A gun in the family

Sometime around 1980,when we were visiting my parents, my then-husband said that he was going to take a gun to the police for disposal. I remembered the rifles, kept in a basement cupboard. My parents had shot skeet; my brother hunted game birds, which Mom roasted and we ate even though we had to discreetly spit shot out of some bites.

But I was astonished to see W. unwrap a towel to show me a sleek leather holster. He opened its brass snap to remove a an ominous-looking pistol that suggested noir detective movies. The barrel was long and slim, the stock, carved wood.

The gun, a prized Nambu semi-automatic, had been given to Dad by a Japanese officer at the end of World War II, as a gesture of thanks for saving his vision. (One of the terms of surrender was care for Japanese officers; my father was part of a team of medics posted to Tokyo for months following VJ Day.)

He also gave Dad a Japanese flag, inscribed with his name, the date, and his wish for peace. The gun began as an instrument of war, but ended as a symbol of amity. I had seen the flag, a war souvenir I carried to show-and-tell at school, but had never known of the other, more disturbing gift.

"Where was it?" I asked W., figuring it had been buried in the attic among ratty fur stoles and crumbling scrapbooks. "In his bedside table", W. replied. "There have been some break-ins in the area, and he was scared."

W. saw how Dad's fear of an intruder made the gun seem a workable idea. W. told him that given its age and condition, the gun could misfire, and that it was far likelier to be used against him than to protect.  He offered to turn it in, sparing Dad questions about what he was doing with an unlicensed firearm.

This memory rose when I read my friend Beth Adams' post, "On Men, Guns and Fear", on her blog, The Cassandra Pages. In her searching piece, she quotes from an article that captures the characteristics of the kind of man who stockpiles guns.

Other than being white, my father fit none of the criteria, nor was he stockpiling. However, he, a life-long pacifist, kept that pistol at hand, loaded. I still wonder how he reconciled the Nambu and its purpose with his beliefs. The distance from fear to bullet is shorter than I ever imagined.

In December, 2012, when the memory of the Nambu was all but lost, Dad's great-granddaughter was born, less than a week after the Sandy Hook shooting. Her father, an elementary-school teacher, and her mother named her Grace, in memory of six-year-old Grace McDonnell, one of the children killed.


Madame Là-bas said…
I read your friend's post and I thought about my own community in British Columbia. I am now a visible minority in the neighbourhood where I have lived for more than 50 years. The newcomers own large expensive homes while affordable housing is non-existent. If anger stems from fear of loss, then we are ripe for the emergence of a populist movement.

We are complicit in the loss of our way of life. Our governments have been greedy in accepting only "well-off" immigrants. No one that I know has balked at accepting $1 million plus for a "tear-down" bungalow which would be replaced by a $4 million mansion. Two weeks ago, I signed a petition in favour of "supported" housing for our growing number of homeless mental health
consumers. Apparently, the modular units would be placed on city land that is currently being used as a dog park. "Not in my backyard" is the cry of the opponents.

Our wages have not kept up with the cost of living. While most of the people that I know have enough, we exploit service workers, predominantly women and often of another minority groups. Yesterday, my daughter was inaugurated as an executive of a union that represents food service workers, care aides, and hotel workers. For the first time, the executive is three women who have risen from the ranks and represent the three major ethnicities represented by the union. Personally, it will be a steep learning curve for my daughter but it is a step towards a better future for the workers.

Guns! My grandfather was in the Merchant Navy and Mum says that he owned a pistol. As he sailed around the world as a young man, it was probably useful. Like your father, my grandpa did not fit the picture. I am working in a school this year and I wonder at the ease with which outsiders come and go. Certainly, in France and in Mexico, schools are enclosed by fences or walls. Adults and former students wander into our school unnoticed. The shoes on the lawn are a poignant reminder and a warning to all of us. Even in Canada.....
Janice Riggs said…
So complicated a topic, fraught with emotions and fears that are unexpressed and often impossible to change because of that. You're wise, and brave, to face this and share this story; I'm grateful.

We were in Ireland for 10 days - during which time we saw NO guns. Not 1. Not a police officer, not in a store - nowhere.

Within 10 minutes of our deplaning in Chicago, I'd see 3 security guards with guns. Not even "real" police, just paid security.

It's a cultural question worth our study...

materfamilias said…
Both this post and your last, K, so good. You're so good at illuminating issues through specific details, avoiding the tedium of sensationalism or sentimentality. The range between Tuesday's post and today's is wide, and yet both make me think about humanity in meaningful ways -- big issues manifest in small moments. Thank you!
Rita said…
Madame La-bas, thank you for your thoughtful post.
Leslie Milligan said…
This is a post that has stayed with me. Guns have been a large part of my life and it is an uneasy relationship. My younger brother was a thrill seeker. His life ended at 14, playing with a gun in the home of a friend, an adult also the home. It profoundly changed my family, but I have often wondered about that adult in the home. He had a lifetime of pain to carry, though my wish was that he would never keep a gun around children...or at all. My first husband also loved guns. He claimed they were for hunting, but I left him after he purchased a 457 magnum. Who needs that to hunt rabbits? I never will understand why anyone needs a loaded gun in a house. I also don’t want to understand. I wish the teenagers from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas every success in their efforts to change opinions and laws in this country.
Duchesse said…
Mme. Là-bas: Thank you for your comment and its exploration of underlying causes. I write this after a weekend of protest by students, but also many adults, agains gun laws in the US. Issues such as a living wage contribute to people's sense of security, so I agree that there is more to reducing gun violence than just tightening laws re access and type of weapon sold.
I love how your pride in your daughter's achievement shines through!

Janice: Every time I return to the US, where relatives live in open-carry states, I am highly anxious. A friend just rented an apt. in Canada to get away for a number of months every year. Her family has seen 9 persons whom they know die from gun violence.

materfamilias: Thank you, and thank you for reading.

Leslie Milligan: Whoa, I'd probably leave a man with a 457 too, In another branch of my family, I have seen how the "collector" mentality sets in and my relative said, "Oh, that's some nut, not me." I feel sorrow when I think of your young brother, and the senseless tragedy of his death. A young classmate of mine accidentally killed his best friend, and went to prison for some years, probably because he was no longer a minor. I saw how that just about tore the family apart. His mother never felt that she could be a part of the community again, and became a near-recluse.

Jane said…
Sorry, I'm late to the post. My husband and I marched at our state capital. Eldest son marched in Montreal and was surprised by the size and makeup of the crowd. He was expecting mostly American students.

Guns are everywhere in my community. One store displays bullets in the snack food and toy departments!

Duchesse said…
Jane: Yes, we marched here because we have had some horrible incidents, too. In early 2017, six congregants were killed and nineteen injured in a mosque in Quebec City. Quebec recently passed A long-gun registry law after the federal government repealed theirs, and its constitutionality was challenged by pro-gun interests in court; they lost.

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