My weird relationship with guns

I’ve got a weird relationship with guns.

When I was 10, I was on a hunting trip when my friend’s father dropped a loaded handgun as he was making his bunk bed. The gun discharged and blew a hole in the side of the camper we were in.

After our ears stopped ringing, we realized that about an inch difference in the angle of the gun’s fall would have sent the bullet through my buddy and me as we ate our cereal. My friend’s dad was a law enforcement officer and was eminently qualified to handle that .357. Nevertheless, it only took a moment for it to leave his control and almost cause a horrible tragedy.

A few years later, I was shooting a borrowed .30-30 at a milk carton on a fencepost on a farm in rural Virginia. An irate neighbor soon drove up the long driveway. Turns out my milk carton was placed in the same direction as the neighbor’s home, and as I repeatedly missed my target, I had been rattling bullets through the woods and into his kid’s playhouse. Fortunately no one was playing there at the time.

These situations weren’t malicious, but bordered on tragedy nonetheless. A stupid mistake by a 12-year-old or a law enforcement officer, both with guns, could have cost lives.

I don’t keep guns around anymore, but that hasn’t stopped the gun-related weirdness. In 2011, when I was in charge of The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a story we published gained national attention. The phones rang off the hook for a few days. One of the callers reached us after hours and left a message on the answering machine threatening to shoot us with a “.50 caliber.”

That same year, a friend of my son’s from high school was shot while playing the “scare game” with a different friend. The two kids would pretend to shoot each other with real guns for fun. The game went horribly wrong when a loaded shotgun was actually fired, killing my son’s friend right in front of his girlfriend.

Around that same time, J Dwight, a friend and adjunct fellow at MHPC, killed himself with a handgun. In a tragic redux, another colleague from that time, columnist Mike Harmon, was killed a few months ago when a handgun accidentally went off in his home. Mike wrote columns for me for The Maine Wire website. He and J were both excellent people, and their losses are extremely difficult to process.

And the gun weirdness just keeps on coming.

Last year, a crazed doctoral student with a “kill list” opened fire on a west coast college campus. The campus was locked down, and one of my close family members was there. I texted with him as he was sheltered in the hospital, getting terrifying information about multiple shooters and preparing for mass casualties. The lone gunman ended up shooting himself, after killing one other person. Unfortunately, that one person was a close colleague of my relative.

Then later last year, a gun activist Facebook group bubbled over with anger when they found out I was working for the background check referendum campaign. The group published links to my home address, made profane statements about one of my children, and then discussed taking a trip to my house and “giving him the Pancho Villa” — shooting me in the head.

Pro-gun Maine Facebook group thread discusses giving Dutson "the Pancho Villa"

Pro-gun Maine Facebook group thread discusses giving Dutson “the Pancho Villa”

And just last month, I had another eerie near-miss when I booked a short trip to the Florida Keys to shake off the snow. I compared prices and found that flying into Fort Lauderdale was the cheapest way to go. Right before I clicked the “buy” button, I had a flash of laziness and decided to spend a little more to fly directly into Key West. When I touched down at the airport and turned my phone back on, I got a text from a friend letting me know that five people had been murdered by a gunman at the Fort Lauderdale airport while I was in the air.

A scene at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. David Santiago | Miami Herald via TNS

A scene at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. David Santiago | Miami Herald via TNS

Am I lucky? Unlucky? Somehow marked?

Do we all have stories of how we were almost shot to death?

Is this the American experience now?

Sooner or later, we have to face the existential question of how important guns are to our way of life. And we have to stop accepting the apocalyptical concept from gun activists that the only way to live safely in America is to be able to shoot back. That’s nonsense.

Our society is predicated on freedom, but there’s a tipping point when freedom for those who want to own guns starts to infringe on the freedoms of those who don’t.

My experiences tell me we’re already there. We don’t live in a war zone, and I’m sick of telling these stories that sound like we do. The last thing we need right now is a mad rush to loosen gun ownership restrictions, as some in the legislature are engaging in. Maine isn’t the Wild West, we have a ridiculously low crime rate, and the idea that we’d be safer with every other person toting a handgun in their belt is lunacy.

It’s time for a reasonable discussion about guns — one without the hyperbole and instead based on common-sense — and the best way to respect individual rights and make our communities safer.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.