Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tommy's Gun

Tommy watched in dismay as the officers cuffed his father and led him to the squad car. He watched them drive him away as he held his mother. Part of him told him that he should have felt shame at this.  He was after all, 14 years old and considered himself a man.

Later that night he and his mother talked about it.

"Your Dad believes he is doing the right thing."  His mother tried to explain.  "He believes that it is a bad law, and is willing to disobey it as his last protest against it."

"But they took him to jail."  Tommy complained.  He tried to keep the childish whine out of his voice that always seemed to be lurking in his throat when he got emotional.  "And no one even cares."

"People care."  His mother consoled. "We care ,and we are people. Dad is doing this for you and your sister more than for anyone else."

Her last comment confused him. He had heard these things before. Why is parents did something, like make him go to church, or read certain books even though the school library no longer had them for students his age. "Its for your own good." Or "Because there are things that you need to know."  Were the answers to many of these questions. And really, Tommy didn't resist. It was kind of fun to buck the system by commenting and referencing things even his teachers didn't know in class. It gave him and his sister reputations as kind or nerdy rebels. And he got some respect from that.

But he didn't know what he would tell his friends at school tomorrow.  How could he explain that his Dad had chosen to go to jail before surrendering his gun. They had taken the guns from them anyway. And they thought they had them all. But they only knew about the ones that his Dad had purchased, not about the one he had inherited.

Tommy knew that this was really his own gun. His Dad had explained that to him once when he was very young. He had taken him out at just eight years old, and taught him how to hold it.  How to aim it, and how to hit a target with it. It was a small 20 gauge shotgun that his father told him had been passed down from father to son for generations, and now it was to be his as soon as he was old enough to legally own it.

The gun had come into the family long before the government had started to track firearm sales, or require registration. And his ancestors including his father had carefully never registered the weapon. It was part of the family, and one doesn't register members of the family.

Well, after Tommy's father watched the President speak about making our country safer by having all firearms turned into the police, and that those that didn't voluntarily surrender them would have them seized, he did the only thing that he could do.  He took Tommy's gun, and carefully concealed it in their basement.  Tommy knew right where it was. He thought his mother also knew, but she hadn't been there.  His Dad had told him never to talk about it so that no one could overhear.

And then they came for him. It had only taken a week to get to his Dad. When they came, his Dad said he wouldn't give them up.  And they arrested him.  Searched the house, and took the guns they could find. And they had a list of what they were looking for.

The next few weeks were a bit hard.  His dad was in jail, and everyone knew why. Most people didn't talk about it. But the teachers at school did. It was like they were required to call out kids with parents that were non-compliant and tell everyone how tough it must be to have parents that didn't understand or didn't care about public safety.  

Tommy didn't know how to handle this the first time it happened. So he just stood there while the teacher went on telling everyone to be nice to him because he was having "problems at home."  Gee thanks teacher, that makes it so much better now that I will think anyone being nice is doing it because they feel sorry for me.  Thanks a lot.

After he had a chance to think about it, it made him angry.  So the next time he was singled out, he struck back.

"Tommy, will you come up front please."  His teacher, Mrs. Higgins asked him.

"Yes, Ma'am."  Tommy replied.

"Tommy, I know that things have been tough for you lately. And I want you to know that you can always come and talk to me about it, if you feel like it."  She said to him.

"Thanks, but things are fine at home."  Tommy replied. He was angry, but tried to keep it out of his voice.

"Really? I heard your father refused to comply with the gun safety laws and got arrested for it."  Mrs Higgins commented getting back on her plan. "I know that must have been hard to watch. But your home is so much safer now, don't you think."

"No. I don't think we are safer." Tommy contradicted. "I think we are just the opposite."

"But don't you know that guns are dangerous?"  Mrs HIggins was confused now. "Guns kill people. On accident and in the hands of the wrong people, can be used for so much violence."

"Our guns never killed anyone, and I don't think anyone in my family is one of these 'Wrong people' you are talking about."  Tommy was getting a bit angry now and couldn't keep if from showing.  "Or are you saying that my father was a violent man?"

"Tommy, you need to calm down or I will send you to the principal's office."

"Hey, you called me up here to humiliate me. How is any of this my fault?" Tommy asked rhetorically.

