Fast-forward more years and it eventually became undeniable that something was becoming off with my father. It started little and grew from there. Little things like he’d never consider driving to other skeet facilities even though the Olympic range was an hour’s drive and there were closer places. While he used to be very into military history, current events, and politics, eventually those started to slip away. His life boiled down to three main pillars: guns, his life savings, and cars (when I was about ten he drove off in the family station wagon and drove home in a Corvette). It became undeniable that something was wrong with him mentally even though he was in great shape physically.
There are many stances and counter stances on gun control in the US. I’m going to explain mine. It comes from my own opinions, my own life, and is my own story. Feel free to agree with it and share it. Argue against it if you like. Have your own opinion, but make it your own from your perspective rather than what a candidate, elected official, or pundit tells you to think. I’m going to start with a story and get to my perspective as it formed. I won’t be brief either so buckle up.
As long as I can remember, my father had guns. He had automatics, revolvers, and hunting rifles. He reloaded his own ammo in the garage. He hunted and had some friends who hunted. He has a boar head on his office wall. I grew up in suburban Atlanta and there was never a self-defense slant to the firearms. Shooting was a hobby of his along with exercise, watching movies, and playing tennis. There wasn’t a stigma behind guns other than we shouldn’t touch them and should respect them. He took my brother and I to the range on multiple occasions, but not many. My father wasn’t obsessed with them, it was just something he was into. In short, guns weren’t a foreign topic. At the time, I’d have called him a responsible gun owner.
My father did have a carry permit but I don’t ever remember him doing more than having a 9mm in the glovebox of his car. There was always a loaded weapon in his car. Which brings me to the next point. I knew it was there. My brother knew it was there. The glovebox wasn’t locked and we had access to the keys anyway. I also knew that he had another automatic on a shelf in his closet under some clothes near where he kept his wallet. There wasn’t anything keeping us from handling them if we decided to other than knowing he’d get extremely mad. By today’s standards that would make him an irresponsible gun owner. It felt a bit off to me at the time but it never seemed threatening.
Fast-forward several years. I graduated college, got married and started building a career, and eventually had kids. My wife and I moved back to Atlanta and lived close enough to my parents that we could see them when we wanted but the infamous traffic kept things from being smothering. This meant that we had babysitters when we wanted to spend a weekend night out plus my parents simply loved being grandparents. That meant they wanted to see our kids as often as possible. Early on we stipulated that we wouldn’t let the boys stay over if there were unsecured guns. We wanted to be cautious because we felt that young children don’t need to accidentally find a firearm and be tempted by something they don’t understand. My dad agreed to put a lock on his office closet and stored the weapons there. As far as we knew they were all locked up. Except for the gun in the glovebox.
Nothing ever happened which is the good news. We never had any reason to suspect anything other than what we’d asked. My dad did get into shooting skeet around the time of the ’96 Olympics. There was a brand new facility built for the competition and he used it for years once it was opened up to the public. I did go with him a couple times and had a good time. Again, this was never anything but a sport or recreational activity to him. I never felt the urge to buy a gun of my own because I never felt attraction to shooting sports and didn’t want one for self-defense. I wasn’t anti-gun, I was ambivalent.
We finally got my father to a neurologist and had an MRI run. At the follow-up appointment, the neurologist diagnosed him with dementia based on an evaluation and clear evidence in the MRI. There may have been a stroke involved too. The doctor then told my dad that he’d have to give up control of his finances and eventually stop driving himself. It was done in an unsympathetic way and hit two of the three pillars of his life and self-worth. My dad went ballistic in the office making my brother and I physically pull him away from the neurologist twice. He kicked chairs, shouted, and made accusations. My mother drove him to meet my brother and I for brunch after that and my dad threatened her. Things turned south very quickly and she moved in with my family that day for her own safety.
My father had become unhinged and was unpredictable. I went to my local police department and explained that he may come looking for my mother at my house. I also had to call their synagogue in case he went looking for her there. Remember that he had a loaded weapon in his car this whole time. The results could have been devastating and made national news. We had zero legal recourse at this point either. He’d done nothing illegal and his access to transportation and guns was entirely permissible under the law. At that point in my life I’d never been so fearful.
Again, nothing happened and we couldn’t do anything about it either. Things slipped into an uneasy status quo for about five months while we moved to line up care and obtain legal guardianship over him. We took him to another neurologist who was far more understanding. This was a well-respected doctor at a memory care clinic tied to Emory University who has been amazing – his staff too. Towards the end of his initial evaluation, he took my mother, brother, and me into an office and had a conversation which was a first for him. I’d target the neurologist as a man in his early 50’s who’d been practicing for decades. He told us that he’d never seen as dangerous a situation as this given my father’s brain damage and sheer physicality (6’1” and 190 pounds). The very condition my father had made it impossible for him to understand that he was not well. We needed to move forward with the guardianship as quickly as possible and get my father out of the public.
