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    Posted August 29, 2014 by
    Columbia, Tennessee
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Guns and children

    Guns And Mental Illness

    I was raised in a house full of guns. My father made muzzle loading rifles that required lead balls, black powder, patches and a powder horn. He also made knives but his passion seemed to always be with guns. He and my step-mother won several shooting competitions and many summers were spent at local shooting matches and campgrounds. Because of the way my step brother and I were raised, we knew better than to touch any gun in the house out of fear of my father's wrath.

    By the time I was 15 I was shooting at the gun range with my father. I was proficient with .38, .44, and .45 caliber pistols. I had expressed suicidal ideations when I was 12 and 13 but they were dismissed as attention seeking. Because my father was now divorced with me, a teenage daughter to care for, he worked two jobs, and so he was never home until very early hours of the morning. Therefore I slept with a loaded .45 on my bedside end table every night. The issue with this is I was already showing signs of obsessive compulsive behavior disorder (although at the time I had no idea what it was called, let alone why I was experiencing it), and so every night before I went to sleep I would remove the magazine, empty the chamber, then reload the magazine, slam it into the gun and re-rack the slug. I would do this numerous times while sitting on the side of my bed until I got so frustrated, gave up and went to sleep.

    When I got older, married, and had kids of my own, my husband and I decided to get a handgun for protection. He was an over the road truck driver and so it was usually just myself and our three kids at home. We decided on a semi-automatic, my reasoning being that with the clip placed away from the gun itself in a place only he and I knew about, the kids couldn't accidentally hurt themselves. I then took the completely empty gun and put in on the living room coffee table and watched from a distance to see what the kids would do.

    Our oldest two (9 and 8 years old) saw it but ignored it and said nothing. Our youngest, 4 years old, went straight to it and reached for it. I interrupted him with a loud "No!". Then we all sat down and talked about the gun, what it's purpose was for, what it was made for, who could use it, and what it did when used properly and improperly. I then let each of them hold the empty gun and look at it with the intention of assuaging some of the natural curiosity. After that I practically ground into their heads that if they "See a gun, don't touch it; tell an adult."

    Over the next few months I would periodically place the empty gun in a common place of the house where it could be seen and touched. It wasn't long before my 4 year old (I will call him John for this story) was spotting the gun, yelling "gun", then immediately ignoring it and going on. When it reached the point where I knew it was no longer a fascination for them, I put it in my end table, unloaded, with the magazine in a close but safe location. If family came by with kids, we let them know we had a gun in the house, and usually hid it up high where it couldn't be reached.

    The gun was never fired and sat in my end table drawer for years.

    When John was about 13 years old, my father, who I had become estranged from, came to our house in the country (Kentucky) to show off his collection of guns. Along with the 9mm that he usually carried concealed, he brought a .22 target pistol, a Russian SKS, and an AK47 that had been modified to fully automatic. The two of them sat at our picnic table and fired at targets on the mountain. John seemed to enjoy himself and so, while I hovered, I let them 'play' until a neighbor called and said bullets were 'whizzing' past their ears. My father seemed embarrassed but there was no regret. I apologized to the neighbor and shut the target practice down. But not before the AK47 misfired and shot a hole in our picnic table. Two accidents that could easily have been fatal. My father went home, leaving the SKS and .22 pistol with me.

    Years later I gave in to my father's insistence and got my concealed carry license, and the year after that I grudgingly agreed to enter a shooting competition with him in Lexington, Kentucky where I won a trophy for the women's division. (I don't remember what place it was; first or second.) By this time I had already been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and was on medication. I had told my father but he didn't seem to care, and since I never had the desire to shoot someone or myself, I dismissed it.

    Then, when John was 22/23, I realized something was wrong. John had always been very intelligent, a math whiz of sorts, but different from other kids in that he was reclusive and easily angered at times. Lately though, I had seen more anger, drastic mood changes, and some difficult to understand thought processes. After a night of intense prodding, John finally told me he was hearing voices that told him bad things, that told him to do bad things, had extreme rage (both suicidal and homicidal ideations), and other symptoms that totally shocked me.

    My first reaction was, of course, shock. Was I hearing him right? Was he just saying these things? Who would make up such things? Maybe it's a mistake and he's not understanding himself correctly.. Maybe I'M not understanding him correctly. All these thoughts and more were racing through my head while at the same time I was trying not to panic. So we talked for hours until I realized I was out of my league with this. Somewhere in the middle of the whole talk my other two kids had shown up and joined in the conversation. (My husband was on the road.) Knowing that I personally had no knowledge of how to even approach this problem I gave my son two options; he could go with us to the hospital, or I would have to call the police to take him.

    His reaction was probably similar to anyone's put in that position, but it was difficult for the rest of us to experience. He, of course, got angrier, said he should have never told us, said he had trusted me and I had betrayed him, etc. In the end, thankfully, he made the choice to go with us to the hospital. It took many months for him to receive an official diagnosis of Schizophrenia with Bipolar Disorder (called Schizoaffective). In the meantime though, we as a family had a decision to make. What about the guns?

    John is a big man. He is 6'7" and weighs approximately 400 lbs. He wouldn't even *need* a gun to hurt someone. And yet, in the correct mindset, a gun in his hands could kill a lot of people. For that matter though, a kitchen knife in his hands could kill someone. How could we get rid of everything that he could possibly hurt someone with? Ultimately, out of love and concern for him and a sense of accountability to others, we got rid of the guns completely. Ironically, I wasn't bothered by doing that.

    John moved back home and, while helping him pack, we discovered homemade shivs and knife/sword-like weapons hidden all over his apartment. Not just a few; a suitcase full of them. I realized I had done the right thing in getting rid of the guns, and also knew that I would have to keep closer tabs on him to make sure he wasn't making/hoarding new weapons. We also implemented what we call "Full Disclosure". Because of his constant paranoia, even now years later, we are completely open as a family to what we feel, what we think, what we fear, etc. We don't hide things from each other but instead share our feelings and thoughts, and are non-judgmental in regards to them.

    So much in my story could have gone differently. What if I had accidentally shot myself reloading my gun at 15? What if i had purposefully killed myself? What if I had given John a gun to keep by his bed when he was 15? What if John had had no parent he felt he could talk to? I'm not saying kids shouldn't be taught to use guns, I'm saying kids need to be known by their parents first. Few are.
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