After my father and brother were murdered, owning a gun made me feel secure. Now it’s time to give it up

A gun control supporter holds up a sign that reads 'Enough is Enough' during a candlelight vigil for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,...
A gun control supporter holds up a sign that reads 'Enough is Enough' during a candlelight vigil for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,...
Michael Reynolds/EPA

There were four shots, one after the other. The woman next door heard men yelling. When police arrived, they found a man face down in his own blood, four bullets in his head. It was an assassination.

He’d been lured to that empty house on the promise of a small-stakes card game. The sight of the overgrown weeds and boarded up windows must have set off an alarm in his head. He immediately turned back. Before he could cross the street, he was struck in the legs with a baseball ball. Pop. There was a pause, according to the witness, and then three more pops.

It was November 5, 1973, and the dead man, Wyart Taylor, was my father. Nearly 20 years later, my brother Christopher was murdered, shot in the back of the head as he lay on the floor playing a video game. Growing up in East Saint Louis, I am all too familiar with gun violence.  The doors and windows off our house were covered, like a fortress, with black metal burglar bars.

I have owned a gun nearly every day of my adult life. After escaping an abusive relationship, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps where I received basic military weapons training. But my real training came at the side of my stepfather, a former detective sergeant with our local police department. Given what happened to my father and brother, I relied on the sense of physical if not emotional security that comes with owning a gun. When I was a single mother, I used to sleep on the living room sofa near the front door—my Smith & Wesson 9mm under the cushion.

Until now, I had always believed that if we could deal effectively with our most pressing social dilemmas, including poverty and education, we would stand a better chance of eradicating gun violence. I believed that if we could just advance access to mental health services, people who needed help could actually get it. Poison isn’t poison until you drink it, I told myself.

I still believe that. But that’s the long game and we are out of time.

By the time authorities arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary School, scores of rounds had been fired–more than 100, said one witness. In all, 26 people were slaughtered, among them 20 schoolchildren age 10 or younger.

Police recovered a semi-automatic Glock and Sig Sauer 9mm. A .223 Bushmaster rifle was reportedly found in the suspect’s vehicle. The 9mm is the same kind used by “U.S. Navy SEALs, Federal agents, and numerous law enforcement agencies,” according to the Sig Sauer website. All of them are legally available.

Last July, it was a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; then a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Three days ago, it was a mall in Portland, Oregon. On any given night, it’s in the streets of American cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to Atlanta. Sadly, there is a child sitting in a Chicago classroom today who is more concerned about being shot this evening than about the lesson on the chalkboard.

Last weekend alone, eight people were killed and at least 30 wounded in Chicago. In 2011, 30,000 people died by gunshot in 2011.

This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. The gun lobby would have you believe that if more people owned guns, the violence would diminish. Bryan Fischer, the Director of Issue Analysis for the American Family Foundation, tweeted, “… another ‘gun-free zone’ makes children sitting ducks.”

“Honor the victims,” someone else tweeted. “Don’t politicize this tragedy,” another complained. Even White House press secretary Jay Carney said this was not the day to discuss gun control.

As a gun owner, I could not disagree more. It is time, right now, to confront the culture of violence in America. It is time to tighten restrictions on legal purchases and crack down on the illegal gun trade. For starters, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004, must be renewed. Online sale of firearms should be banned altogether and the gun show loophole must be closed. Possession of an illegal firearm carries a mandatory, one-year prison sentence. It should be ten. The lion’s share of gun violence in this country is committed with cheap, illegal handguns–the kinds of guns that killed my father and brother.

The news that 20 school children were executed this morning left me speechless. And it made me think: change should start with me. I have decided to turn in my own gun.

After my father and brother were murdered, owning a gun made me feel secure. Now it's time to give it up