A Chilling Remembrance: “That bad guy with a gun will very likely look like someone you love.”

By: Liz Hjelmseth

He was my brother—he was a good guy. Turns out good guys can have bad days and lose touch and do things no one expects.

Liz, a few years before the shooting.
Liz, a few years before the shooting.
I was eight years old that Halloween my brother tried to kill me with the 30‐30. That gun was the first thing you saw as you entered our house. It was always at the ready to be pressed into service. Growing up in Montana that didn’t seem strange at all. Most trucks had a full gun rack in the back window. All the firepower lined up and ready to go. I was so desensitized to guns that on the day it mattered most to me to see guns as a danger—I didn’t. After all, I would be able to tell if there was a bad guy with a gun. For one thing, he certainly wouldn’t look like my brother.

I come from a long line of gun owners. My grandmother had an NRA bumper sticker on her GTO; you know the one: “If you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns.” We owned many guns used for various activities. We also prided ourselves in being “safe” gun owners. Kids took hunter safety and guns were to be put away correctly. In my day, that meant taking the bullets out. But then there was a dark side too, my grandfather that I never got to meet, who never got to play with his grandchildren, killed himself with a gun years before I was born. And then there was that Halloween.

On that day, much like the day my grandfather used his gun for violence, the person holding the gun had a break with reality. I came home to a brother who was unreasonably angry. His anger quickly turned on me as I got ready to go trick or treating. The fight that happened doesn’t really matter; it was not based in reality. Within five minutes of me getting home he decided I needed to die and the gun was there, always ready. He took careless aim and shot me in my leg and arm. Seeing my leg blown apart and immediately rendered useless and my arm torn open must have brought him back because he didn’t reload.

Every detail of that day is so vivid. The one that haunts me the most though is how I just stood there when he got that gun. I literally did not feel any fear. He was my brother—he was a good guy. Turns out good guys can have bad days and lose touch and do things no one expects.

Liz and her daughter.
Liz and her daughter.

As you can imagine life was never the same. My grandmother took the bumper sticker off her car and all the guns in our house were sold. I went through years of rehab, countless surgeries and tears. My goodness, I could fill the ocean with the tears my family shed. For years every morning I would lay in bed before I opened my eyes and pray to God that I was eight again and what happened was just a dream. Then I would open my eyes and look at my lifeless leg, see the scars on my body and I would climb out of bed, strap my brace on, walk past my brother’s room wondering if he had the same prayer every day and just go on.

I am tired of just going on. I have a truth that needs to be heard. Gun lobbies like to say, the only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But you can’t tell who the bad guy is if everyone has a gun. That bad guy with a gun will very likely look like someone you love. We need some common sense about guns in this country. We need to stop shrugging and moving on. We need to make a stand. We need to get the message out. Guns are used to kill. Sit with that for a full minute today, repeat it over and over, GUNS ARE USED TO KILL. That is their only purpose. If we all hold that truth, the only truth about guns, and we repeat that truth to our children, neighbors, and legislators maybe we can change this country. Maybe more people will get common sense and good guys will realize you don’t need pack a gun.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email facesofcourage@momsdemandaction.org.