My transformation began the moment I stepped on the painted yellow footprints 20 years ago. Our heads were shaved and the word “yes” was replaced with “kill.” Every day we were told of the enemies that wanted nothing more than to destroy the people we love and our country.
I was given my M-16 A2 service rifle and quickly memorized the “Rifleman’s Creed.” We would recite it together while lying in bed with our rifles. “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life…”
I had never fired a gun before. It felt clumsy in my hands. Within a month though, I was firing my rifle with accuracy from 1,000 yards. It never left my side. My rifle had a name.
After three short months, the transformation was complete. I was a Marine. More specifically though, I was ready to fire my rifle into any and all perceived threats. The enemy was real. Or so I thought.
If I close my eyes now and imagine standing on the rifle range in San Diego, I can feel the weight of the gun in my hand. My fingers gripping the cold, plastic hand guard with the sling wrapped through my left arm. My breathing begins to slow. My finger is straight and off the trigger until I have acquired my target. I slowly begin to squeeze the trigger and now twenty years removed, the smell of cordite fills my nose and my chest swells with confidence.
The enemy did not fear my rifle. They feared the Marine. They feared the man I had become.
Another day has passed and yet another shooting has taken the life or lives of many. We once again begin to question gun control, mental health resources and people that don’t look like us. The script never changes.
But what if we took the time to step back and examine why people are picking up a gun and killing so many? Maybe we would find that it’s not about the kind of guns that are being used or the state of someone’s mental health. Imagine if were able to have the courage to empathize with the individual carrying the gun into a school or place of business.
Imagine what we would learn.
I think we would find men that are struggling with their identity; men that are angry and that are desperately looking to feel confident and powerful.
We would find me standing on the rifle range again.