When I was nine or ten, a friend of my mother’s was shot and killed by her husband. He claimed, perhaps truthfully, that he had taken out the gun in the course of an argument, threatening to kill himself, and the gun went off in the ensuing scuffle, as the newspapers say. Three years later, the father of my childhood best friend, a two-time divorcee, shot himself in the head. For several years, my mother had a stalker who called her on the phone and would break into our house when we were not at home. My mother bought a shotgun for protection, he called one day and said, I’ve seen the gun under your bed, and I’m not scared. It was kept loaded, but I checked once, and the shell was not in the barrel, I wondered whether that was my mother’s doing or whether the stalker had broken in and unloaded it. When I was sixteen, I spent several evenings a week with a friend on her houseboat, and she told me about the suicide, by gun, of her brother, who had become involved with what appears to have been a deeply Calvinist religious sect; he showed up one day before the congregation and recited a long list of every sin he could remember committing, and seems to have thought it best that he kill himself before tarnishing his newly cleansed soul again. The sect was aware of his decision and apparently approved of it, because they did not inform his parents. The brother of a girl one year my senior, whom I didn’t know well at all, but whom I used to look at any time I had the chance, because I thought she was beautiful, shot himself at sixteen years of age. I was enjoined to keep a gun in my room at a time when my family was afraid we were going to be robbed by a man from a very poor part of the rural area where we lived when I was not exactly depressed, but was in an obsessively tense frame of mind, and the thought of shooting myself so plagued me that after a sleepless night, I returned the gun to my parents’ room. One night, surfeited with the blathering of my loud-mouthed alcoholic roommate, who always compared his so-called pride in his job with the lassitude of his coworkers, I barraged him with arguments from The Right to be Lazy, an essay by Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue; the next morning, with a deranged look on his face, because he had stayed up all night reading a mediocre book of poetry I had recommended him, he said you were right, and told me he had nearly come into the living room and shot my girlfriend and me while we slept, because he wanted to spare us the pain of being alive. The year before I went to college, I met Todd Peterson, whose nickname was Fester, a few years later he would be shot to death by Evay Kelley, whom I also worked with, but at a different job, I wrote about him before. T. White, who got fired from a place I worked for sniffing coke off a prep table in the downstairs kitchen, paid a dealer in Camden, NJ for a gram bag and the dealer accidentally passed him an eight ball. T. White ran off and the dealer shot at him with a .25 automatic, a pimp gun, as I heard them called growing up, and hit him once in the stomach. I also worked with a man whom I only knew by a nickname I have now forgotten, he shot a biker from a rival gang to death and then was himself shot in retaliation, he lived but several of the bullets could not be removed. My friend who owns trailer parks employs a superintendent who shot his wife and the man she was sleeping with to death. The mother of a wealthy acquaintance was shot and killed, along with her companion, by a man who wanted to steal her car, he was apprehended shortly afterward. My former brother-in-law worked construction with a man who had shot several people to death and had been to prison a number of times. When I was in my early twenties and most of my friends were drug users, I had an acquaintance named Jimmy, I would not call him a friend, he was dull-witted and had an irritating voice, at a party he picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head, if I remember correctly in an allusion to some film. Once more, as they say in the press, the gun went off. His family made the perplexing decision to hold an open-casket viewing, my friend Spencer said, “He looked like a Klingon.” In Philadelphia, where I lived for ten years, I know perhaps four people who have been robbed at gunpoint. My closest friend from high school recently confessed to me that when his father was twelve years old, his grandfather, a drunk, sat the boy on the kitchen table, placed a pistol in his hand, and adjured his son to shoot him and then to kill himself. Two years ago, the son of a close friend of my family shot himself in his bedroom, his father was devastated, he had apparently shown no signs of depression beyond the typical doldrums that accompany a teenage breakup. In 2013, my father’s closest friend, a man I had known my whole life, shot himself in his car. We have never found out why. Recently, another friend told me how, amidst a bout of jealousy, her grandfather shot his wife and their four-year-old son, killing the latter, while her mother, who was six at the time, looked on.
I have never met a person who has used a gun in self-defense. The preponderance of anecdote is not evidence, but it is not exactly not evidence, either.