I’ve had a long relationship with guns. It started when I was a very young boy, the December that my Vietnam Veteran dad bought me and my little brother plastic army guns for Christmas when we were 5 and 4 years old. We both treasured them, and wore out the clicking rapid fire mechanisms, and snapped substantial components off of them within months. It was a sad day when those plastic toy guns went into the trash.
The relationship continued when as a young American lad I fashioned guns from appropriately shaped sticks, and tacked small boards together to create cowboy guns, cops & robbers guns, laser guns. Everything was a gun. I made drawings of guns, labored over creating realistic cardboard cutouts of guns, and made solemn visits to the department store toy aisle to inspect the latest selection of cap and water weaponry during my family’s infrequent shopping visits.
My feelings of fascination, love, and respectful admiration for guns rose when as a young man I was invited with some of Dad’s friends to “go plinking” with them one day. The feeling of a single-shot .22 recoiling against my shoulder was very grown-up that day, and I actually managed to hit the target with a handful of small shiny bullets before the rain began in earnest and we packed up to leave. The experience of that first “range day” caused my adrenaline and testosterone levels to spike into new territory. I fell head over heels for guns, and stayed that way for a very long time.
But then one day, the relationship changed for me. It was the day a gun saved my life.
The black clad jihadist militia men crouched along the dusty berm had never seen me before, and I had never seen them. They didn’t know me, or my adorable 2 year-old daughter back home with Mom some six thousand miles west of the Tigris River valley. I didn’t know them, or their motivated anger in defense of our perceived invasion. I didn’t fully understand their lineage of dissension and holy war, and they didn’t fully understand my desire to help liberate their land and faithfully execute my orders.
But there we were, a convoy of Coalition military trucks passing through their homeland. And here they were, risking their lives in an unwelcoming ambush of us which started when a rocket propelled grenade whipped across in front of my truck’s bumper and popped among the riverbank reeds with a smoky bang.
The rocket grenade was immediately followed by gunfire. A dozen Soviet-crafted AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, gripped in two dozen dark and trembling hands, began spitting flame and jacketed shards of metal at our speeding convoy.
So this, THIS, is what guns are all about?!
Time really does slow to milliseconds when you are about to die.
“SHOOT BACK, SIR!” my Driver yelled in panic from his seat behind the steering wheel.
I looked down at my gloved hands gripping the sun-warmed black metal of my own issued assault rifle and, for the first time ever, I saw a tool. An instrument of deliverance that would allow me to kiss my wife’s lips again after today, see the dark pools of sparkling eternity in my daughter’s eyes again after today. Not a cool plastic toy under the Christmas tree. Not a roughly hewn one-by-four with a couple bent nails and a dowel rod. Not a clear molded water pistol. Not an exotic target shooting sport gun. A tool.
In the next millisecond after noticing this tool in my hands, the safety lever was instinctively switched from SAFE to SEMI. Already trained out the window, my gun barrel swept across those black-robed attackers in the underbrush as I saw the flaming strobes of their blazing ambush in progress.
The shortest prayer I have ever prayed erupted from deep inside my core as I began to urgently operate this power tool of deliverance out the open truck window.
We continued to drive at maximum travel speed, and in moments the ambush was behind us and gone. I was unharmed.
Eyes blurring, body quivering, heart pounding, I looked down on the floor of my truck and saw the empty brass casings rolling and bouncing between my ankles. Rounds I had just fired.
At human beings…
…who were intent on taking me away from my wife and daughter, ending my purpose on Earth.
An inadvertent shudder went through me, and I at once desperately loved and viciously hated this smoking black tool in my hands.
I have not broken off my relationship with guns. I still keep them around, cleaning them frequently and testing them out occasionally. But the mystique has faded, and the attraction has waned. I will always be grateful for my training on these tools, and thankful that these tools have afforded me the chance to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding someday, and to meet her darling little sister and hilarious baby brother a couple of years later. These tools have enabled me to grow old with my precious wife, and it is my hope that these tools will prevent us from becoming statistics or victims in the future.
Forever more I am destined to continue this relationship, not out of desire but out of necessity.
But the thrill is gone.
I had the presence of mind to preserve one of those 5.56 casings from the floor of the 5-ton that day, and it is matted within my framed Jody Harmon OIF print today as a memento.
This piece was first published in a special #Guns feature online at Memoir Magazine in Summer 2018. https://memoirmag.com/5-minute-reading-time/my-long-term-gun-relationship-by-daniel-dutilly/