When he was teaching me to shoot, my grandfather told me to pull the trigger gradually, not too suddenly, and keep going, keep going, and you would be an excellent shot.
He taught me to respect the power of a gun and everything that comes with it. Once you pull the trigger, there’s no going back. He told me, don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to pull it. Until you’re sure.
I get off my bus after school and walk down street after street where shots have been fired. Blood has been shed. Children have been killed. Children have been murderers. Although the rain has washed away the evidence, the sidewalks still carry the memory.
These sidewalks that many of us walk on every day have forced innocent minds to realize that guns are no longer toys that shoot Styrofoam. We are not playing a childish game but playing with people’s lives.
Just this year, a 17-year-old and a 21-year-old were shot to death in Carrick, my Pittsburgh neighborhood. The person accused of shooting the 17-year-old is 14. Younger children are turning from toys to guns.
Today, I am nearing the end of my first year of high school. I am 14 years old, the age of some murderers and I live in a neighborhood where murder is a reality.
When I was younger, I refused to even touch a gun because I was too scared. So instead of shooting with the rest of my family every time we visited, I helped my grandfather assemble the bullets they would later use. We measure the powder, pour it into the casing, seal it and put it on the shelf.
It was nice to have something to do with what everyone else was doing, to be involved, even though I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.
It was interesting to see all the different steps that needed to be completed before the bullet could fly out of the gun. It takes a lot more than pulling a trigger to get to that point. Even those who have access to both a firearm and ammunition, loaded and ready, have a series of steps they must take first.
Everyone must prepare for the consequences that result from pulling the trigger. With weapons so common and mental health so fragile, we have to keep an eye on each other.
Observe when they are measuring the dust. Watch when they are pouring it into the casing. Notice when they start to move away from people. Notice when they seem dazed and distracted.
It could be a matter of days, hours, minutes, or a second before the next rebound through flesh and soul, the next piece of news, the next desolate aftertaste you can’t seem to get rid of.
In Carrick, as in many other neighbourhoods, you may find a bullet casing lying on the ground. He poses the question: “What can we really do about gun violence?” And we must also ask ourselves: “Why is the United States near the top of gun violence statistics?”
Over the years, gun reform has become a hotly contested topic that is usually torn between two arguments. Always left or right. Black or white. By arms or against them.
But why do we have to choose one or the other when ethical answers are never that simple? Why does it always have to be all or nothing?
Some say that the weapons are not the real problem, but the people, the owners of the weapons. As someone who has grown up with firearms and now sees the damage they cause, I can tell you: it’s both.
As I grew, both physically and mentally, to finally learn to shoot, my grandfather gave me a gun that once belonged to his father, my great-grandfather, after whom I got my middle name. Along with the family heirloom and my name, I inherited honor and respect.
They taught me to shoot the right way.
The one who pulls the trigger while aiming at another is at fault, but you wouldn’t blame a child for touching a hot stove that was sitting right in front of them. You give them resources and they use them, whether in the right way or not.
One thing we can do is teach people the correct way to use resources: where and when to fire a weapon, for example, and the life-long consequences that can result from a single second of their lives.
Violence often spreads like a hereditary disease. You are what you are exposed to. We need to make sure the new generation gets the proper education instead of just throwing them out into the world to find out for themselves that a hot stove will burn them and a shot will kill them.
Again, my grandfather’s lessons return: pull the trigger gradually and keep going. That is exactly what we have to do.
Gun violence cannot and will not be solved all at once with a new law, a new measure, one more story, one more article, one more person telling you what to do. It will not be solved by this essay. No one person alone can fix the world, a reality that has been hard for me to accept, but well-intentioned words and actions can bring us one step closer.
Guns aren’t the only cause of gun violence, but they’re not completely innocent either. Hurt people hurt people, but hurt people are also the only ones who can end the cycle.
If people on both sides of this issue can realize that everything doesn’t have to be left or right, black or white, we can work together, step by step, to gradually pull the trigger to end the violence. We must not doubt. We must move on, wisely, before the next shooter does.
Kalilah Stein is an editorial intern at PublicSource and can be reached via [email protected].
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