Like everyone else, I’ve watched the coverage of the Paris attacks with a sick heart and shuddered to imagine what it was like in the streets and music hall as the assault progressed. I’ve been to Paris once; I was there only two nights on one of those “grand tour” type trips. We saw all the touristy things, but I couldn’t tell you where our hotel was located.
When I imagine the terror of last Friday night, I personalize it; thus, I imagine folks sitting street side at the restaurants in downtown Loveland, OH. Or I recall concert environments I’ve experienced overlayed with the nightmare of a terrorist attack. Of course, I do this with every mass shooting in American as well. I don’t remember the first time I heard of someone blasting away in a restaurant, but for decades now I often look around a public space and wonder what to do if someone opens fire. (My fantasy is never about saving myself; I’m always panicked to figure out how I would protect whoever I’m with at the time, whether adult or child.)
I certainly hope certain asshole politicians don’t declare the French victims should have “rushed” the attackers, the way Carson did after the Oregon shootings. It’s so clear cut what you “should” do when you can coolly assess a situation in safe retrospect.
I rushed a prospective shooter only once in my life. It was my father when he was in one of his over-the-top drunken rages. (“Over-the-top” refers to when Dad’s behavior reached beyond the confines of our home or car to become public spectacle; fearing for the safety of my family was plenty common even at times when he wasn’t that inebriated.)
It was the winter of my senior year of high school. Dad didn’t come home from work that night; apparently he was getting sloshed at The Pub (the establishment’s actual name). Early that Friday evening he phoned demanding my seventeen-year-old brother be sent up to The Pub to fight someone who supposedly beat Dad up. My two brothers were banished to Grandma Martha’s (Mom’s mother) up the street; I guess Diamondqueen, not quite two years old, went as well because I know she wasn’t around for the mayhem.
At some point Dad came home and stormed at Mom. He claimed he had dynamite in his truck and was going to blow up the house. He went outside briefly. In the meantime, Mom was coping on the phone with Grandma Mary (Dad’s mother), who was hysterical because Dad had phoned her and asked if she’d be willing to raise us kids because Dad was going to kill Mom.
I heard Dad come back into the house. He appeared in the kitchen with his hands behind him, a goofy look on his face, stumbling toward the dining room.
“What have you got behind your back?” I demanded. At that, Dad revealed a small handgun.
Convinced he was going to shoot my mother, I hurtled toward him. I grabbed his arm and pinned it against the wall, trying to slam it so he’d let go of the gun. “Drop it, drop it!” I kept yelling, but in moments I realized it was pointless. I still remember the handle of the gun welded in his fleshy palm. Even as drunk as he was, he wasn’t going to let it go.
In the meantime, Mom turned around to see me trying to wrestle a gun from Dad’s hand and nearly had a stroke. I think she dropped the phone, but not before Grandma heard her screaming, “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!”
Once I accepted I couldn’t get the gun from him, I dashed to the opposite corner of the dining room and tried to block Mom from the shot I expected any second. I think I literally tried to lift her to the steps that led to the second floor. At the same time, I realized Dad had raised the gun–not at Mom but to his own temple as if he was going to shoot himself. Mom seemed to be fighting me to get to him. I told her over and over, “Let him do it! Let him do it!”
My intention isn’t to make the Paris attack about me. As I said, I personalize these things to understand them better. What I understand about those terrorist attacks, and about any classroom or theater shooting, is that it’s ridiculous to suggest the average person can overwhelm and disarm an attacker, especially one with a semi-automatic rifle. My mother and I were ineffective against a falling-down-drunk man with a pistol. A maniac or a trained terrorist with an AK-47? Fine, you try to overwhelm him.
Which makes Friday night’s Paris tragedy all the more horrifying to contemplate. Hopefully some victims, especially those mowed down outside the cafes, didn’t know what hit them. But apparently many in the Bataclan concert hall did know, and it’s their ordeal that stops me cold, especially those held hostage who met a bloody end.
What happened finally with Dad and his gun? In memory there’s a slight gap between his pointing the gun at his temple and me sitting in the living room with him. He gripped my hand and said, “Let’s go down to the riverbank so I can kill myself. You can watch me do it.” (I was being treated for severe depression in the wake of a couple of inadequate suicide attempts. I struggled to forgive my father many transgressions as time went on, but I almost fail when I recall how he said, “Come on, you understand all about this. You can hold my hand while I do it.” I must have been so traumatized by then, all I could do was cry. If I’d been in one of my own rages instead, I would have wrapped my free hand around his throat and squeezed until his eyes popped.)
At some point he left the house. Eventually we got a call that he was in some park near the old Swifton Shopping Center. When we arrived to pick him up, there were police questioning him, evidently because he was in the park after hours. Because Mom appeared on the scene, they let him go in her care. We were driving home, Dad in the backseat, when he said, sneering, something to the effect that he’d been ready if the police had started anything with him, he had the gun in his pocket. I was icy cold and wary the whole way, afraid Dad would pull out the gun and start shooting.
Somehow we got him into the house and into bed; he slept on the big sofa bed in the living room. Maybe he’d worn himself out and/or the liquor was overcoming him at that point. On edge, I couldn’t sleep at all. Finally, I crept downstairs and found his discarded pants. In one pocket I located the handgun, wrapped in a handkerchief. I carried it upstairs and hid it carefully in a small chest in my room. Next day I wouldn’t tell either Mom or Dad where the gun was. Dad wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t use it on him; Mom was terrified I’d use it on myself. It wasn’t much, and it didn’t really help, but hiding that gun away gave me a minuscule sense of control in a house that felt like a war zone too much of the time.
The gun finally left the house when my uncle’s pony keg was robbed and he wanted the gun for security. I was livid when I learned the gun hadn’t been loaded in the first place. That night did heavy damage; reviewing it all with the knowledge that the gun hadn’t been loaded didn’t make the memories easier. Even now, the fact that the gun was empty seems irrelevant; the anguish and fear I remember feeling overwhelms that fact.
I also feel anguish and fear for the Paris victims, for the victims of all the bombings and shootings throughout the Middle East, for the shooting victims in schools and movie theaters, for citizens unjustly shot by police and for police murdered by criminals, for innocents pierced by drive-by bullets. The world is a cruel, violent place. Maybe someday we’ll have real strategies for dealing with that violence; but for now, you can’t convince me that “rushing” an attacker is a viable strategy.