AT CLOSE RANGE: A MEMOIR
OF TRAGEDY AND ADVOCACY
By Leesa Ross
Categories: Nonfiction / Memoir / Personal Transformation / Advocacy
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Publication Date: April 15, 2020
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Leesa Ross did not expect to write a book. Neither did she expect the tragedy that her family endured, a horrific and sudden death that led her to write At Close Range. Her debut memoir is the story of what happened after her son Jon died in a freak gun accident at a party. Ross unsparingly shares the complexities of grief as it ripples through the generations of her family, then chronicles how the loss of Jon has sparked a new life for her as a prominent advocate for gun safety. Before the accident, Ross never had a motivation to consider the role that guns played in her life. Now, she revisits ways in which guns became a part of everyday life for her three sons and their friends.
Ross’s attitude towards guns is thorny. She has collectors and hunters in her family. To balance her advocacy, she joined both Moms Demand Action and the NRA. Through At Close Range, the national conversation about gun control plays out in one family’s catalyzing moment and its aftermath. However, At Close Range ultimately shows one mother’s effort to create meaning from tragedy and find a universally reasonable position and focal point: gun safety and responsible ownership.
Purchase: Texas Tech University Press
At Close Range is Leesa Ross’ gut-wrenching story of the shooting death of her son, Jon. Jon was a young adult at the time he died, in his 20s. The account Leesa received from Jon’s friends who were there when it happened pointed to a horrific accident due to negligence, but the coroner ruled otherwise. In his eyes, it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound not inconsistent with suicide. That verdict was unacceptable to Leesa.
In At Close Range, Leesa paints a portrait of a family that, while not without their challenges, was a close family for the most part. She knew her children well, even if they weren’t all under the same roof any longer. And she knew that Jon didn’t kill himself intentionally. It wasn’t suicide. But how could she convince the coroner to change his ruling? Could she convince him to change it? And how would the process of losing her son change her?
Leesa’s writing style is straightforward and easy to read, and she does a good job of bringing the reader into the story. I wanted to reach into the pages and hug her as she struggled with the grief of losing her son while still trying to be a wife and mother. I wanted to tear my hair in frustration as she tried repeatedly to convince a coroner who’d made up his mind that he was interpreting the facts in a way she couldn’t abide.
This was not an easy book to read. Like Leesa’s family, my family always had guns around when I was growing up. My father was a hunter, and he had several rifles in the house. I learned how to shoot a .22 when I was just a kid, out on the deer lease. Many of my friends had parents who hunted, and it wasn’t uncommon when I was in high school to see multiple trucks in the parking lot with deer rifles mounted on racks. Sure, I grew up learning that a gun wasn’t a toy, and that I should never point at anything I didn’t intend to shoot. But accidents can happen to anyone, as Leesa’s words so clearly illustrate.
It was also hard to read how much Leesa wrestled with her own guilt and shame. Wondering could she have missed some clue. Worried what people would think about them when they heard the coroner’s verdict. Hard enough to handle the grief of your child’s death. How much more painful to have anxiety over what people will think about the way he died, to anguish over what they will now think of you as a parent.
But ultimately, the story is one of inspiration. Leesa let her hurt and anger and sadness move her toward a role as an advocate for gun safety. She uses this book to share what she has learned through her experiences with the rest of us. I hope this book spurs conversations about guns and gun safety for anyone with children, be they young or young adult.
Leesa Ross is a debut author who’s transformed a tragedy into a mission for safety. After losing a son to a shooting accident, she formed Lock Arms for Life, an educational organization teaching gun safety. A Texas mother of three, she leads Lock Arms, sits on the board of Texas Gun Sense, and belongs to the NRA.
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