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My Neighbor Almost Shot My Daughter

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It was around 2 p.m. on a Saturday when I pulled into the garage at my condo. One of my neighbors was also in the garage and as we pulled in, he walked towards my car. I opened the door and we exchanged the usual pleasantries before he asked, “Did you hear a gunshot last night?”

I immediately stopped what I was doing and looked at him to see if he was kidding. We live in a safe neighborhood — quiet, peaceful and not at all the kind of place where you would expect to hear gunfire in the middle of the night.

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A quick assessment of the look on his face told me this wasn’t a joke. I explained that we hadn’t been home the night before, that my daughter and I had stayed at a friend’s house. I asked him why he would even be asking about gunshots in the first place.

Apparently, around 2 a.m. something had woken him up. Shortly after that, he received a jumbled text message from his downstairs neighbor — the same neighbor who shares a wall with my daughter's nursery. He showed me the text, which was mostly gibberish, but the words “sorry,” “gun,” “went off” and “Ambien” were clear enough. In the morning, after his girlfriend had left the house, he followed a gut feeling and searched their room ... eventually finding a slug right next to their bed.

I immediately felt ill and held on to my 16-month-old daughter, wondering what we were even supposed to do in a situation like this. My neighbor and I agreed that the cops needed to be called. With that decision, confirmation of the real story came to light.

Apparently, my next-door neighbor — who has always been a bit of a kooky older man, but seemingly nice and harmless enough — sleeps with a loaded gun under his pillow. On this night in particular, he had taken Ambien and woke up in the middle of the night, sure that he had heard something. So he fired off a round.

The cops labeled it an accidental discharge and explained there was nothing they could do about it. He wasn’t ticketed and there were no threats of his gun rights being taken away. The man fired a gunshot into another person’s home, and there were absolutely no consequences as a result.

According to the CDC, there are an average of 75 to 100 deaths in the United States every year as a result of accidental discharges. The number of injuries is even greater. People actually die from this — from unsafe gun practices that result in firearms “accidentally” going off.

How do the gun rights of someone who has no respect at all for gun safety supersede the right of my daughter to sleep safely in her own room?

I live in Alaska. We tend to be a pretty gun-friendly state and I would be willing to bet that I am the only person among my group of friends who doesn’t own a gun. That’s never really bothered me though. My father was a cop and a hunter, so I grew up around firearms, taking family trips to the shooting range from an early age.

But one thing that was always modeled to me was safe gun use. And even among my friends, I rarely see their firearms. When I do, it’s usually because we are out camping or hiking somewhere remote. I would say I’m fairly gun friendly, even as someone who has never had any real desire to own a firearm herself. In this situation though, the more I think about what happened, the more upset I become.

Sure, we weren’t home. And he fired up instead of to the side, so the bullet never came near my daughter’s room.

But, it could have.

And she could have been there.

And I could be telling an entirely different story right now.

I am angry and frustrated and upset to an extreme I haven’t been in quite a while. I don’t understand someone sleeping with a loaded gun under his or her pillow. And I certainly don’t understand doing so while on a drug like Ambien, which is known to produce hallucinations and altered behavior. But most of all, I don’t understand how something like this could happen with absolutely zero consequences to the person who clearly has no business owning a firearm.

How do the gun rights of someone who has no respect at all for gun safety supersede the right of my daughter to sleep safely in her own room? How is it possibly acceptable that this is now something I have to worry about? I’m sorry, but when did we become so concerned about protecting people’s “rights” that we stopped worrying about protecting actual people?

I still can’t wrap my head around it. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that gun ownership shouldn’t be a right, it should be a privilege. One that can be taken away when you prove that you can’t handle the responsibility.

If this same neighbor had taken an Ambien and then driven his car into someone else’s home, there would be no question — his license would be revoked, at least for a period of time. But he shoots a bullet just inches away from another person's bed and there is nothing that can be done? How does that not even merit a ticket or some kind of enforced gun safety class?

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I honestly do not think my neighbor is a bad guy, and I am sure he feels awful (and probably even a little embarrassed) about what happened. But there should be consequences to handling a deadly weapon with so little care. Someone could have died. And that someone could have very easily been my daughter.

So how am I supposed to be OK with that?

And why would anyone else be?

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