Susan Gets a Gun

“Everything,” Susan says, “becomes the quilt of your life.”

Similar to the USCCA’s own Beth Vaughn, our cousin Susan is familiar with domestic abuse. In Susan’s case, however, the terrorist was a stepfather, not a husband. Here was a man who professed to love a woman, swore he would care for her children as his own, raise them with compassion and understanding and who, almost immediately, went off the rails.

Susan’s mother, a deeply religious woman, sought help. In the ’70s and early ’80s, however, very little was available. In those days, an acquaintance of the author, whose drunken father was horribly abusive, threw his three children into the snow of a January night in Iowa so that he could beat his wife without “all the screaming and crying.” When a neighbor called the police, the man was lectured and sent home with the stern admonition to not “do that again.” You may guess how that turned out. Susan’s experience in South Carolina was every bit as difficult.

Susan was in the second grade when her mother and father divorced. Soon, her mother met a “good man” — a man who seemed to love her, a man who would respect her children — and they married. That was mistake No. 2.

A couple years into the marriage, the family faced bankruptcy. Regardless of how much money they earned, bank accounts registered zero. When Susan’s mother asked her husband, “Where’s the money going?” he became violent.

In the ’80s, cocaine was the “big score.” Crystal meth was on its way. Television shows such as Saturday Night Live laughed at and practically promoted drug use. When celebrities blew fabulous sums on addiction therapies, they bragged about it and went right back. Susan’s stepfather fell into the trap.

Eventually, Susan’s mother went to her grandfather, who was a minister, for guidance and support in obtaining a divorce. He perhaps suggested that she was to blame in part because, after all, it was not her first marriage. And so, the family — especially Susan’s brother — endured. Both Susan and her brother took after-school jobs to buy groceries because the stepfather hid the family’s groceries in a locked shed.

Then, one night, when Susan was in the 11th grade, the stepfather exploded in rage. He smashed walls and screamed that someone had used the stove and had eaten without permission. Summoning the family, the stepfather waved a handgun at them and shrieked that he would kill them all as well as himself. When Susan’s brother dialed 911, the stepfather tore the phone off the wall.

Eventually, police escorted the stepfather away. Susan’s mother eventually divorced him (and liberated a mountain of food locked in the shed).

Woman standing next to a shooting target

Susan’s childhood was marred by a drunken, drug-addicted stepfather who waved a handgun at her. For nearly 25 years, the very thought of guns made her nauseated. This year, however, with the help of a supportive husband, a patient concealed carry instructor and friends in her South Carolina Bible study group, Susan faced her deepest fear and began to learn that guns are both tools and weapons of self-defense.

Since that night, Susan hated guns — the thought of guns, the idea of guns. She completed college, taught school for 20 years and raised three children. Even though her husband is a cop and carries firearms openly, and even though their children have learned to shoot and appreciate the gun as a tool and a thing of joy and beauty in the right environment, Susan refused to be near their guns. The very sight of her husband’s holstered pistol might bring back memories of abuse and fear or sometimes cause her to break into a “cold sweat,” she says.

But recently, the most remarkable thing happened, something that testifies to the qualities of patience and kindness that spring from love. Susan realized she needed to face her fear and decided that it was “now or never.” She went deep into her trauma and met with a friend who was a concealed carry instructor. Susan’s Bible study class even discussed guns and concealed carry. They decided to help her face her fears.

Susan does not have a concealed carry permit, and guns still make her “a bit nervous,” but she has held and fired handguns, has learned something of their operation and uses, and has taken a giant step toward understanding her past and adding a colorful panel to the quilt of her life.