Editor’s note: The Quad-City Times and Dispatch-Argus recently ran versions of these words from St. Paul member Paul Olsen. He is a professor and coach at Augustana College.
The recent massacre in Las Vegas took me back to an October Saturday long ago that still stirs in my brain and my heart: opening day for duck season. For a year I had been shooting at targets with the Winchester 410 my older brother David had given me, and now he and dad agreed that I was ready to go after the real thing.
Already in pre-dawn I was oiling my gun and counting out the shells for the tenth time, anxious for sunrise and the walk with dad to the blind we had built the day before on the shores of the lake near our home. No targets this time; I was a hunter now. My brother and his friend, Jack, headed for our other blind, 200 yards away.
Just after arrival I heard the flutter of mallards taking off and at the same time a cry that I still can hear today: “I killed him. I killed him.” “Dad,” I whispered, “did someone get shot?” Dad said no, probably not, but he sent me home while he went to “check on it.” Home was only minutes away, and I hurried back, naively, innocently, eager to alert the neighbors with the warning that “someone got shot,” and my dad is “checking on it.” I told mom too. She didn’t even say, “what?” She just dropped her dishtowel, dashed out the door, and froze at the stoop, searching for dad, hoping, burning to hear this wasn’t anything serious. Dad wasn’t there. She didn’t take another step, and only then did I realize how horrified she was.
Together we stood on the back stoop, silent, dumb in the moments between not knowing and knowing, until we saw dad coming up the hill with our neighbor Walt. Walt’s arm was around dad’s shoulders. Mom knew. The longest walk of Dad’s life brought him close to us, and without a word mom just fainted off the steps into his arms.
The next few duck seasons we had to leave town on opening day. The lake was too close. The shots were too loud.
Today I sympathize and try to identify with the anguish of those who lost loved ones at this recent Las Vegas massacre, just as when I tried to understand those whose lives changed forever after Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook. Yet I can’t. What happened on that October day was an accident. It was not evil. My brother’s death was not someone’s choice. I never hunted again, but our family never asked others to put away their guns.
But the Las Vegas tragedy was a choice, deliberate and planned – and the easy access to assault weapons made the carnage possible. Immediately we hear the justifications: guns don’t kill, people do; or an unbending interpretation of the 2 nd amendment; or sport guns are next to go – it’s a slippery slope. At the same time Vice President Pence reminds us that “we grieve together,” are “united in support,” and are “resolved to end such evil in our time.”
I remember our family’s heartbreak, yet our pain was not magnified by the presence of evil and compounded by the broken promise to actually do something about it. “In our time” is long over due.