I grew up around guns. As a poor family living in rural South Carolina, my uncles were expert hunters. The extensive firearm training they underwent during their years in the Army and Navy ensured that we always had dinner on the table. They taught me and my sisters to be confident and responsible when handling weapons. I had a knack for shooting cans at long distances and always enjoyed hearing stories about the camaraderie and bravery of their fellow soldiers and sailors from when they served. Despite this, I never imagined that I would follow in the footsteps of the many veterans in my family and join the armed forces myself one day.
When I was a young girl, school was my top priority. I pushed myself academically to set an example for my younger sisters and to make my grandmother, who was raising me, proud. Dreams of being the first member of my family with a college degree filled me with hope and excitement, and I wanted to make it happen as soon as possible.
This dream was forever changed when I was 17 and my mother was shot and killed by her boyfriend in a domestic violence incident. Before I knew it, one shot from an illegal sawed-off shotgun changed the course of my life forever, and the gravity of what firearms could do became very real to me. It was no longer just animals who could die from a gun.
In addition to managing unbearable grief, I knew I had to provide for my younger sisters who were 10, 11, and 12 years old at the time of my mother’s death. Joining the Army was a coincidental solution - the option hadn’t occurred to me until I bumped into a recruiter in the hallway of my high school. My uncles worried about the intensity of the physical training, my grandmother still wanted me to get a college degree and my little sisters were heartbroken at the loss of our mother.
But reflecting now, I know that the Army pulled me from my depths of despair and gave me strength, opportunities, and a new purpose. I was able to travel for the first time in my life, serving in places like California and Belgium. The Army also gave me full college tuition and benefits - during the years I served, I was able to complete an associate's degree in criminal justice. I even went on to get a bachelor's degree in counseling and human services, as well as a master's degree in counseling.
When I first joined the Army, every time I held a gun, the memory of my mother’s loss reverberated. I knew first-hand the destruction a firearm in the wrong hands can cause, not only to a person but for the community that feels that loss for years to come. Even as my training made me more familiar with firearms, and as a proud gun owner and supporter of the 2nd Amendment, I don’t take the life and death stakes of guns lightly. In 2014, my niece Sandy was hit by a stray bullet in a mass shooting and died with the exact same injury in the same place as our mother had years before. It was then I decided to take an active role in the gun violence prevention movement and support common-sense gun safety laws.
This Veterans Day, I am thankful to the Army for giving my life direction, and I honor all those who have served at home or abroad, including my sons Ken, an Army veteran, and Ben, who is currently serving as a 17 year Active Duty Sailor in the Navy. As members of the military community, we have a unique and established education when it comes to firearms. It’s up to us to help lead the gun violence prevention movement here at home as we represent the pinnacle of gun safety and responsible gun ownership.
Melody Geddis McFadden is a gun owner, pastor, and veteran from Greenville, SC. She is also a member of Everytown’s Veterans Advisory Council and a Senior Survivor Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network. She served in the U.S. Army as a Military Police Investigator.
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