A mother’s story: Gunfire shattered my world

One mother, whose family owns guns, tells the sad story of the accidental gun death of her son. Photo: Candles lit in memory of victims

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky, January 2, 2013 — This is not my typical column, not one on the Civil War or as a frequent contribution to Life’s Online on a topic of general interest and discussion. This is a very personal column, a terribly sad one, written by my sister, Liz Waters of Louisville, Kentucky the day after her son’s accidental death, four days before Christmas. She published it in her blog on Salon and gave me permission to reprint it here.

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook, it happened. I lost my son to a gun. I lost him to a careless accident that should never happen to an expert on guns, but it did.

When you are really, really good at something, I guess you can decide to skip the basics, thinking that an accident can’t happen to you. Let my sorrow tell you that you can’t ever, ever, ever skip safety rules when it comes to guns, because the unthinkable can happen.

My son, Kevin, was an experienced hunter and a sport target shooter. His aim was good, his hand steady, and he had skills as a gunsmith when one was required. He knew guns, and knew them well. He had wanted a Glock for years, and he found a bargain a few weeks ago and bought one. He called his dad to tell him about it.

My husband, who has had a Glock for a long time, reminded our son that this particular handgun has a light trigger pull and no true safety. If you are going to carry that gun loaded, you need to have a holster that has good trigger protection. And, of course, you don’t carry it around with a round in the chamber ready to fire because it is way too easy to fire it by mistake. Warnings to one’s children, however, are not always heeded when those children are in their 40’s.

Kevin, a firefighter

My son and his wife went out to dinner with friends, had a couple of drinks before dinner and a nightcap when they came home. As his wife tidied up the kitchen before heading up to bed, our son went up ahead of her.

Evidently sleep did not come right away and he reached over on the nightstand to fiddle around at his recently acquired handgun, which he kept loaded for home protection. He also kept a round chambered it seems.

His finger brushed the trigger and the gun went off, killing him. The horror his wife experienced and our unfathomable sorrow cannot be described. One careless moment has changed our lives forever and taken away the light of our lives.

I grew up with guns; my husband grew up with guns, and we raised our boys around guns. The first thing anyone was ever taught was to remove the magazine and eject a chambered round on an automatic before fiddling around with it. In my mind, I am sure that he intended to do just that, but the gun was loaded, there was a round in the chamber, and he had never gotten around to taking the bullets out before the gun discharged. He made the kind of mistake that you cannot take back, and that brings me to my point.

Guns are dangerous. There are no “do overs” when you make a mistake, and human beings make mistakes. There are few gun owners on this planet more educated about guns than our son was, and he made a careless mistake that cost him his life. You cannot forget the rules, and in our gun-happy society, it is easy to forget the rules. They are like the rules for handling rattlesnakes. There is no margin for error. 

I do believe that buying a gun should be like buying a car, with classes and road tests and licensing that must be renewed. It is serious business. The Second Amendment didn’t mean automatic handguns on nightstands, Bushmasters under the bed or even a six-gun strapped to your hip. It meant a long gun in a closet, a horn full of gunpowder, some musket balls, and a ramrod that could be gathered up and carried out the door if we needed to raise a militia in order to protect our country.

In today’s world, we might need to raise a militia if the Taliban lands in force Indiana. I am sure the most obtuse defender of the 2nd Amendment should be able to grasp that simple reality about when the Constitution was drafted. 

As a society, we have become way too cavalier about guns and what they can do. We see them fired randomly on television, we shoot them up on video games, and we leave them loaded in all of the wrong places. They are lethal weapons; death is forever, and my heart is broken. Don’t let this happen to you and to your family.

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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