"Thats it, young man."  Mrs. Higgins stamped. "You can think about this little outburst in detention."

And so Tommy got a reputation as being a gun safety denier.  Everyone knew that guns were just too dangerous for people to own.  And as the weeks went on, there were more and more reports of guns that had escaped confiscation being used to kill people, used in robberies, and other acts of violence.

The news on the radio and TV kept talking about it. But the way they talked about it was like it was the gun that caused the crime. The gun that turned an out of work mechanic into a gang banger, or an mentally ill homeless person into a murderer.  If there just weren't any guns out there, these problems and acts of violence would go away. But Tommy kept thinking that many of the victims in these stories could have protected themselves if they hadn't been disarmed.

The next week Tommy found himself in the school counselor's office.

"Do you know why you are here, Tommy?" Mr. Forrester asked him.

"Well, I got this note from one of my teachers." Tommy searched for an answer. "It said to come here."

"Sure." Mr. Forester smiled. "And do you know why you got that note?"

Tommy was afraid that he might know why, but he was hoping that he was wrong. "Not really. Why don't you tell me and then we will both know."

Mr. Forester's smile froze a bit. "Well, you have been acting out a bit in classes and making non-compliant comments about gun safety."

"Its a free country."

"Well that may be true."  Mr. Forester continued. "But we can't run into a crowded theater and yell, 'Fire!' just because its a free country."

"What if there is a fire?"  Tommy countered. "Could we yell 'Fire!' then?"

"I suppose."  Mr. Forrester was still trying to keep smiling. "But that is just an example. What we are talking about here is public safety. And school policy. Its the school policy to prohibit rhetoric that promotes breaking the law. And the school honor code is pretty clear about public safety. Don't you agree?"

"I think we both know that I don't agree."  Tommy sighed. "So are you going to give me more detention too?"

"Why would you ask that?"  Mr Forrester said, trying to sound nice and using his, 'I'm on your side.' voice.

"That seems to be what the teachers do around here when you have a different point of view."

"I think that statement is a bit extreme."

"Well, you can think what you like." Tommy continued. "But when a teacher or counselor asks me my opinion or feelings on our latest gun safety laws, they don't want to hear my thoughts or feelings, they just want me to say what they, the teacher or counselor, thinks or feels. And that seem like its wrong."

Mr. Forester jotted down something in his folder. "I see."

"What is it that you think you see?"  Tommy queried.  He was not sure why, but he was feeling a bit aggressive.

"What?"  Mr. Forrester asked.

"What do you see?"  Tommy repeated. "And what are you writing down in that folder?"

"This is your school file."

"I know, but I can't think of anything we are discussing that has to do with my academics, so what are your writing down?  And what is it that you see?"

"Tommy, the types of behavior I am seeing indicate there may be certain types of abuse in your home."


"You have been subjected to some extreme views, and most likely physical abuse was used to enforce your adoption of these viewpoints to please your parent or parents and stop the abuse."  Mr. Forrester explained. "Was it your father or mother that hurt you?"

"My parents never hurt me."  Tommy objected.

"I see."  Mr. Forester commented again, and jotted something else in the folder.

The rest of the meeting with the counselor was just as productive.

That weekend there was a visit from social services.  Mother cried. And they took Tommy and his sister into separate rooms to be examined. They made Tommy take off his clothes to check for signs of abuse, and asked him about the bruises on his arm that he still had from wrestling some fence posts out of the garden. He could only guess that they did the same thing to his sister.

Tommy wished his father had been there.  But at the same time, was glad that he wasn't. They left, explaining that they would be making regular inspections.  Tommy, his sister, and his mother just sat on the couch afterwards and hugged each other for a long time.

The next week was just as painful.  And the next.

Meetings with the school counselor were pointless.  The man sounded more the fool every time he talked to Tommy. And the teachers went out of their way to make him look stupid, and gave everyone the knowing look of, 'See, this is what happens to gun safety deniers, they become stupid.'

It was the next week that the house of cards really came down.  Tommy was in the basement getting ready for bed when he heard a noise that he had never heard before, but that he immediately recognized.  The door had been kicked in. He heard his mother scream, and then tell them they could take whatever they wanted.

He could hear the whole thing clearly through the heating vents in the house.  They had always acted like an intercom between his room and the kitchen.

