ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—Rebecca Cunningham has only one kind of memory from her early childhood: violence. Her father shattered mirrors, tore up the house, and beat and threatened to kill her mother. Cunningham, then less than 5 years old, remembers her older sister trying to protect her.
"When my father would start in with my mother, my sister would cover my eyes and try to hide with me behind the couch," recalls Cunningham, now a 48-year-old emergency physician and researcher at the University of Michigan (UM) here. "The police were in and out of the house a lot. If there had been a gun in my home in those years, my mother certainly would have been killed."
One day Cunningham's father, a lawyer, called her mother threatening to kill her. Her mother changed the locks on their New Jersey house. She sent Cunningham's two older siblings to live with a safely distant foster family. And she bought a handgun.