Making Peace with Guns by
(190 Stories)

Prompted By Guns Then and Now

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Growing up, I was the only girl on the block, so I played with boys who had toy guns. We enacted a lot of cowboys and Indians scenarios. No one thought much of it. Once I passed that stage I became afraid of guns. Through the 60s and Vietnam, guns meant violence. Criminals used guns, but so did police. Somehow they didn’t cancel each other out.

He aimed and started shooting ... I found the whole practice terrifying.

Then, in my mid-twenties, I met Hugh. He grew up in east Texas, the fourth in a family of seven, with three older brothers. Hugh kept a rifle in his attic. I have no idea why, because the house was in Campbell, a suburb in the Bay Area. Hardly hunting territory, and no need to run off critters. Hugh wasn’t a sporting or violent person at all–just the opposite–so I was puzzled. I wish I’d asked him.

One day, two of his older brothers, Marvin and Edwin, drove in from Texas in a large American car, with the windows open, beers in hand. They wore cowboy hats and boots. We all were having a nice visit on Hugh’s back porch, when one of the brothers suggested doing some shooting. Edwin went and retrieved two large pistols from the trunk (thank God they’d been in the trunk) and set up the now empty cans of beer along the back fence. He and Marvin aimed and started shooting. Hugh took a shot or two, but wasn’t that interested. Edwin offered me a pistol, but I shrank back and covered my ears. I found the whole practice terrifying. For some reason, I never discussed what happened with Hugh, but I began to understand this type of gun use as something regional, maybe cultural.

The next time I had a personal encounter about guns was with another boyfriend, James, in 2000. Entrepreneur, genius (literally), with a PhD, and very eccentric, he grew up in upstate New York, in a rural, poor area, where everyone had guns. He, too, had rifles and pistols in his attic in the suburban Bay Area. It was his rural upbringing. James could defend himself well if needed with a small arsenal, but could probably do much more damage with his amazing computer hacking skills. I felt uneasy and more puzzled than terrified.

During our relationship, James had explained why he didn’t serve in Vietnam and didn’t have to dodge the draft. He was drafted, but the army rejected him when he failed the psych evaluation. They determined that if James thought his commanding officers were doing something stupid and putting him in harm’s way unnecessarily, he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot them. The army got something right.

By this time I could see that, besides all the other issues related to guns, there were cultural and rural-urban divides. I didn’t want to own a gun, but I wanted to understand more about them. In about 2010 a friend named Don invited a large group of people to spend a weekend in the country, to stay at an old house in Sheep Ranch, north of the California gold country, near the town of Arnold. It was a lovely rural setting, with pleasant days and cool nights. That Sunday, Don suggested going to an outdoor range to do some target shooting. I jumped at the chance to learn more.

At the range, I shot a rifle that was somewhat too big for me (the rebound really made my shoulder hurt), and I tried to shoot a medium-sized pistol but wasn’t strong enough to pull the trigger. Someone handed me a .22, and finally, using both hands, I could shoot it. Later, back in the house at Sheep Ranch, Don showed me the components of the pistol and the basic principles of gun safety. My general fear of guns diminished.

Since then I haven’t had direct exposure to guns, but I have made some conclusions about where I stand. These conclusions apply to “regular” firearms only. Semiautomatic and assault rifles have no place except in the military. It’s an outrage that they cannot be banned.

Do I want to own a gun? No, and I don’t think a gun would keep me safe in a suburban or urban environment. Where would one keep it to use quickly enough? In a drawer? Under a pillow? What about others in the household?

Do I understand the appeal of guns? Yes, especially to people who grew up in rural areas with certain cultural values. I think this culture is here to stay in the U.S., both legally and culturally. But guns need to be “managed” somehow.

Do I believe in gun control laws? Absolutely. I think there should be “gun licenses,” just as there are driver’s licenses. Maybe also “possession” limits, as there are for certain drugs. In late-breaking news, the San Jose City Council approved drafting of a law to require gun owners to carry liability insurance. They are using a tobacco analogy to have users pay for any damage caused.

What about kids? I doubt we can stop children, especially boys, from being fascinated with guns. We just need to educate appropriately.

There are no good answers to our gun-owning and sometimes gun-obsessed culture. But we need to do all within our power to keep the people safe.


Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. I wish I could say I had your nerve, Mare…I asked Garth to let me take a photo of the gun in my featured image and the minute he opened the case I went into panic mode. Clearly, he is the one that would have to keep us safe if our lives were being threatened.

    I believe there are good answers, and you’ve highlighted them…thanks for such a thoughtful and reasonable story.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    What an interesting perspective, Marian. I think licensing guns and having owners carry liability insurance make sense. On the other hand, I suspect much of the violence caused by guns is through illegal guns that can’t even be traced. Not sure how we could begin to address that.

    • Marian says:

      You are right, Laurie. One reason I wouldn’t own a gun is the possibility it would be stolen. I guess if you kept it in the attic, that wouldn’t happen, but what good would it be in the attic?

  3. Jeff Gerken says:

    One thing that you have to understand about boys – they like things that make loud noises.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    You are so right that this is a cultural thing, which is very complex, and apparently more testosterone-driven than not. However, regulation can make a difference, and we have seen the worsening situation in the US as big money has manipulated the political and cultural milieu, despite polls that show people are fed up with the gun violence. On reflection, it is sobering to see how we in the US were all steeped in a culture of guns and war, and to know this has only intensified.

  5. Thanx Marian for your thoughtful story about guns and some of the interesting gun-owning guys you’ve known.

    I must confess I found both archery and riflery a bit thrilling when I tried them as a kid in camp – that thrill surely a piece of the puzzle and the problem of our prevalent gun culture..

    A haunting gun story I’ll not forgot was told by my friend Maureen. Years ago her sister and her two kids were with a group of friends at a shooting range.
    Maureen’s sister had never held a gun but was urged by her friends to try and so she did..

    Apparently she hit the bullseye and her young son excitedly ran towards her and she dropped the rifle and opened her arms to embrace him. But as the gun hit the ground, it discharged killing her son.

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    Another thing I learned about guns and hunting – when you cross a fence, you first lay the gun on the ground, then cross, then pick the gun up. That doesn’t apply directly to your friend’s sister, but it reinforces the idea that a gun is a deadly instrument, and remains so even when you are not actively using it.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    So fascinating to read a story — especially from a woman (if I may say) — who has had actual experiences with guns. And you so well identify the gender and cultural issues that so pervade issues relating to guns and their appeal or disgust.

    As you note, it is complicated. And there are lots of dangerous people (mainly men) out there — glad you are safe!

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John. I think it’s especially challenging for women who grew up in a suburban or urban, or at least non-rural, environment. We had little or no exposure to actual guns, just the cap guns that boys had, or reading about the bad stuff in the news.

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for this interesting story, both your personal encounters and thoughtful conclusions. The cultural divide is widening, I’m afraid and very real. Your experiences, building up the strength and overcoming fear, made for good reading.

    Your comments on ways to regulate make so much sense. I hope the rest of the country can come to its senses as well, Marian.

    • Marian says:

      Sensible is the word, Betsy. Although I disagreed politically with Don a lot, I did respect him being serious about gun safety, and he respected me for being willing to learn. We need more of that on every issue in this country right now!

  9. Suzy says:

    This is a wonderful story, Marian, and I am impressed with your decision to get to know guns so that you could understand them better. I have friends with a cabin in Arnold, so I have visited a few times. Now I’m curious about Sheep Ranch. Thanks for your very thoughtful observations and conclusions.

    • Marian says:

      Glad you liked the story, Suzy. Sheep Ranch is a wonderful old place, but nothing commercial there exists any more. You can see sheep by the roadside! If you are in Murphy’s or Arnold, it’s worth a drive around the area for a bit of nostalgia.

  10. I’d say you have a more profound relationship to guns than most people I know. I’ve never known any gunslingers who I thought had a comprehensive understanding of the power they hold in their hands. How interesting to have deeper relationships with gun owners. I do think the culture has been pervasive but I wonder… is it here to stay? So much of our culture has no precedent these days. What if we were able — through many generations and beyond our lifetimes — to get rid of guns. Would the myth/reality that has become so grotesque in America, that guns implement our personal freedoms, become irrelevant? Or necessary?

  11. Dave Ventre says:

    Unless the home was backed up against a hillside and it was all private property, the backyard target practice seems like a great way to get arrested, or kill a neighbor. Maybe both.

    Guns don’t scare me, but a lot of the gun owners do.

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