Spencer, 24

Until recently gun violence was something terrible that happened to other people on the news. That changed May 2nd when Spencer, my handsome 24 year old nephew, a US veteran with a big heart, ended his life with one of the 5 loaded guns he kept next to his bed.

Spencer grew up a lot like I did in rural Iowa. A gun in his hands by the time he could walk. But life has been a lot harder for Spencer. He was diagnosed with chronic depression and he left the service after his second suicide attempt. The military deemed him “unsafe to operate weapons”. Two previous suicide attempts, mental illness for which he refused to receive treatment, as well as the Arnold family tradition of substance abuse did not stop Spencer from asking for and receiving, legally, a concealed weapons permit from The State of Iowa.

In my past I’ve done far more illegal and dangerous things then my nephew and nothing as honorable as serving this country but my friends and I did not have access to an unlimited amount of guns. We had hunting rifles and I’m still amazed and blessed I didn’t hurt myself or worse, anyone else getting drunk and showing off. On social media I could see that Spencer was using his gun collection and the groups he belonged to for the same reason I drank and did drugs. He was looking for self-esteem. He wanted to feel powerful. To be a part of something.

A few months ago I noticed his posts were getting more and more violent and threatening. I was on my way to the airport to fly in and take away all of his guns until he got it together. Unfortunately other members of my own family disagreed and helped hide him and his guns from his “crazy uncle Tom”.

Spencer came to my house in California when my 3 year old Jax was a newborn. Like most 21 year old boys he was acting cool and didn’t want to be photographed holding a baby but I talked him into it and there was an instant bond between Jax and Spencer (babies and dogs do really know if someone has a good heart).

Since Spencer died every time I look into my boys eyes I can’t help but think about him and what his immediate family must be going through. I am grateful that I at least I know I tried to help Spencer (with the help of another gun owning but safety first brother). The irony is if I would’ve succeeded in getting my suicidal nephews guns away from him I would’ve been the one who committed the felony and he could’ve gotten them back before I bailed out of jail.

I am an advocate for National Gun Violence Prevention Month for selfish reasons. I am a father. I have 2 little children. I need to do everything I can to protect them. I respect the Second Amendment but I also believe in common sense. They are not mutually exclusive. First lessons my grandpa taught me before I shot my first squirrel: Guns are very dangerous. Owning a gun is a big responsibility. Be safe. Don’t show off. Don’t be an A-hole.

National Gun Violence Awareness Day marked one month since Spencer died. I will remember my nephew by raising awareness about the dangers of guns, and by wearing orange along with millions of other Americans who have had #ENOUGH of gun violence.

I couldn’t save Spencer’s, but we can start a dialogue today that will save lives tomorrow. I hope you will join me in wearing orange and honor my nephew and so many more lost to gun violence.

- Tom Arnold