The first time I was shot was when I was fourteen years old. I survived, obviously, almost unharmed.
It was winter and I was walking to the west barn to feed and water the cattle that we sheltered there. I felt a painful bee sting on my upper arm. Bees don’t show up in winter. I quickly clapped my left hand over the spot, to swat the bee, finding the hole in my heavy winter coat and the bullet that had just barely penetrated my skin. I became angry immediately.
The barn sat fifty yards from the property line. On the other side was a ten acre triangle of woods bordered by our farm, the river, and the highway. An attorney and his family had purchased that land, built a house, and moved in a few months before. They were friendly neighbors and nice people. The two boys, ten and eleven year-olds, had the run of the woods, just as I had the run of the farm. I had heard them shooting their guns before, assuming they were target practicing.
When I was shot, I realized they were just shooting carelessly. Not thinking about the trajectory or range of their guns, not conscious about anything but the power of their toys. That made me angry.
After that, our parents had a talk. I never heard their guns again, and I was glad.
My father carefully controlled who was able to hunt on the land that we farmed. In hunting season we were very cautious about where we were and what we were doing, watchful for the hunters who were in the neighboring fields. Hearing about gun accidents was common. When my father brought out his guns, he used them sparingly and taught us how to use them as we became old enough and strong enough to use them..
I didn’t have much interest in guns. Raising animals to eat seemed both more efficient and kind, since shooting with poor vision and aim was always a poor substitute for acquiring meat for the family table. We considered pistols useless for anything that we needed to do on the farm, whether shooting for food or for protecting farm animals from predators or pests.
That was 1960, a different world, we think, and a different mentality, than 2015, when the typical targets for guns seem to be other people. They are often innocent children who are finding poorly stored guns, or who are watching an adult demonstrating or cleaning his gun. They are people committing misdemeanors, or minor felonies, which, through the confusion of circumstances, receive capital punishment without a semblance of due process. They are people stepping onto porches, knocking on the wrong doors, playing their car radios too loudly, “looking like threats” in the estranged eyes of suspicious people. In 1960, I thought such dangers were reserved to the racists in southern states, organized crime zones in the cities, and the accidents of hunting seasons. I learned it could be anytime, anywhere, even when I was minding my own business, doing my chores, just like today.