffering many adverse effects of the drug, she shot herself.
• Billy Willkomm, an accomplished wrestler and a University of Florida student, was prescribed Prozac at the age of 17. His family found him dead of suicide – hanging from a tall ladder at the family’s Gulf Shore Boulevard home in July 2002.
• Kara Jaye Anne Fuller-Otter, age 12, was on Paxil when she hung herself from a hook in her closet. Kara’s parents said “…. the damn doctor wouldn’t take her off it and I asked him to when we went in on the second visit. I told him I thought she was having some sort of reaction to Paxil…”)
• Gareth Christian, Vancouver, age 18, was on Paxil when he committed suicide in 2002, (Gareth’s father could not accept his son’s death and killed himself.)
• Julie Woodward, age 17, was on Zoloft when she hung herself in her family’s detached garage.
• Matthew Miller was 13 when he saw a psychiatrist because he was having difficulty at school. The psychiatrist gave him samples of Zoloft. Seven days later his mother found him dead, hanging by a belt from a laundry hook in his closet.
• Kurt Danysh, age 18, and on Prozac, killed his father with a shotgun. He is now behind prison bars, and writes letters, trying to warn the world that SSRI drugs can kill.
• Woody __, age 37, committed suicide while in his 5th week of taking Zoloft. Shortly before his death his physician suggested doubling the dose of the drug. He had seen his physician only for insomnia. He had never been depressed, nor did he have any history of any mental illness symptoms.
• A boy from Houston, age 10, shot and killed his father after his Prozac dosage was increased.
• Hammad Memon, age 15, shot and killed a fellow middle school student. He had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression and was taking Zoloft and “other drugs for the conditions.”
• Matti Saari, a 22-year-old culinary student, shot and killed 9 students and a teacher, and wounded another student, before killing himself. Saari was taking an SSRI and a benzodiazapine.
• Steven Kazmierczak, age 27, shot and killed five people and wounded 21 others before killing himself in a Northern Illinois University auditorium. According to his girlfriend, he had recently been taking Prozac, Xanax and Ambien. Toxicology results showed that he still had trace amounts of Xanax in his system.
• Finnish gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen, age 18, had been taking antidepressants before he killed eight people and wounded a dozen more at Jokela High School – then he committed suicide.
• Asa Coon from Cleveland, age 14, shot and wounded four before taking his own life. Court records show Coon was on Trazodone.
• Jon Romano, age 16, on medication for depression, fired a shotgun at a teacher in his New York high school.