He had never travelled by air and he had never gone to a talky show.
Until last month, there were two things I had never done in my life of which I was particularly proud. I had never watched Titanic—still haven’t, actually. And I had never touched a gun. A real gun, that is. I had a dalliance or two with a BB gun while tromping about the Wisconsin farmland of my youth. But live firearms are another story.
As a child I didn’t hate guns; they were as American as the Walmart out north of town. It’s just that, as my friends bonded with their fathers by sitting with them in cold, damp hunting shacks, I connected with mine while reading the newspaper at McDonald’s, talking about sports and war and politics.
At that point, the late ’80s and early ’90s, shooting massacres were a rarity, and the 24-hour news cycle that churns those massacres for ratings was just being born. I can recall only one conversation about guns: My dad recounted a day in the ’60s when a student brought a revolver to my hometown’s junior high school and shot the vice principal dead.
We had a gun—a .22 caliber rifle that my father inherited from my grandfather, a farmer. Only once do I remember my father using it. On a summer’s night, coyotes began yipping in the distance. As their shrieks grew closer, my father went to his and my mother’s bedroom and emerged with the gun. My brother and I watched out the window as he marched to the field’s edge and looked out to where the livestock grazed. No coyotes. He never fired.
I remember, while snooping, finding the .22 in my father’s closet, leaning against an inside wall. I never touched it. I wonder now if it was loaded.
As I grew older, the fact that I had never touched a gun became more than a curious detail in my life—something much larger than never having seen the second-highest-grossing film of all time. When two students entered Columbine High School in 1999 with an arsenal and murdered a dozen students and a teacher, I remember sitting next to a friend training to be a teacher. He was in tears. From that moment forward, I openly argued in favor of gun-control measures; I viewed my inexperience as evidence of my conviction.