Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why I Got Rid of My Handgun

This is a true story.

When I was in my twenties, I was living in on the second floor of a duplex in a not-nice part of Minneapolis. I owned a handgun, which I kept loaded in a drawer next to my bed. Having that gun made me feel powerful, and safe.

One night, after an evening of drinking too much scotch, I was awakened by someone pounding at the door. It was two o’clock in the morning. I got up and grabbed my revolver.

I was still quite drunk. Hey, I was in my twenties—these things happen.

Revolver in hand, I went to the door. Whoever was there was really banging hard—I could see the door panels flexing as he pounded on it, and he was shouting. It sounding like he was saying “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

“Who is it?” I yelled back.

He yelled something. His words were slurred, and I could hardly make sense of them. I thought he was saying, “You’re bad!”

Clearly, a maniac was trying to break into my home.

“Go away!” I shouted.

He started pounding again. “Brian!” he yelled. “Open the door, dammit!”

Brian? A moment of clarity penetrated my drunken thought processes, and I realized my visitor was at the wrong door. A young couple, Brian and Pam, lived on the floor above me. One month earlier, I had swapped apartments with Brian and Pam. The man hadn’t been yelling “Bam,” he’d been saying “Pam.”

“You have the wrong apartment!” I said. “Brian and Pam live upstairs now.”

I heard shuffling, a mumble that might have been an apology, then the sound of unsteady footsteps climbing the stairs. I went back to bed and, after about three hours of tossing and turning, slept.

The next day, I asked Pam about our visitor.

“Oh,” she said with an embarrassed laugh, “that was my dad. Sorry. He had a little too much to drink and he knew he couldn’t drive, so he walked here all the way from his office downtown. I’m amazed he even got here. He was pretty wasted.”

I realized then that when I had heard the man shout “You’re bad!” he had been trying to say, “Your dad!”

I went back to my bedroom and took the gun from my bedside table and unloaded it and sat staring at it, feeling nauseated.

Why was I feeling sick? Nothing bad had happened. It was kind of funny—two drunks trying to have a conversation through a locked door, arguing over a trivial misunderstanding. It would make for an amusing anecdote, and nobody got hurt.

I had been glad to have the gun in my hand when the drunken maniac was trying to break my door down. But I kept revisiting the event, and imagining possible scenarios. Suppose I had been twice as drunk? Suppose the man had punched his hand through the door panel? Suppose Pam had given her father a key for some reason—a key to her old apartment? Suppose he had let himself in and come stumbling into my bedroom?

I came up with about a dozen different ways the situation could have turned deadly, and it scared the shit out of me. A few weeks later I gave my gun to the police, who were having a “buy-back” program. They gave me fifty dollars. At that point, I would have given them fifty bucks to take it.

I don't drink like that anymore, but the episode taught me something, and that is that fear, human error, and unpredictable sets of circumstances are unavoidable, but there are things we can do to reduce the chances that an unfortunate situation might turn deadly. My personal choice, in this case, was to remove the loaded gun from the mix.

One more thing: While I was talking with Pam that next day, I found out that I knew her father! He was my uncle’s law partner, a good, smart, gentle man in his seventies who occasionally drank too much. A few months later I ran into him. He and I laughed over the incident.

I never told him about the gun.


Anonymous said...

The problem wasn't the gun, dude. It was the alcohol. If you don't get drunk any more, you may wish you still had it sometime.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the above commenter. A dear friend of mine was in a similar situation. Long story short, he heard noises in his yard. Looked out the window and saw his gate had been broken open. Saw a flashlight moving in his yard. He grabbed his gun and headed out before freezing- he had a thought that it might be police. They were there in error, but had he drawn on them, even without firing, he would likely be a dead man (police in LA are notoriously trigger happy).

Anonymous said...

None of the instances posted (in the story or comments) would have legally justified use of any firearm.

You can't shoot someone for knocking (or pounding) on your door, or for simply trespassing in your yard!

I'm glad the poster understands guns and alcohol do not mix.