Mason Hamberlin



At approximately 4 p.m., an Oregon man in the Yoncalla area shoots and critically wounds his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself. Negotiators report the last gunshot sounds at 6 p.m.

In Chicago, two people—a mentally ill student and his downstairs neighbor, a bystander—are shot to death by a man in uniform. Anonymous reports at 4:26 a.m. mention that the student threatened his father with an aluminum bat. Later autopsy reveals that the student had seven bullet wounds. Two stray shots. One passed through two walls. The other passed through the neighbor, a mother of five: four daughters and a son.


An Iraq War Vet and teacher of mine once wrote that it takes three pounds of pressure to pull the trigger, to play God. I read it in his unpublished manuscript. Of all the details he could have remembered, I don’t understand why his “three pounds” sticks with me (but I do). A letter home from boot camp: three pounds of pressure and a pencil. Over dinner with his wife and toddler son: three pounds of pressure against a fork’s neck. Years later, when that son tells him he wants to enlist, just like his father: three pounds of pressure, a pin, lapels.

My father, a corporate man, never owned a gun because he never had the need. Though, my mother has her own stories to tell. Childhood memories featured her father placing his loaded pistol on motel nightstands. Her father shooting stray animals in their suburban, New Jersey backyard. Her father bashing together two neighborhood cats—gripped and swung by the tail—and then, when they were broken-skulled but breathing, having to shoot them out back. Her father would repeat how he needed his guns—to keep the family safe from the crazies.

These things all happen years apart. But it’s funny (and it’s not) how retellings condense them into a matter of minutes. A day of family reunion becomes an unraveling. A lost detail, a history.


The ride up is coarse. I sit backseat, next to a ten-year-old stranger and his storage bucket of piss. Family time: my grandpa, his Veteran friend, two unrelated grandsons, a glock, and some AR-15s—case full of mods and all. We exit the van and position bottles along a hillside, somewhere in crags of Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico. Sharp pops. Other shooters to the left. Lemme get the rifles, says the Vietnam Vet.

It’s a vacuum of breath in my hands. Instead of driving the stock with my shoulders and shooting with intent, like I’ve learned, I imagine myself on the other end of the AR-15.

As I reset wind-toppled bottles, I don’t feel it. A bullet blooms from my chest cavity, caresses innards—parts them like butter, dumb—until the ossature, too, loosens and fades and I fall. Between the sands and sky, where I lie becomes less clear. I imagine myself using my torn out liver as a pillow as I watch the winter desert spin—gypsum clouds beneath me, plumes of gray and alabaster. From my side, a breeze whistles through the hole in my chest, letting me know a blizzard approaches. I call out for help. Taste like salt.

Click. Three pounds of pressure and I miss. I want to gag at the romanticized vision I hold in my head and hands. At this range, I’m human. Not a vigilante, nor Hollywood sharpshooter. At this range, anything can happen. The rifle chambers the second of five rounds on its own. The three of us stand, staring.

Don’t worry, the Vietnam Vet says, just beyond arms length. The cold’s enough to throw any man off. You got to be either a true gun lover or a damn fool to stand this.

We pack up an hour later, leaving the shattered remnants of our targets behind. Our debris lies mixed in with that of other shooters—all of it broken, all of it forgotten to the wind and sand.

During the van ride home, the Vietnam Vet says, Ya like that? It’s got every adjustment you can think of. Shoot squirrels one sec, then fix a new barrel and ya can pop a man’s head off. Every home in America needs an AR-15. Every, single one.

I try to smile back. The Vet asks his grandson what he thought, and I look to the child next to me. A pistol forms in his small fingers, and he points it at the Vet. The child mouths a sound—pew.



Mason Hamberlin is an emerging writer and editor from all over, but most recently, Chapel Hill, NC. In the summer, he teaches creativity and storytelling with Writopia, a national nonprofit, and for the rest of the year, studies Nonfiction and Publishing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His writing appears at voicemailpoems.org, Thrice Fiction, and Sanctuary Literary Arts Journal. He tries to look cute @definitely_not_mason on Instagram.