What Living Through Domestic Violence Taught Me About Gun Violence
“Do you know what this can do?” my father asks, referring to the gun in his hands.
He puts the rag he was cleaning it with down to grab ahold of the grip with both hands. From the chair he’s sitting in he straightens both arms in front of him, aiming the gun at an imaginary target as he looks back to at me.
“No,” I answered blankly.
My 6-year-old face stared at him with doe-eyed innocence. I didn’t know what it was beyond the fact that it was his and I certainly didn’t understand what it was used for.
“It makes you the boss,” he states emphatically as he cocks back the barrel and pulls the trigger to an empty chamber, still pointing at the imaginary target in front of him.
“Pow,” he lets out with a smirk.
The unexpected noise and his dark demeanor spook me. I jump up off the floor a few inches at the sound of the discharge from my spot on the carpet at his feet sitting cross-legged.
“See what I mean?” he says confidently as he raises one eyebrow in my direction.
He pulls me up onto his lap and starts pointing to each part and explaining how it works. He hands me the rag and instructs me what to wipe first as he places the gun in my other hand.
I didn’t know at the time that this was the beginning of his indoctrination — or at least his attempt. Trips to the gun range, gun shows, long car ride talks were not the genuine attempts to spend time together I thought at the time — they were him grooming me. Desensitizing me to the weapon, making me comfortable using it and educating me on directing the power that could be welded from it just being in my hands. He was crafting an unknowing accomplice (literally in some cases), a proxy and an ally in me.
I could load and shoot a Glock comfortably before I knew how to tie my shoes. But nothing about it was comfortable. I, inherently, understood the connection to violence — both real and symbolic. It frightened me.
I noticed the hunting rifles standing tall and solemn peeking out from behind his door — though he never went hunting. I watched the light prism off the open boxes of bullets that sat on the shelf of his office. I flipped through the gun enthusiast magazines scattered around the house. It was all in plain sight, as if to exaggerate its normalcy.
I felt surrounded by reminders of intimidation. That I had the ability to use that intimidation against others or have it be used against me. To grow up in an environment that encouraged the use, or threat of use, of violence with the fear that the very same threats would fall on me if not used by me warped my perception of power and control. Domestic violence laced into my development that safety and fear cannot be separated.
I learned in a dangerous way that guns were a vehicle to gain power. I watched a cycle of intimidation through words, actions and weapons put fear in the rest of the household. That fear kept me following the gun, whomever had it that is, because what struck terror into me made me want to be the closest to the one doing it. Safety in a home with domestic violence is hobbled together with the misconception that I’m safer next to the person with the gun rather than wanting to be rid of the gun all together.
Twenty-five years later I have distanced myself from this dynamic and mostly erased it from my memory. Then I hear a headline about another mass shooting. I read the story just like everyone else with a heavy sadness. But each headline brings back the lump in the back of my throat and the sick-to-my-stomach feeling I had over and over as a child when my dad would put up the target paper at the shooting range telling me to picture someone I hate as he pinned it up. Or when he’d reach for his gun under the seat when a black person walked past our car at a red light. The message that was repeated to me, the message I lived, was that the threat of violence was what kept us safe.
That’s anything but the truth.
I had to learn for myself how to unravel the misconception that power is grown out of fear and intimidation. I realized at a young age that violence will always precipitate more violence. Safety can never be found in the fear of others. I watched it play out, I lived it, but I also escaped it.
I got away so I didn’t have to add to the causalities. I broke the cycle so my own children won’t be numb to the scary rise of domestic terrorism. A phenomenon that I can’t help but wonder is the byproduct of households just like the one I was raised in.
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