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  • Writer's pictureKevin O'Keefe

Hey, Nineteen

Updated: Jan 25, 2019

I was nineteen in 1978. I had a drinking problem, authority issues and a rifle.

I didn’t grow up around guns in Larchmont, NY and was wholly ignorant of their power. I went to college because that’s what my friends were doing. Mark Johnson was a tall, curly-haired, banjo player who wore cowboy boots and a white hat. He was the RA on my floor in the dorm. One crisp fall afternoon he took me into the woods for some target practice. We drank a six-pack and shot at the empty bottles until we ran out of ammo. I can’t say it was an epiphany or even that I enjoyed it. Truth was I was there more for the beer than the bullets. It was just something to do while I waited for the buzz to kick in.

However, that indifference didn’t stop me the following week from buying a .22 caliber rifle - just like Mark’s. I showed the gun shop owner my driver’s license. He probably recorded it somewhere. I got a small box of ammo with the purchase. I never discussed the purchase of the rifle with any friend other than Mark or family member and bet to this day they don’t know about it. Naiveté? Ignorance? Youthful indiscretion? If the shoe fits…

It seems pertinent to tell you that Mark Johnson also owned a 1966 Volvo 122. I bought one of those too. I had a pair of cowboy boots that I wore when around Mark. You could say that I was searching for an identity. Borrowing Mark Johnson's and taking it out for a test drive seemed reasonable and easier than discovering my own. Not that I knew that that was what I was doing at the time. I just thought, “He’s cool.” The kids in our dorm respected him. Girls wanted to date him.

Some time passed and I drove around with this rifle in the trunk of my Volvo. We’d go out occasionally and shoot more beer bottles. One night I slipped the rifle into my dorm room after concealing it in a towel. Although we insisted to our friends back home that our state college’s reputation as a party school was exaggerated there was a keg party somewhere in the dorm that night. The first 28 days of that semester there were 27 keg parties in that dorm. I had a nose for them and after fifteen or so beers and several bong hits of pot I returned to my room.

The rifle was under the bed. I unwrapped it. I slid open the window. The barrel rested on the ledge. I made sure it was loaded, took off the safety, and sighted a large globular streetlight across the quad. I took careful aim, even checking twice to make sure there were no students crossing the quad. To say that my judgement was clouded by testostorone, marijuana and Schlitz would be an understatement. But some pin of common sense pricked me out of the stupor enough to think, “This is stupid.” I re-wrapped the rifle, left the dorm and locked the it back in the trunk.

A couple of days later campus security opened up the trunk because I was illegally parked somewhere.They told me that if I didn’t get rid of the rifle I’d be kicked off campus. I sold it back to the shop were I’d bought it. That was then.

Last week a 19-year old kid entered his old high school and randomly murdered 17 people with an AR-15 assault rifle.

I’ve been sober for 39 years. Where does grace reside in you?


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