guns in the house

During wellness visits I used to ask, “Do you have guns in the house?” in the safety/accident prevention part of the visit. Along with helmets, seat belts, smoke alarms and not driving under the influence.

As a Family Practice Board Certified Physician, I counsel patients. Family Practice is a specialty, just as internal medicine and general surgeon are specialties. A three year residency training after medical school and I retake the Boards every 10 years. I counsel patients in “annual exams” or “medicare wellness” visits.

A patient reported me to the state board because of that question. I then got a letter from the state board saying that I was being investigated but not why. Later I got a letter saying that the patient had complained that I had asked about guns. The state replied that in fact, I am supposed to counsel patients about gun safety.

I changed my counseling. Now I say: “If you have guns in the house, I am to counsel you to keep them locked up with the ammunition locked up separately.”

I get three responses:

1. “My guns are in a gun safe, locked at all times, with the ammunition locked.”

2. “I don’t have any guns!”

3. Silence.

It is the silent ones that worry me.

I did not change my counseling because I was reported to the state and the state did not tell me to change it. I changed it in hope that someone who keeps their guns unlocked and loaded, in the bedside table, under their pillow, up in a closet, or where ever, will think about it. The question “Do you have guns in the house?” is too loaded for those people.

I met a woman with an impressive star shaped radiating scar on her chest. Her boyfriend kept a loaded gun under his pillow. One night she was returning from the bathroom. He shot her in the chest.

They are not together any more.

When my son went to preschool, over 20 years ago, I counseled him. “If another child says they can show you a gun or they have a gun, say that you have to go to the bathroom. Go and tell an adult right away. People can get killed.”

He reported an overheard conversation in preschool between two other boys. One said that he knew where his parents kept a gun. The two boys were planning to leave the school to go look at the gun. I called the preschool. They already knew about it and had talked to both boys’ parents. I don’t know if the parents locked the guns up.

In Portland one of my neighbors chased his upstairs neighbor into the street one day during rush hour, stark naked, trying to hit the upstairs neighber with a 5 iron. Yes, a golf club. I am very glad the downstairs neighbor did not have a gun right then, because he would have used it. Any of us could have been killed. And later the SWAT team was called to deal with him: he did have a gun that time. He threatened to shoot himself in the head. Then he did: well, except he only creased himself. He went to involuntary psychiatry, supposedly for six months. He was back in three months. The neighborhood was very very nervous. The house next door was sold and he disappeared and we were all relieved. He was strong, completely illogical and terrifying. We discussed how to deal with him but mostly we hid.

When he chased the neighbor into the street, I had already called 911 because I heard screaming next door. My voice shook. The dispatcher said, “Yes, we know the address, we’ve had three calls and they are on their way.” The traffic stopped dead at the sight of a nude man chasing another man with a 5 iron. I unbolted my door and stuck my head out. “(C—-)! Up here!” The upstairs neighbor ran up my steps and into my house. I slammed the door and bolted it and crouched by the front window with a baseball bat, ready to hit the downstairs neighbor as hard as I could if he came through my front window.

He didn’t. The police arrived. The whole thing was over the upstairs neighbor “playing music too loud” and “not turning it down enough”. The downstairs neighbor had broken down the upstairs neighbor’s door with the five iron. The upstairs neighbor had tried to defend himself with a butter knife and then ran. The police explained to the downstairs neighbor as he was arrested that if someone breaks your door down, it is not assault to defend yourself with a butter knife.

We discussed which illegal drugs we thought he was on. This was in the 1990s, so we thought it was crack. There was a big article soon after that about a crack house. We said, whew, glad we aren’t those neighbors and then realized that it was within two blocks of our house. Great.

Drugs and alcohol and guns and anger and grief….. it is a toxic mix.

Please, lock your guns.

Unconditional 2

I think the hardest thing in the world is to love unconditionally. And we can’t love unconditionally unless we love ourselves in that too. Including our faults, our mistakes, our dark corners, our anger and grief, pettiness, unkindness, stupidity, jealousy, greed lust… if we only love our “good” side then we will attack others when they show the same weakness and faults that we know, deep inside, that we are capable of or have acted on. If we cannot love someone who is a sinner, we cannot love anyone, because we are all guilty. Love people anyhow and wholly and yourself too.

I went through a period after my mother died, where I felt I’d entirely failed. My marriage was disintegrating, and I was looking at myself very carefully. How had I gotten here? What mistakes had I made? I felt unlovable and stupid.

I found a letter from my mother written to herself when my father asked me to clean out her clothes. It was two or three years after she died. Here is the letter, with a few things left out for the privacy of the living:

____________________

Sept 18, Friday
1987
Seattle

I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here in Seattle. With the mountains that lift my heart. And clear air and only good memories. What is there to go home to? Struggling with X and his alcohol. I don’t want to try to do something about it. I don’t think it will work if I do. I think will only go on as it is and trying to get help will only lead to fight. I don’t think I have the strength, the courage or the wisdom to help myself or him.

What else am I going to? A house that needs a great deal of work that I only moderately like. A climate I loath. A landscape I find boring. I’m tired of living in a crowded suburb. And that house needs so much work.

People. What people do I go home to? Nearly all have problems. Y, wounded bird, so foolishly enamored of Z or thinks he is. And I have little sympathy or patience with it. And his propensity to failure which I’m tired of also.

A who I dearly love but her household is such chaos with those ill-behaved children and one crisis after another.

B who I like very much but really have so little in common with. I fear all that spiritual stuff may eventually bore me. Maybe not.

C. Another wounded bird, really. And not dependable.

D, barely around, anymore.

Mother, older and frailer. Who needs my care and patience.

E. There is one person to go home to. Thank God she’s there. Not wounded anymore. But so busy and it isn’t fair or wise to dump my troubles on her.

Who else? Why don’t I know any successful (in the best sense) sane people. People who are intellectuals, interested in ideas. F is. But not a fully successful human being and not when G is with him. Ugh. Besides he lives far away and he and X don’t like each other.

I don’t really want to have that show at H’s Church. I don’t like H very well. Oh dear.

I maybe have a job which if I get will be very hard work and if I don’t will be a great disappointment.

Winter’s coming and things cost more and we don’t have quite enough to live on. So that means digging into my inheritance.

I am sick of D.C. I am sick of being a struggling, unsuccessful artist. I am sick of worrying about X, about his moods, his acting the fool when half drunk and acting cruel and crazy when fully drunk. I’m sick of being afraid, of his depression, of his refusal to talk to me about anything of importance.

Of doing dishing. Of all the mess in our house. The mess on my desk, the mud room, the kitchen, the study, the basement. The dirty paint. The back yard. Oh God! How can I change things? Well there are a lot of bad things.

Oh, & I’m sick of being anxious, 10 lbs overweight, biting my nails, having bad teeth/gums. Life get tedjous, don’t it?

Any good stuff?

____________________________

For me, this letter was the key to finding myself lovable. My mother wrote to herself because she felt that she could not share these feelings with anyone. Terrible feelings. And I thought about it for a long time: I thought: my mother was charming, loved and an entertainer. But a child knows the parents’ hidden feelings. So I knew about my mother’s darkness and the letter confirmed it. And I thought, my mother didn’t need to hide that because I knew about it and I loved her anyhow. I love her more knowing that she was human too.

And if she is lovable whole, so am I. So are you. We all are. And we all make mistakes and are guilty of anger (sometimes appropriate but sometimes not!) jealousy, greed, lust, sloth and pride. Love people anyway and wholly and yourself too.

 

I have a view of Puget Sound if I stand in the road in front of my house. I took this with a zoom lens on solstice morning at sunrise.