"So I heard this boy was shot," someone said. "What happened, exactly?" It turned out that Henry had been visiting his cousin, a Belmont sixth-grader, when the older boy decided to show his young cousin the unlicensed handgun his father kept in his closet, inside an unlocked briefcase. He didn't know it was loaded; the gun accidentally fired, ramming a bullet through Henry's arm in two places.
One woman pointed out that Henry's uncle had once owned a restaurant. "Maybe," she wondered aloud, "he got the gun to protect himself from robbers." The other parents and I looked at each other, shaking our heads. Even if he had a good reason for owning a weapon, which seemed questionable at best, the fact remained that keeping a loaded, unlocked gun in a house where one's own children and their friends might gain access to it was grossly and inexcusably negligent.
I turned to Eliza, who was standing nearby, and confessed that while I'd thought it bizarre when she'd asked me the gun question, I now understood why she did: Our children could have been in that house. Eliza confided that having grown up in Minnesota, where hunting is popular and guns are commonplace, she'd known several children who'd been killed or maimed in gun accidents. "My dad and brother are hunters," she said. "But they always keep their guns unloaded and locked up, with the ammunition locked away elsewhere. Unfortunately, not everyone is that careful."
She knows what she's talking about. Last week in our town, gun violence erupted again, with far worse consequences. A father of three, ages 20, 18, and 13, was furious with his wife because she'd told him she wanted to divorce him and move to Florida with their youngest child. While the couple argued in their bedroom, the man locked their door and got out his semiautomatic pistol. He shot and killed his wife before blowing himself away. Their two younger children were home at the time; they broke down the bedroom door to get to their parents and found a bloody scene.
Despite these recent bursts of gun violence, Belmont is still considered a very safe town; the crimes that occur here are well below the national average. Apparently, it's only when you -- or your children -- go inside the houses that you need to worry: You never know who has a loaded gun. This is true, I've learned, no matter where you live.
* Most names have been changed to protect privacy.
Mary Granfield is a writer living in Belmont, MA. She has written for Self, Woman's Day, and People.
Copyright © 2004.