Being married to a police officer leaves many things non-negotiable, including funky hours, weird days off, and gross dinner table conversations. Although all of these things can place major strain on spending time together (especially the last since you might find yourself finding ways to eat really quickly), one constant in a law enforcement home can kill. This constant is the presence of firearms.
As I read through the Officer.com headlines, one caught my eye. Chicago Boy Dies after Finding Officer Grandmother's Gun. My chest tightened and tears welled. Regardless, I clicked on the link. The story was devastating. A six-year-old boy fatally shot himself with a gun he found while sitting in his grandmother's car. His grandmother was a 17-year law enforcement veteran. She now faces administrative and criminal charges. But, worse yet, she faces the devastation of having to live without her grandson. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident.
Only a few days before the Chicago tragedy, a three year-old boy shot himself with his father's duty weapon in Atlanta (GA). In February, 2006 a 13-year-old boy died from a semi-automatic gunshot wound in the home of his guardian, a Forest Heights (MD) police officer. In August, 2006, a four year-old boy shot himself while being babysat in the home of a Detroit police officer. Officers' children aren't the only ones being hurt. In July, 2006, an LAPD officer was shot in the chest by his three-year-old son while they were stopped at a red light. And, in October, 2004, a South Valley (CA) deputy's four year-old son shot a seven year-old playmate with his father's service weapon. Tragically, the stories go on and on.
What made these stories so emotional for me were two personal experiences. The first occurred several years ago when I was working as a dispatcher/9-1-1 operator. Officers under investigation would be assigned to our communications center. Rumors flew before one particular officer showed up for his first day of desk duty. Many of us had seen the news, and a few employees knew him personally, but none of us could relate to the heartache which enshrined him due to two-year-old son having shot himself. The story I heard was he had put his duty belt down on the kitchen table for just a moment, the phone rang, he turned to get it, and in a moment his life was changed forever. His son lived, but faced a series of abdominal surgeries. This officer's marriage and his career were not so lucky. Seeing the pain in his eyes, I could tell nothing done to him externally could compare to the internal punishment he now lived with.
The second incident hit even closer to home. Literally, it was at home. Having recently married a municipal police officer, one of the first things we talked about was gun safety. We agreed on the necessary caution each of us had to take to protect our sons from getting either his duty weapon, or one of the other firearms we owned. Many law enforcement homes contain numerous weapons. Ours is no exception. We have a five-hundred pound safe and I felt good about our commitment to the safety of our children. Then, only a few weeks later, I stood in our bedroom speechless. Slowly turning away from the black case on the floor, I shut the door behind me and headed to the living room. I stood in front of the couch and looked down at my husband still in partial uniform. I asked him, "Is that shotgun loaded?" A look of confusion crossed his face, and then understanding, and then horror. He quickly got up and took care of it. We didn't need to say another word about it. I knew he would never forget again. Thank goodness it was my question and not the ring of a gunshot that prompted his dedication.