by Aaron Warner
My wife is from Columbus, Indiana which is a medium-sized town about forty-five minutes south of Indianapolis and about thirty miles from Greenwood, a southern Indianapolis suburb. This year our annual visit to see the family and grandkids took place between June 30 and July 16.
I wanted to play golf, play cards and games, and sleep in. This year I also felt called to buy both my step-daughter Victoria and her husband Brandon 9mm handguns.
It started when I noticed a purple Ruger EC9-S sitting in the case down at Pinnacle Sporting Goods in West Lebanon. I remember it being one of her favorite colors, so I sent a picture of it and asked if she was interested. She said it was almost identical to the one she’d seen a week or so prior and that she’d love to have it.
Her father is deceased and came from a family of military and police officers, so I have always tried to think of what he would want for his children. With the world getting crazier and more violent by the day I felt compelled to buy it for her. A few days later my friend Tanner asked if I was interested in his Smith and Wesson M&P Shield. I felt the urge to get it for my son-in-law.
Prior to the trip I worked with Tanner, who has a certain level of expertise when it comes to firearms, on some drills. The obligation to pass these skills on to Victoria and Brandon was both burden and joy. It’s sad that I feel so compelled to provide for their safety, while at the same time it’s an honor to be able to stand in that gap at such a time as this. Having gone shooting with my boys during the prior summer at a slick indoor range by the name of Accuracy Unlimited in North Vernon, Indiana I envisioned taking the young parents and what they would need to learn in the short time we had together.
Firearms on television have always been used as props to add drama and excitement to movie and films. Playing cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers as a kid gave the cheap thrill of using guns in quasi-real world scenarios. I recall even cap guns having a subtle thrill to them. It isn’t until you’re firing live rounds inside a range, or even outside for that matter, that you begin to realize the stunning power one has when holding a loaded gun. If like me you are lucky, you will have found men and women who understand the gravity of owning a firearm and they will teach it to you accordingly. If you are ever around someone with guns who doesn’t take it very, very seriously, you should make that the last time you go shooting with them. It’s that serious. People with guns who aren’t serious are dangerous to everyone around them.
Our first outing my step-daughter conveyed as much. Her natural nerves kicked in and she struggled to hit the target sheet from as short as five yards. As we watched her on video we could see her anticipating the recoil by dipping the barrel prior to the report of the bullet. The nice gentleman who worked there came in long enough to go over some basics and by the end of our session she was comfortably hitting targets from five and even ten yards. Before heading back out to the sales room he recommended an all-women’s course taught by a female former law enforcement officer. I was glad to hear they offered one as that’s what I was hoping Victoria would find – other women to train with. Guns, like nearly everything else, are a different experience for women than they are for men.
Though she and I are not terribly close since I became her step-dad as she was a junior in high school, after which she moved from Vermont back to Indiana, this was one of the nicest bonding moments we’d ever shared and I felt satisfied I was doing the right thing as awful as it was to think about why I had to.
The following week on Wednesday July 13 I went over how to tear down and clean the handguns with her given our plans were to go shooting one more time that afternoon. We met up with Brandon and, no pun intended, had a blast working on gun safety, certain skills, and admiring how far she’d come in such a short time.
The day prior, July 12, we had taken two of her kids for a day of fun to the Cummins children’s playground in town, then to the Dairy Queen that sponsored NASCAR racer Tony Stewart (a Columbus native) for ice cream, after which I suggested we check out a watch shop I’d seen in my smart-map suggestions list. Every few years around Father’s Day I need a new watch, so, it was a day for spontaneity and we made the trip. I had no idea we were headed to the Greenwood Mall.
Thank God it was four days before the shooting, but when I heard the news after we got home my heart sunk as I thought about the people I’d seen in the food court that afternoon. The sights and smells came flooding back and the happy people and their families all seemed suspended in my mind in a soon to be tragic tableau.
It just so happened, though Indiana had just passed the constitutional carry law on June 30, I was not carrying that day having used Victoria’s minivan with the child seats for her kids. The thought of being out playing with my grandkids seemed so innocent it didn’t even occur to me to take one. Luckily, I didn’t need it, but the news that came a few short days later hit so close to home I struggled to keep from breaking down into tears for what those people went through at that sweet little Midwestern mall.
There is no joy in “I told you so’s” surrounding a tragedy like this one. There is only the stinging reminder of why I had to in the first place.
Though my heart mourns at what happened and for the people affected by the loss of their loved ones, and the twelve year old girl who is now scarred for life, I am grateful to the great people of Indiana for assuring the citizens have the right to carry and defend themselves, which, in this instance, spared more lives than were lost had they not.