John put his lunch box on the rack under his chair, took his pistol out of its holster, lay it on his desk, and got his school supplies out of his backpack. The girl in the desk to his left, the girl named Meredith whom John had never liked, looked at him with an evil smirk. He ignored her and turned his attention to his teacher, Ms. Pratt. As usual, Ms. Pratt kept her pistol holstered, as she did not sit much. She was too busy helping students with their math.
At lunch the class ate in its classroom, so there would be no deaths in the cafeteria. After school, as he walked home, a bullet ricocheted off the ground at John’s feet. He dropped to the ground and rolled to the nearest object behind which he could take cover, a large rock. He returned fire. There being only one of him, he knew they would try to outflank him, so he began to shimmy backward on his belly while looking to his left and right. Shots continued to ring out. He saw an assailant hiding behind a tree and some rocks. He did not shoot, knowing that if he did the assailant would hide completely again. Instead John lifted himself up just enough to begin crawling backward, his pistol in his hand, ready to fire. The assailant emerged more, perhaps unknowingly, and John fired his pistol. The assailant fell backward and to the ground. John saw with satisfaction it was Meredith.
Another shot rang out, and the assailant to John’s left also fell. Someone was assisting him, for which John was grateful. He continued crawling and scrambling backward. “It’s me, Mike,” a voice called. That meant Mike’s best friend Shay was probably with him. Mike and Shay came up alongside John and fired at the cover from behind which shots continued to come at them. “It’s just him, now. Do you want to see who it is?”
“No, I want to go home.”
“Unless you kill him, he’ll come back for you later with more allies.”
They fought their way to the rock, with Mike and Shay outflanking their opponent. “Give it up!” Mike shouted. “You lost.”
The boy kept firing at them until he ran out of ammunition.
“Now we’re coming to get you,” Mike said. The boy prepared to run. John recognized the boy as Gil, a boy who had bullied him more than once. “There’s no reason to leave him alive,” Mike said. Gil bolted, and Mike shot him. Gil fell to the ground, writhed in agony, then stopped moving. “Problem solved.”
“I sure appreciate the help,” John said to Mike and Shay. “I guess we can make it home now.” They walked together until they separated to their respective homes.
John ate supper with his parents, each with “guns on the table”, to keep them within reach for safety. John was more quiet than usual until his parents made him tell what had happened.
“Good job defending yourself, son,” his father said.
“Thank Goodness you’re all right,” his mother said.
“Why do we have to live with guns?” John asked.
His parents looked at each other in confusion. “What do you mean, dear?” his mother asked.
“I mean if we didn’t have guns all over the place, then we wouldn’t have to worry about getting shot all the time.”
His father chuckled. “No, you’d stop worrying pretty fast. You’d be dead.”
“You need your gun to defend yourself, honey,” his mother said. “I couldn’t bear to think of you out there defenseless.”
“I don’t want to live in a world where I’m always afraid of getting shot.” John surprised himself by saying these words. He had not planned to say them. Both his parents just looked at him in shock. “I don’t want to wear a gun anymore,” he added.
“What do you mean?” his mother asked. “Do you want to get killed?”
“No, I don’t want to live in fear anymore.”
“Fear? How can you be afraid when you have a big gun in your hand?”
“I think the gun shows that we are afraid. If we lived in a safe world, we wouldn’t need guns.”
“Well, of course we’d all like that, but that’s just a fantasy, John! You need to protect yourself. The bad guys aren’t putting their guns down.”
“Then we take them away. And stop them from getting them in the first place.”
His parents looked at each other in helpless confusion.
“What are you going to do?” John’s father asked. “You can’t go out unarmed — it’s not safe!”
“That’s the problem,” John said.
“But not wearing your gun isn’t the solution! You’ll be killed in five minutes.”
“I’m going to go someplace where they don’t have guns.”
John’s father laughed. “You’re going all the way to Canada? Get serious. Maybe we should get you a more powerful gun.”
John just shook his head.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. You know that, John.”
John could see there was no point in continuing his line of discussion, so he just said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He got up, pushed in his chair, and took his dishes to the kitchen.
After John left the table, his father said to his mother, “I think something is troubling John.”
“He sounds suicidal,” his mother said, her chin trembling, her hand on her cheek. “He said he didn’t want to live in this world.”
“He’ll feel better when he shoots another bully.”
After school the next day, John went to the classroom of his favorite teacher, his history teacher, Mr. Brady, who had told John he was always welcome to drop by to chat.
“Mister B.,” John said after a minute or so of small talk, “we all carry guns for protection, and I understand we’re all free and safe as a result, but I wonder what life was like before we all had guns.”
“Oh,” Mr. Brady said, “it was terrible. Until a thousand or so years ago, people lived in fear. They could not do anything without being attacked, and they had no way to defend themselves.”
“But the attackers didn’t have guns either.”
“That is true,” Mr. Brady said, “but they had knives and clubs.”
“So anyone could carry those for self-defense.”
“It was a terrible time, because there were often gangs that outnumbered the peaceful citizens. When you are faced with overwhelming force, by definition you cannot win.” Mr. B. shrugged. “There was nothing that anyone could do. Then, one day, a man in China invented gunpowder. Now, we all live in freedom and security.”
“I see. Thanks, Mister E.”
