Background

I was in my first year of high school when the shooting at Columbine happened, the very first mass killing at a high school in the United States. It was the moment gun ownership became an abhorrent idea to me. For me there has never been such a thing as “sensible” gun regulation that still allows people to own guns. Having grown up in an era that saw mass shooting after mass shooting, including the most recent shooting in Parkland, just 30 minutes from where I went to high school, the only version of gun control I believe in is the one where no one owns guns.

My parents are gun owners. Both are retired police officers, whom I love and respect deeply. I live an ocean away and every Sunday evening we still have our ritual Skype/Facetime call. However, every time there is another shooting, whether it be a school shooting or drive by shooting or some other grotesque shooting, it is never brought up on our call. While I am thankful my parents are responsibly gun owners, I still feel there is no need for them to own guns. This however is never a topic open for discussion. When I have tried to ask thoughtful questions in the past my parents have cut me off before something fruitful can be discussed.

Yep, that’s me receiving my Police Patrol Squad play set.

And so, I am here asking myself why my parents believe in gun ownership.

Diving in

My dad grew up in New York City as the son of Italian immigrants in the 1940s and 1950s. It was not a welcoming time to be an immigrant, but my dad got off pretty easy with his white blonde hair, baby blue eyes and love for American football. I do not know what if any contact with guns he had as a young kid. Instead I think it was actually when he went into the army that he first held a gun and fired it. My dad was lucky, he did his two years before the Korean war and as he said he just “played solider” while in stationed in Korea. My father returned and become a police officer at the station that he would later retire from 35 years later as chief of police. To my knowledge my father never needed to shoot at anyone and I am pretty sure he never killed anyone — we did not live in a major city.

My mom grew up in Florida and was a total tomboy, playing all the time with her brothers and surfing every chance she got. Her father had immigrated from Ireland and her mother was a hard-working nurse from Pennsylvania. My mother describes her growing up as being very similar to the movie “The Help”. I movie I have still yet to watch. She was the third woman hired as a police officer at the station that my father worked at. In those days she was made to wear a long skirt to work. As far as I know my mother never fired nor hurt anyone with her gun.

Going deeper

My parents oppose gun control because they have seen what guns in the hands of people with bad intentions can do. When my sisters and I were still quite young my mother investigated a serial killer in our area that was killing young girls who were home alone babysitting younger children. My father would have invariably overseen the case as well and I imagine as parents of young children they must have been scared for us and felt a deep need to protect us and children like us. I imagine they saw and still see their ownership of guns as the safeguard against these threats.

They see guns as the line of defense between the good guys and the bad guys. Yes, there are people who should not have access to guns that are killing people, but I think they believe that the number would be far worse if no one could access a gun.

They also know that the ability for the police to respond during a break-in or robbery is very small and they believe that having a gun could prevent these crimes. My mother, while off duty, was held up at gun point in the parking lot of the mall where I grew up. The assailant took her purse, but when he demanded her wedding ring, she told him in no uncertain terms where he could shove his demand. As luck would have it a man getting into his car nearby saw this and began to drive towards the man holding the gun to my mother’s head forcing him to flee and leaving my mother unharmed. My mother was off duty and not carrying her gun. I do not have the capacity to imagine the fear, anger and helplessness my mother, and my father, felt in that situation. Even as police officers in the small, low-crime city we lived in, they were not safe. But if she had a gun would the story have had a different ending?

I think the final straw is that my parents have the feeling like there is no way out of the current crisis except to add more guns. They believe that even if legislation passed to ban gun ownership, police stations would not be able to round up all of the guns, only the ones from law abiding citizens. The result would be that the criminals would have the upper hand and would feel undeterred in attacking unarmed people and committing crimes against them. They fear that because of the spread nature of illegal gun ownership in the US it would be impossible to round up all of the illegally purchased and owned guns.

From Mom’s POV

We raised Carly to be independent and not have to rely on others, while I think we succeed in this area I think we failed in another. Anytime there is something said that she does not agree with she gets on her soapbox. Whether it is about gun control, though we avoid that now, or when our neighbor JD says something ignorant, she is up on a soapbox talking down to people, lecturing them for not being politically correct or some other thing like that. While I appreciate her passion, I feel she lives in a bubble, a politically correct bubble. She thinks everything is fair, everyone is equal, and that bad guys are just bad because they did not have the same love, support, and opportunities as everyone else. She does not even live here anymore, but want to try and place European idealism on us here in the US…

From Dad’s POV

I took her to the shooting range for the first time when she was 21 years old. It was her idea. It was something I always did with her godfather and I guess it was a way for us to bond after she stopped playing softball. She never told me to sell my guns and now a days she knows I am too old to go to the range. I just buy guns now as an investment — I figure all of these crazy paranoid gun owners are only going to continue to buy up guns in fear of the government so these guns make good investments if only to sell off later. It is difficult talk with her, whatever I say she has something to say back or a counterargument. And really at this point I wish she would leave it be and let me be…

She is always asking

Carly is always asking us how come we can’t support gun control for assault rifles. I wish she would hear us when we say that the round up alone would put high burdens on already over-stretched police stations and that all we would be doing is getting guns away from responsible people and leaving guns in the hands of criminals. Can’t she see it is a slippery slope, that once the government starts, it won’t stop taking our guns away and that would be unconstitutional.

Carly is always asking us why we can’t learn from the Australian example. Doesn’t she know what different countries we are and that just because it has worked elsewhere does not mean it will work here. She doesn’t seem to recognize the deeply intrenched nature of our connection to guns. It is in the 2nd amendment after all.

The impossible…

I cannot possibly know what my parents think of me in this context, I bring far too much baggage to give an unbiased opinion. Nevertheless, I am trying to do the ground work in the lead up to what feels impossible to me… actually having the conversation with my parents. This feels impossible to me because I think I will be rebuffed all the same and that reaction, after all of this work would be difficult to face. That said, I think I am the one failing here. I am failing to give my parents the benefit of the doubt; I am failing to even entertain the possibility that they may be open to a discussion if I came with all the empathy for them and their opinions that I have built up in this exercise.

For me this has been one of the most difficult tasks of the altMBA so far. I had originally planned to write about a situation with a co-founder, thinking that would be seriously challenging. Instead, I brought it closer to home and realized when family is involved, it is always the hardest. Still, this prompt has allowed me to grow and I can already find myself employing more empathy in my everyday life. Is this another muscle for me to build? One that, if I exercise it every day, will be in shape by July? I will next visit my parents in July. To be continued…

In the end

I have not changed my strong belief in the need for gun control, but this exercise has opened my eyes. I had not thought about these stories of my parents for years. I had never even considered them in my thoughts about their relationship to guns. I had always chalked it up to their past lives as police officers, but never once did I stop to think why that time has so strongly shaped their current views. I cannot say that this knowledge will now help me find a way to bring my parents to my side and for me that was never the point. My aha moment in this exercise is the recognition that there is reasoning behind their choice, reasoning that deserved acknowledgement and respect, even if it is not my reasoning.

I ran away to Portugal to start a food tour and wedding celebranting business after a decade in IFIs. I adore writing, my dog, naps, and reinventing myself.

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