The Best Gift
It’s 1957 and a 6-year-old boy sits in the dark in front of a Christmas tree waiting for his family to wake up. He stares at the brightly wrapped presents and hunts for those with his name on them. Surely it must be this one, he thinks to himself, while trying to assess which gift might hold what he’s been longing for all year.
Finally, he can wait no longer and goes to wake up his sisters and hustle them downstairs. The time has come. Mom and dad have given the go-ahead and each child gets to pick a present to open. He goes for what he believes to be the Holy Grail, but no, it’s just a baseball bat and glove. He hides his disappointment as gift after gift falls short of his dream. Just when he thinks it’s over and all the presents have been opened, his father walks into the room holding a long wrapped present. “This is for you, son,” he says. The boy tears into the wrapping and there it is: a Daisy rifle BB gun.
The boy’s excitement can’t be contained. He gulps down his breakfast and hurriedly asks to be excused so he can go outside with his new gun. His father says yes, but gives him a short, stern lecture on the use of this special gift.
The woods behind the house stretch on forever, or so it seems to a 6-year-old. They’re home for a variety of small animals and several types of birds. As the boy steps into a clearing he hears a bird’s song coming from the large oak tree right in front of him. He looks up and sees a red-breasted robin. “This is it,” he says to himself as he takes a deep breath and raises the gun to take aim. The first shot he’s ever taken squeezes off slowly and hits the robin squarely in its chest. The bird seems stunned as it wobbles then falls to the ground.
The boy steps forward. He timidly approaches the bird. As he looks down he is overcome by an indescribable feeling that someday he will know as love and compassion. The bird moves once, then stops as a tiny bead of blood rolls down onto its wing. The boy drops to his knees, shaking and begins to cry. That’s when he hears it: the chirping of a baby bird up in the bow of the old oak.
He looks at the gun and shudders. It has now become the object of his hatred. He grabs it off the ground and runs to the trash bin swinging it hard into the frozen earth until the stock breaks. He heaves the gun into the bin then turns, looks toward the woods and solemnly walks back to bury the robin.
I was that 6 year old. I still remember that day and those feelings vividly. And in large part, because of that day I’ve never owned a gun.
Now this is probably when you think I’ll start the preaching. But I know better. That tactic rarely works. Besides, two of my best friends own guns and like to hunt. I get it. One of them even used to belong to the National Rifle Association. Used to, he doesn’t agree with them on several fronts anymore.
But I will offer a few facts you’ve probably heard before, but deserve repeating – often. According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 30,000 people die each year as a result of gun violence. There are more than 300 million guns in this country. Background checks are useless as long as legal loopholes exist. Gun shows don’t require them. Individuals can sell guns with impunity. Virtually anybody can get a gun legally if they want one, even those on the terrorist watch list, according to a recent report.
Maybe it’s time we grew up, put away our toys and began to tackle our problems and differences with reason and purpose. This is a great country but could be so much greater if we chose to stand together, looked our fears in the eye and found solutions.
My solution came through the eyes of a child. Maybe it’s a perspective we should all consider.
Peace on earth.
Dennis Lockwood is a resident of Laguna Beach, an author and songwriter, and recently joined Everytown, the movement to end gun violence.