He heard a man laugh.  Then a sound like a slap.

"We don't want you, we want your girl.  Where is she?"

This was followed by more slapping, and more demanding.

Tommy knew what he needed to do.  He went to the utility room and started to carefully to retrieve his gun.  He could hear his mother weeping, but it sounded like they were done hitting her.

"Leave her. The girl is here somewhere.  Check the bedrooms, and don't forget the closets."  Came the man's voice through the venting again.

Tommy took two cartridges and loaded them into the shotgun.  Then he took a fist full of others and stuffed them in his pockets. He went to his sister's room and woke her. In whispers he explained what was happening, and then took her back to the utility room. There was a gap between the water heater and the underneath of the front porch.  Tommy helped her into it, and then closed the door.  He hoped they wouldn't find her there if he failed to stop them.

Then Tommy went to the bottom of the stairs and shut the door.  And locked it.  The noise alerted the men in the house and they called to each other and came tromping down the stairs.

Tommy could hear his mother screaming at them to leave, but he couldn't listen, he had to be ready.  He waited in a corner with good visibility of the door, but where they wouldn't see him first.  It sounded like there were three voices.

It only took moments for them to break down the basement door.  Then they came trooping into the room looking for his sister. Once they were all through the door, Tommy stepped out of the shadow and fired his first round into the back of the man closest to him.  The man crumpled and started bleeding into the carpet.  The others turned toward him.  One yelled, "Gun!" as if he were truly shocked to see one.

Tommy fired the second barrel.  Since he was not as close, the pattern spread a bit more.  The man closest to him clutched his face and screamed.  The man behind his was partially protected by his friend.  He grabbed his left arm and backed away.  As he did so, he tripped over a laundry basket and fell.

Tommy reloaded. The man clutching his face was trying to find the door by feeling the wall with his hand.  Tommy fired into his chest at close range and he went down and stopped moving.  Then he turned to the man backing away on the floor.

"Don't hurt me!" the man yelled. They were all wearing masks, but Tommy was starting to think he recognized the man’s voice.

"I know I'm not my sister."  Tommy replied. "But I think I can speak for her when I tell you that she doesn't want to talk to you."

Tommy raised his shotgun for the final round. He saw the man's eyes behind his mask get larger, and he held up his hand to says something more.  Tommy really wasn't interested in what he had to say. He fired once more at close range. The shot seemed so much louder than all of the others. It may have been the confines of the hallway, or maybe it was the effect of the adrenalin he was feeling.  Either way, he figured it was over now.

He retrieved his sister, and they found their mother upstairs.  She was so relieved but could barely speak. Tommy quickly ran a cleaning rod through his gun and put it back in its place. One doesn't leave a member of the family dirty after firing. Then he called 911 to report the break in.

As they waited for the police to arrive, Tommy started to feel really tired. He shed a few tears. It was hard to think that he had just killed three people. He hadn't seen their faces, so he wasn't sure who they were, but each time he closed his eyes he could see the terror in the eyes of that last man who had been about to make another plea for his life. He didn't know if he would ever be able to sleep again.

But at least it was over. He had protected his sister.

When the police finally got there, they started asking questions.  And Tommy started telling them what had happened. Then he realized what they were trying to get him to tell them. They wanted to know where his gun was.

"What?" Tommy asked, confused. "What difference does that make now?"

"Son, we need to take that gun." The officer stated. "Its a dangerous weapon, and might hurt someone."

"Have you been down stairs?" Tommy asked incredulously. "Of course it might hurt someone if they break into my house and try to harm my family."

"So you admit that there is a gun here, and you are refusing to surrender it?"

"I don't think I have to admit to anything."  Tommy said.

"We need that gun." The officer demanded.

"I don't have anything to give you."  Tommy replied.

"I am taking you into custody for refusing to comply with gun safety laws."  The officer stated and began forcing Tommy into a posture where he could be handcuffed.

"No!" his mother yelled.

"Stay out of this ma'am."  The officer instructed. "If I have to take you in as well, we will need to call social services to take your daughter."

Mom stopped talking then and just held onto Tommy's sister.

"It will be alright." Tommy said to her as they took him away. But they both knew that was a lie. It was not alright. It might never be alright again.

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