Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
In the top drawer of my father’s dresser was a pearl-handled pistol. It had belonged to my grandfather, who was a deputy.
To my knowledge, that pistol never left that dresser. When there was a labor strike at my father’s plant and management had shots fired at their houses, that pistol stayed in the dresser. When my little hometown had the number one homicide rate in the country, that pistol stayed in the dresser.
My brother and I had BB guns, and my father taught us how to shoot a rifle – at targets. Any thought of shooting something alive was a fast track to a spanking. Later, we shared a twenty-two rifle where the same rules applied – only more so.
But we were never taught to shoot that pistol.
Forty years ago, my father was practicing one of the recommendations in the 219th General Assembly (2010) policy, Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call. It encourages citizens, hunters, and law-enforcement officials who regularly handle weapons properly to be wise examples in reducing risks and teaching how to prevent deadly force. My father’s approach to reducing risk was to never teach us to think of a loaded pistol as a personal safety device.
I did see my father shoot one living thing. A dog that had been tormented by children lived near my grandmother’s farm. As a result, it attacked children if provoked, but became docile around adults. My big-hearted grandmother fed that dog – until the day when it attacked (unprovoked) her favorite grandson – me. It was decided that my father had to “put down” the dog before it seriously hurt someone. My father took my grandmother’s ancient shotgun, went out under the beechnut tree, and shot the dog. The look on his face afterward was lesson enough for me.
My father died thirty years ago. His lessons about guns are still in my head. And that pistol is still in the dresser.
The Reverend Gradye Parsons is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).