Both time I heard a gun advocate say on the news that we'd be better off if every law-abiding citizen carried a concealed weapon, I thought of Chris Dana.
The advocate let us into his dream world where he imagined pulling his weapon from beneath his coat and wasting bad guys. In his fantasy no one else is hurt, or even in danger. I see him blowing away the last smoke from his barrel and shoving his handgun back behind his belt.
I first heard of Chris Dana after a sudden, shocked silence had descended on our newspaper office. One of our ad reps, a middle-aged woman, had dropped her phone and run out of the building, sobbing that "Chris shot himself."
Dana, 23, was one of those National Guardsmen who returned from Iraq with invisible wounds. Ever since his arrival home in 2005, his family knew something was wrong. They tried to get him help, but there was little to be had. On March 4, 2007, Dana quit his job at Target, cleaned his car, shut himself in his room, pulled a blanket over his head, and shot himself dead with a .22 caliber rifle. Sometime later his Dad, Gary, found a letter from the Montana National Guard in a wastebasket, near a Wal Mart receipt for .22 shells. The letter announced Dana's dismissal from the Guard for skipping drills.
Since then, the Montana Guard has taken many steps to improve its handling of such cases. But today I read a Time magazine article featuring a returned Guardsman, Matthew Magdzas, also 23, of Superior, Wis., who shot not only himself with his 9-mm semiautomatic pistol but his wife, her near-term baby, his 13-month-old daughter, and his three dogs. The magazine said he was one of 113 Guard members to commit suicide in 2010, up 450 percent from 2004.
We'll never know if Dana or Magdzas ever daydreamed about being a hero, killing off bad guys with a cool, NRA nonchalance. But you can bet they came home knowing more about guns than that guy I heard on the national news.