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Short Stories: My First Gun, A Mossberg .410 Shotgun

mossberg 410 shotgun

In 1966, the Gerencser family moved from Bryan, Ohio to a rural home outside of Harrod, near Lima. Our house was a brand new trilevel home Dad rented for $200 a month, with the understanding he would buy the house once the lease was up. I attended part of the fourth and fifth grades at Harrod Elementary School. Once the lease was up, Dad was unable to buy the house, so we were forced to move to Farmer where I attended fifth and sixth grades.

Our house near Harrod was in a subdivision on old Route 30, near the road that ran north to Layfayette and our swimming hole, Silver Springs. Dad worked for Combined Insurance Company. By this time, Mom had serious mental health problems. Over the year or so we lived near Harrod, Mom tried to kill herself three times, once by slitting her wrists, another time by overdosing on medications, and finally by driving her car in front of a truck. She survived all three attempts. But the day I came home from school as an eleven-year-old boy and found my mom lying on the kitchen floor unconscious in a pool of blood left a permanent imprint on me — even to this day. (Please see Barbara.)

While living near Harrod, I learned that Dad had embezzled thousands of dollars from his employer. I found a letter he had written to Combinde admitting his crime and promising to repay the money. Surprisingly, Combined did not fire him. This explained how Dad could afford the brand-new Pontiac convertible in the garage, the huge HO train layout, complete with expensive brass engines, that took up most of the space in the finished basement, and dozens of firearms in the cabinet in Dad’s office.

Dad bought and sold firearms — lots of them. In 1968, Dad was investigated for violating the Gun Control Act. He had been making illegal firearm sales at gun shows. He was not charged with a crime but was told he would be if he didn’t stop selling guns. Dad complied — I think. Two years later, I remember him shooting a fully automatic military rifle in our backyard outside of Farmer. I also remember Dad converting semi-automatic rifles to automatics. So, did Dad really stop his illegal gun trade? I have my doubts.

One Sunday, Dad took me to the gun show with him. I was almost twelve. I had been hunting with Dad since I was a young child, and I was looking forward to one day owning my own gun. This was the day. Dad bought me a bolt action (with a modified choke) .410 Mossberg shotgun. Boy, was I excited. I loved to hunt, so it was not long before I was hunting on my own or with my school friends. Yes, I was only twelve, but guns and hunting were part of the fabric of rural life. I would NEVER think it okay today to let my twelve-year-old grandchildren not only own a firearm, but also go hunting without an adult present. Different times . . .

At the age of eighteen, I had a serious accident with this gun. One day, I was out and about outside of Hereford, Arizona with my girlfriend’s brother. We both had shotguns, and were horsing around as boys often do. At a gun show, I had purchased some reloaded .410 shells. I racked one of the shells into the chamber, but the shell seemed too large for the gun. I ignored this, forcing the shell into the chamber, and pulled the trigger. Boom! The double-loaded shell exploded, blowing the action out of the gun and splintering the stock by the barrel. The wood from the stock cut my abdomen and then injured my girlfriend’s brother. A piece of the receiver buried itself deep into my hand, so much so that it would be three years before I even knew it was there. (It worked its way to the surface while I was in college. I pulled it out of my hand with a pair of pliers.)

The shotgun was salvageable. I bought a new bolt for the gun and refinished the stock. I married, had children, and lost interest in hunting. The gun sat for years in my closet and later in a cabinet. In 1996, during a time when I felt I should sell everything for the sake of the gospel, I sold all of my firearms. At the time, I thought I was doing what Jesus wanted me to do. Boy, do I regret listening to Jesus. 🙂

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Got me again Bruce. I’m in tears reading experiences you had with your parents that reminded me of what I lived through a generation earlier. I even had a Mossberg exactly like yours and hunted unsupervised with it at 12 years old. I was a failed hunter because my heart was not in killing but I loved the gun and shooting. I acted the macho outdoorsman imitating my Father. I also had an accident with my Mossberg that left a hole blown in a wall of our little house in Bryan. Fortunately no injuries. I’ll differ with that picture of the Rambler though. I don’t think it’s a Ramlbler but a Studebaker Lark. Yeah I had one briefly.

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    I can’t properly get my head round the cavalier way in which guns can get into the hands of children. There seems to be a delight in the US at unrestricted gun ownership, to the extent that it’s almost psychosis. The trouble is it’s so deeply ingrained that now it’s taken for granted, even by people who realise there should be much stricter controls. When people in the US ridicule the UK for taking away the ability of its citizens to defend themselves, arguing that guns are a fundamental right, I point out that I prefer my fundamental right to be able to go anywhere in the near certainty that nobody is carrying a gun. Yes there are loads of kids who carry knives under their hoodies, but knives represent a much lesser threat than guns, and it’s incredibly rare to actually see one being held.

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    Bruce, at least you “sold” your firearms – I had about $700 (in 1970’s money) worth of LP albums (rock, pop, etc) and when I got “saved” I gave them to the preacher (IFB) so he could break them in front of the kids in the church school. Just another of my many regrets.

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    I grew up near gun culture but didn’t participate in it. My grandfather and his oldest brother were WWII combat veterans. My grandfather had an old rifle in the house, but it was locked away and I wasn’t to touch it. His oldest brother lived with my great-grandmother, and Granny showed me where Uncle J kept his pistol and grenade and told me never to touch them. A different kid would have, I’m sure, and I did dream of pulling the pin and throwing that grenade! I never got to do that though……probably for the best…..

    I knew a couple of kids from church who died by gun. One was a 13-year-old boy out in the woods with 2 friends. He was shot in the head with a rifle. The story we were told is that one boy rested the rifle against a tree, the gun fell over, and the bullet struck the boy in the head. The real story was probably much different, but as these were minors, the adults probably agreed to keep it to an accident where no one was named as culpable. The other gun death was a 15-year-old girl from church committed suicide with a gun.

    Many people in the South owned guns, and some weren’t so strict about gun safety.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, I find it ironic that you sold your guns “for Jesus.” I have known people who believed you can’t be a “true” Christian or real ‘Murikun if you don’t exercise your God-given, I mean Second Amendment -protected (by their reading) right to bear arms.

    Two of my uncles—including the one about whom I wrote a tribute a couple of years ago—took me on one of their fall hunting trips when I was 15. It wasn’t for me. They were sympathetic and let me walk around but a friend who came with them resented my presence, as I learned later, not because I didn’t want to shoot Bambi, but because he and my uncles weren’t drinking because I was there.

    Anyway, as someone who’s lived most of my life in NYC—and three years in Paris—I am astounded any time I go south of the Potomac and see guns and ammo sold alongside bikes, backpacks and baseball bats in Walmart’s sporting goods section.

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