Part of the process was having my dad assessed in his home by a court-appointed evaluator. There was no way we were going to let this be done by a single person or with the guns in the house. We arranged for sheriff’s deputies to accompany the evaluator. Then, the Sunday before the evaluation, my mother took him out to lunch and my brother and I combed the house for weapons. We took out about five guns, the shotgun for skeet, several knives, and lots of ammunition. The gun in the glovebox went. My brother also found a loaded gun in a small cardboard box labeled “Office Supplies.” It was sitting on a shelf in my dad’s office and we’ve got no idea how long it had been there. Maybe a month. Maybe a decade when it should have been locked up while my kids were in the house.
The evaluation went off with no issues. The verdict was entirely in line with the diagnosis and there was no pushback on getting the legal guardianship. Several days later, he discovered the guns missing. One of the three pillars which held him up was gone and he snapped. I had several phone calls with him and the dialog was so far out there that you’d find it ridiculous in a movie. It was that psychotic. At one point I dialed my brother in and he had to hang up on it. This was the day we secured the guardianship and his name hadn’t been put into any database yet.
My dad swore he’d get another shotgun for skeet so I had my mother call the range and explain that they weren’t to sell him a gun. She told them why and that she was his legal guardian so she had the right to make the decision. My father called them to arrange for the purchase, was denied, and got even more livid. Then he found a loophole: the skeet range offered to rent him a shotgun. He also went to a gun store and bought a new handgun for his car. He had a carry permit and there was no waiting period. I’m still floored that people would provide him with weapons. He was truly unhinged.
He’d still done nothing illegal but we had to get control of the situation. I had to go back to the judge who issued the guardianship on a Sunday morning and fill out an affidavit about what transpired over the past few days. We were very fortunate that the judge was a friend of a family member whom my wife recognized in the courtroom. Otherwise this could have taken days. We took the judge’s written order to the local police in my dad’s town and coordinated with them and the county sheriffs on what to do next. My father was convinced that he saw a woman steal the last gun out of his car while it was in the garage. It obviously wasn’t true because I’d been the one who took it when he was out of the house. We used this as a story for the police sergeant to use in the process of taking my father into custody against his will. Fortunately the scenario worked and nobody was hurt. The gun was in the car’s glovebox with a box of ammo and not where my dad could grab it and shoot the police.
What kept going through my mind was a photo on the police sergeant’s desk. It was of his infant daughter in his two cupped hands. It was almost too much for me to ask that man to try to take my dad into custody while knowing that his child could grow up without a father.
As you might be able to tell, I’m in favor of tighter control of handguns. There are no laws or good processes in place to prevent my story from happening again with far worse outcomes. Even someone who thinks of themselves as good gun owners – good guys – can have slips of attention. Or they can lie about whether their weapons are really secure. Or they can develop mental illness. This is increasingly likely over the course of someone’s lifetime, especially towards the end. Even drivers licenses require renewal based upon a person’s ability to operate a car. There’s none of that with guns.
The United States has had well more than its share of tragedies and the gun culture continues to entrench itself. What happens when those entrenched owners age? Alzheimer’s statistics are frightening and there is nothing at all which can treat that disease. I know what happened with my father and it’s an incendiary situation. The tighter they cling to their guns, the more dangerous they’ll get. That says nothing at all about the access other people with mental illness or violent tendencies have to firearms earlier in life.
I honestly don’t expect this to change anyone’s mind. You’re going to believe what you’ll believe. I’d be surprised if someone who would blindly defend their Second Amendment rights makes it to this point of my tale. If you have, I hope that you’ve found it very real and very relatable. I find it undeniable and I have not heard any solutions to problems like this where the term “gun grabbers” isn’t tossed around. I refuse to believe that arming school teachers, priests, or rabbis and walking around with guns on our hips solves any of these issues. Having more shooters in a building when the SWAT team arrives can make the situation even more dangerous. It will get worse over time as the gun-owning population ages. If you’re still with me then consider moving off of that line in the sand.
Ask yourself today if you want to be in the situation where you’re in your 70’s and clinging to your guns as your mental capacity is destroyed by an incurable disease which can strike anyone. Where you could kill innocent people including family members because you don’t know any better. Any answer other than change and progress is selfish unrealistic bullshit.
And you know it.