On July 25, 1993, Ralph Myers learned that his 25-year-old son, Tom, had been shot to death at a party in Los Angeles. In the decades that followed, Myers took what he calls “an opposite view” of most parents who have lost loved ones to a fatal shooting: he fought against gun regulations. He now lives in Washington State, where he holds a concealed-carry permit and is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
We first spoke to Myers in July and reached out again this week, after the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. Myers said that his heart goes out to the hundreds of Americans whose loved ones were killed or hurt on Sunday night. He knows all too well the grief and pain that lies ahead. But, he said, his views on gun regulations haven’t changed. The attack could not have been prevented with “any gun-control laws that are on the books or ones that are going to be proposed,” he said.
Myers shared his story with The Trace for The NRA and Me, our series of interviews with current and former members of the gun-rights organization.
My son was never in a gang. He was a typical California kid: loved surfing and snowboarding. He still lived at home with his mom and me. He’d been scheduled to take the test to get his commercial driver’s license.
The night he was killed, he’d worked all day. I told him, “If you’re going to drink, call me and I’ll come and get you. Don’t drink and drive.” Those were the last words I ever had with him.
The next morning, homicide detectives came to our door. I thought it was his buddies, coming to get him to go surfing.
The hardest thing I have ever had to do — other than finding out about losing our son — was to wake up his mother and tell her what I had just been told.
What happened was a gang tried to crash the party. Two of the members went back to their cars and retrieved two handguns: one a 9 millimeter, which is what killed our son, and a .22 caliber revolver. They fired them up into the air.
I’ve been told that my son walked outside when he heard gunfire. I don’t know what he was thinking, I never had the chance to talk to him. I imagine he was concerned that somebody might be breaking into his truck. He had a Toyota that he’d jacked up with these huge tires, like what you’d see at a Monster Truck rally. That was his pride and joy.
When Tom went outside, the person leveled the 9 millimeter at the crowd and started firing indiscriminately. My son was hit twice in the chest.
After Tom was killed, witnesses to the shooting were harassed. Some of the alleged gang members drove by their houses, firing guns. One young woman got a call, either from the assailant or one of his friends, trying to intimidate her into not testifying at the trial.
When we told the police officers about these threats, they basically said, “Don’t quote us on this, but we can’t give you 24/7 protection. The only way someone can really defend themselves is to have a firearm in their home.” That’s when I purchased a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson.
I had always been interested in firearms, but my wife and I never owned guns. Mostly we were concerned about safety, about one of the kids finding a firearm. But that was our personal choice; we didn’t ask other parents if they had firearms. That didn’t bother us.
Once I acquired the gun, I felt safer, like I’d at least have a chance to thwart someone if they broke into our home, instead of having to wait for the police to respond.
That’s right around when I joined the NRA. At that time in my life, I identified with their objectives in trying to preserve the Second Amendment and their opposition to gun-control laws.
What I saw was that gun control doesn’t work. The bad guys will always have the guns. The guy that murdered our son got his firearm at a donut shop. He didn’t care about gun-control laws. Didn’t care about the Brady Law. He didn’t care about anything. And my son is a direct result of that. To me, gun control is useless.
And sadly, I feel many of the laws that get passed or pushed are for political expediency or so the politicians can say, “Hey, we did this and now people are so much safer.”
They’re not. They’re definitely not any safer than before that gun-control law was passed. I’ll argue till my dying day. I’ll be 76 next month, so I don’t know how many more days I got left.
What keeps me in the NRA is activism, my strong belief in the right to bear arms, and my adamant belief that gun control doesn’t work. I have also been active in the NRA-ILA. I try to go to Olympia, our state capital, whenever there are hearings on gun-control issues.
In January, I testified against a state bill that mandated that you had to keep all your firearms locked up in storage, even if they were in your own home. As a widower, a veteran, and as someone who lives alone, my opposition to that was this: even though I’m trained in the proper use of firearm, that law restricts my ability to defend myself in my own home.
Gun-control laws penalize those of us who are law-abiding citizens and would never think of using firearms in an inappropriate manner. Even when I carry concealed, I’m very, very careful. I just have it with me in case I need to defend myself.
A challenge I’ve encountered over the years is that no one knows what to say to victims. Most of your friends and family members have never been through something like that, so they’ll say things like “You’ve got to get on with your life.” Well, you are getting on with your life! It’s just that your life has changed so drastically.
One of the support groups that my wife, Francine, and I joined, Parents of Murdered Children, was a godsend. In those meetings, we could express our thoughts and our rages and our sadness. We knew that we were not going to be judged or shunned by anyone.
One way my wife and I dealt with our grief was by volunteering to speak to the inmates at the California Youth Authority. We wanted to try to get them to understand what their violent actions meant, not only to the victims’ loved ones, but to their own families. I used a lot of pictures just to show that victims are people, including a video I’d made of my son’s life.
One time this young man — he must’ve been 18 — said, “You know, my family never took pictures of us or anything. I really miss that when I hear you talk about it.”
The conditions that some of these kids grow up in … I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how they join gangs because there’s no family support or love showed to them. What they expect out of life is violence. To this day, it bothers me deeply when I think about people, particularly young people, who are incarcerated.
While I empathize, I also think that when they commit horrendous crimes, they deserve to be taken off the streets for the rest of their lives, if that protects society.
After our son was killed, during the ’90s and into the early 2000s, my wife and I worked with some victims’ rights groups to pass legislation that made it stricter on violent offenders, such as the “Three Strikes” law, which I know is not a very popular subject in California.
Francine and I were interested in seeing our son get some form of justice. We wanted any judge presiding to know that we were more than just victims — we were the parents of our son, who we lost. That’s why we went to every hearing, meaning we were in court off and on from August of 1993 until the guy was finally convicted and sentenced two years later, right around when the OJ Simpson trial started. Francine passed away in September 2015 so she could not go with me to the November 2015 parole hearing.
I can tell you that going to every court proceeding cost me a lot: It cost me my business because it ultimately failed. It cost me a heart attack in 2003 because of all of my involvement in crime-victims’ rights and other issues. I didn’t take care of myself. I ate really poorly. I now have developed Type 2 diabetes.
Even though this work ultimately had adverse physical effects, it also helped me a great deal. I felt I had to do something. I couldn’t bring Tom back.
In fact, in the victim’s impact statement I presented to the parole board in November 2015, I told them, “I’m here today because I consider this a continued act of parenting for my son.”
That’s what I feel. All these things that I do, and have done for him, are in his name. I still consider it being a dad, being a parent, protecting him. I can’t protect him from being killed, but at least I can try to give him a voice that will never stop being heard as long as I’m around.
If you’re a gun owner and interested in sharing the story of why you joined or left the NRA, please email [email protected].