HOUSTON—Jack Hands remembers his father sawing down the barrel of a shotgun and handing it to him with a warning.
"It was short because daddy had a saddle bag made," he recalled. "And he says, ‘Jack, always when you leave the house, make sure that gun is in the saddle bag."
The gun became a boyhood companion, a weapon he carried hunting in the swamps of his native Georgia. He even remembers carrying it to school, where a teacher locked it up inside a desk drawer during class hours.
Decades later, when he was 90 years old, Hands grabbed the shotgun his father gave him and aimed it at a man threatening him in his living room.
"He made a dash at me and I pulled the trigger," Hands said. "And he fell over backwards and he fell right here ... VOOM! It vibrated the house."
The blast killed the assailant, who had come to Hands asking to borrow some money, got into an argument and lunged to attack him. A Harris County grand jury heard evidence about the shooting and decided Hands did nothing illegal.
But police collecting evidence took a 9 mm pistol and a sawed off shotgun. And 18 months after the September 2010 shooting, Hands still hasn’t gotten his guns back.
Now the 92-year-old World War II veteran’s case has caught the attention of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. And after conferring with Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, the district attorney is working on returning Hands’ guns.
"I’ve already talked to Chief McClelland and we will insure the return of the pistol," said Pat Lykos, the district attorney. "It’s a little bit more complex with the shotgun because of the length of the barrel."
An assistant district attorney specializing in weapons cases has been researching the case, looking for a legal way to return the sawed-off shotgun. They’ve considered disabling the weapon so it can’t be fired. The DA said she may even sign documentation allowing Hands to keep the gun as a collector’s item.
"We’re going to confer with the ATF," Lykos said. "We’re also going to determine whether it can be classified as an antique or a curio. But we’re working on that."
Hands, a former security guard, keeps drawers and closets full of mementos from his life. A security guard cap recalls his days working in downtown Houston. A photo of him as a bodybuilder shows a young man striking a muscle man’s pose.
Visitors who look around his northeast Houston home can see gun memorabilia sprinkled amid the mementos displayed in his home. Shotgun shells sit on a shelf within arm’s reach of the place where he fired the blast that killed the assailant in his living room.
"Double aught buckshot," he said, pouring shotgun pellets into the palm of his hand. "This is what my daddy had me carry with me all the time in the south."
Hands said he owns two other shotguns the police didn’t take away. But neither of them can replace the heirloom handed down to him by his father.