Effect of gun violence lingers long after shots fired

I can feel the cold steel of the gun barrel against my stomach as I write these words.

Thirty years ago: a big fight, two dozen guys, and I was pulled up fast with a gun pushed against my shirtless belly, and time froze. All over a girl no one remembers, in a fight no one remembers, in a place that is probably torn down now. But I still feel that pistol, and those long agonizing moments when I thought I was going to die.

But the sirens came, the gun disappeared, and all that is left is the sensation that comes to me in the dead of night.

It could have been so different.

As we live through another horrific massacre, it reminds me how unforgiving the round from a weapon can be. Mere flesh and bone are butter to a small piece of metal flung at great velocity into the human body.

It always bothers me when I hear people talk about how “fun” it is to shoot. I just don’t have that feeling, and I have put thousands of rounds from pistols to 105-mm tank rounds down range in my life.

I grew up hunting; I have killed deer and squirrels and rabbits and birds. But I also have stood around with a group of hunters when a shotgun went off accidentally and just missed a good friend.

I have stared down the barrel of a shotgun raised in anger pointed at my face, wondering if this would be my end.

No. I am no stranger to firearms.

I am also no stranger to suicide by guns.

A young soldier in my command put two rounds from an M16 on full-auto into his head in a port-a-john in Germany, and fell out into the mud right in front of me. It is not a sight you want to see.

Guns are dangerous. They are not toys. I cringed when I recently saw two young men, boys really, laughing in a local store while buying assault rifles, like it was a big joke. It is not a big joke. These are weapons that kill.

I have given up that we will have any rational or sane understanding in this country of just how deadly these weapons are. But we occasionally are still stunned by events like Las Vegas.

My clarion call is this, to us normal folks in everyday life: watch. Watch carefully. Our best hope in today’s America is for us, family and friends, to be ever watchful of the signs of mental struggle in a gun owner — and to intervene.

As the local Rotary Club learned in a presentation recently, suicide by the gun is a leading killer of men in midlife. We lose more than 20,000 people a year to suicide by gun. And death by cop is a real thing. On an average day we lose 93 Americans to gun violence. After Las Vegas, that number will be skewed again.

When I wake up with that cold sensation on my stomach, I wonder what would have been had that finger pulled ever so slightly on that trigger. You can’t put the round back in the gun once it is fired.

A forgotten event instead changes a life forever. The amazing lives of my children and grandchildren would never have been lived.

Watch, my friends. Watch.

Kurt Vetters, a longtime resident of Greenfield, is a U.S. Army veteran, author and local businessman. He can be reached at kvetters@gmail.com.