“You’re welcome, John. What’s on your mind?”
“Well, yesterday these kids tried to kill me, and I killed them, but — ”
“Yeah, but I feel weird about it, as if it didn’t have to be that way.”
“Of course it did! You can’t very well let people kill you. You’ve got no choice but to defend yourself to the death.”
“I know, and that’s what’s bothering me. Why isn’t there a third choice?”
Mr. Brady chuckled. “Oh, John, you are a most amusing young man. But everyone knows that our culture would not permit that any time soon. People aren’t ready for that. We love our guns too much.”
“You just said a minute ago that we are now free and safe.”
“With no guns, wouldn’t people be more free and safe?”
“John, has anyone approached you with radical propaganda or pamphlets?”
“No, that’s just logic.”
“The only logic I see is that if they’re armed and you’re not, you’re not going to be able to defend yourself. That’s why guns are called ‘peacemakers’.”
“Thanks, Mr. B.”
“Remember, John: there can be no freedom, no security, no safety without the right of the law-abiding to bear arms for self-defense. If we outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns.”
John nodded and went home, but he could not stop thinking of that time before guns. I would be much less afraid of someone with a knife, he thought. Yes, my opponent could throw a knife, but that’s only one knife not a bunch of knives. It wouldn’t go as far as a bullet. It wouldn’t hit as hard as a bullet either, so it probably wouldn’t do as much damage as a bullet. The more John thought about it, the more he didn’t wish to live surrounded by guns everywhere he went.
At supper he was quiet. He told his parents he had had a good day at school.
The next morning, John went to school without his gun.
“Where’s your gun?” a girl in science class asked.
“I left it at home,” John said.
“Because I don’t want to carry a gun anymore.”
“Because maybe I’d like to live in a world where I didn’t have to carry a gun.”
“Everyone has to carry a gun.” The girl told their teacher, Ms. LaPierre, that John didn’t have his gun with him, and Ms. LaPierre came over.
“John, where is your self-defense?” Ms. LaPierre asked.
“My self-defense is my mind,” John answered. “I left my gun at home.”
“Now why would you do such a thing?”
“I don’t want to carry it anymore.”
Ms. LaPierre notified the administration and telephoned John’s parents.
A short time later, John was in Mr. Brady’s history class when a call came from the main office. “John, your parents are here at the school,” Mr. Brady said. “They brought your gun. Please go to the office.”
John went glumly to the main office. This was not the way he wanted things to go. One of the receptionists brought him to the principal’s office, where his parents were sitting with the principal, Mister Heston.
“John, dear!” his mother said. “Here — here, take it.” John took his pistol from his mother and put it in his holster.
“May I go back to class now?” he asked.
“Not yet, my dear boy,” Mr. Heston said. “I’ve just been talking with your parents here, and they tell me you don’t want to live in a world with guns. Is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“But you do understand that, in a world without guns, you would be a sitting duck?”
“If no one had guns, no one could shoot ducks.”
“Yes, good point. But if you didn’t have your gun with you, as you didn’t this morning, someone could shoot you.”
“Obviously,” John said.
“And you don’t want to get shot, do you?”
“I don’t want to get shot, no.”
“I mean, I suppose we’d all like to live in a world with no violence or need to protect against violence, but that’s just not the World we live in, is it, John?” The principal chuckled.
“It has to start somewhere,” John said. “The only way it will ever happen is if one person decides to make it happen. And I am that person. I am going to make it happen.”
The principal and John’s parents did not know what to say. “It looks as if you have an idealist on your hands,” the principal finally said to John’s parents. “All right, John, you may go back to class. But you must carry your gun with you whenever you are at school. And if anyone shoots at you, you shoot back. Do you understand?”
“There’s a good lad. Run along now.”
John went back to class. He decided that would be his last day of school.
After school, John told Mike he was going to leave.
“Leave? Leave what?” Mike asked.
“This town. This country.”
“Where are you going to go?”
“Someplace that doesn’t have guns.”
“Everyplace has guns.”
“That’s not true. Mr. B. says Canada doesn’t.”
“He’s lying. Nobody can live without guns.”
“Mr. B. does not lie. How many people have you killed?”
“I lost count.”
“About four hundred.”
“Do you think they’d rather be alive?”
“Who cares what they’d rather? I’m clearly the alpha male here.”
“My point is they would have liked to keep living.”
“So there are places where even people like them and people like you and me can get along.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“You’d be welcome to join me.”
“No, thank you. You can send me a post card from the Land of the Liberal Dead Zone — dead because everyone in it is dead.”
“That’s right, Mike: a country without guns is where everyone is dead.”
“Or a slave.”
“You think that you’re a slave unless you can kill someone?”
“Yes. We cannot control what we cannot destroy.”
“Do you want to control everyone?”
“I want to be left alone, and if I can get them to leave me alone, that is enough,” Mike said. “Hey, did you hear that my sister’s pregnant?”
“No. Congratulations, man.”
“Thanks. She wants an abortion, but you know.”
“Yeah. Not legal. Culture of Life.”
That night, while his parents slept, John left his home and began the walk north toward Canada. He would miss Mike, Shay, and all the rest, but he mattered too. He did not know what would happen to him, but he knew he could not stay there just waiting to be shot any longer.