Journal Entry: Wednesday June 5, 1996 my gun permit arrived in the mail.
Metro Pawn and Gun in Richfield is a straight shot south on Lyndale Avenue. I’ve never been in a gun shop, never purchased a handgun. And until James brought a .38 caliber semi automatic into our home, violating his parole, I’d never touched one.
I have no criminal history, no drug or alcohol dependency. I’m not an illegal alien, have never been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions. I have no restraining orders against me; I have not renounced my citizenship. I have never been found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental illness; but, I wonder if a seventy-two hour hold will flag me. The application required permission to check if I have been “confined as a result of an emergency mental health order or voluntarily admitted for treatment as a result of a mental illness.” So I was surprised my permit came after the mandatory wait period.
The gun shop, dimly lit, and lined with glass cases of firearms is policed. A burly man in a gray MPD t-shirt sits off to the side behind the counter. Two others are in the store—an employee helping a male customer. I scan “Guns and Ammo” where rifles hang above the counter next to the display of instruments, VCR players, jewelry, power tools. A sign in block print PLEASE KEEP HANDS OUT OF POCKETS WHILE IN THIS STORE makes me hyper aware of my body. Suddenly my arms feel long and heavy and I don’t know what to do with my gigantic hands. I start to sweat, take a breath, refocus.
Guns aren’t cheap. I researched enough online; I need a semi automatic with some kick. No cute little .25 caliber to tuck in a purse but usually only lethal at close range. There are too many choices and no groupings I can figure out. I can’t tell if guns are new or used and don’t want to ask. Price, size, and caliber guide me.
I look up. The gun-keeper is in front of me. His blonde hair pulled back in a short pony tail, unshaven face, cut above the left eyebrow, gives him a sort of bad boy look. The Harley t-shirt, tattered jeans, and boots add to the effect. I’m now the only customer. The off duty officer’s attention stays fixed on a small television. I move from one end of the counter to the other. Harley man stands still, silent—seemingly without judgment.
“Can I see this one?” I point to a gun with a price I think I can manage. Harley unlocks the case from his side, picks up the piece, and lays it on the counter. Should I touch it or not? I place both hands visibly on the counter. “I’ve never bought a gun before.”
Harley’s face remains placid. “This here’s a Norinco 213 9mm,” he picks up the gun, places it in my hand. “Good weapon for a first time owner. Reliable. Great piece for the money at $167.00.” I keep the gun flat in my palm, turn it over hand to hand. I feel the solid weight of it, put it down. Harley leans forward with the piece, “This is the safety,” he points to a small lever on the side. “You always want this on unless you’re firin’ it. It’s a single stack that holds a eight rod magazine,” with a fluid motion he hits something on the gun and a metal piece drops out of the bottom; he catches it in his hand. “This is the magazine. Where you put the bullets. This model comes with two mags. ” He pops it back in—something I had watched James do months ago.
James taught me how to break down, clean, and reassemble his .38. He had obsessed about securing our garden level apartment—changing locks, nailing window screens shut despite my protest about fire exits. He set up fishing line and other jail-house traps for would be intruders. Then he brought home the gun. Clean. Never been fired he told me. I shrieked countless nos. James countered with insane reason; I had to level the playing field. “Then teach me how to use it. Teach me or I’ll buy my own gun and find someone who will.” I set my face hard and never let my eyes drop. He couldn’t read me and I knew it. He hesitated, then agreed reluctantly. I made him take it out every night. I learned quick and never flinched as I handled it. James confessed that watching me gave him a rush but also made him real uneasy. “Let’s leave it locked up,” he finally said after one of our sessions. And I believe he did until that fateful night, 49 days ago: I fucked up! I fucked up bad!
“I’ll take it and a box of whatever ammo you recommend. Oh, and a cleaning kit.”
“Cleaning kits are along that back wall,” Harley motions behind me and to my left.
“I’ll need your driver’s license and gun permit.” He packs the Norinco in its box, takes the cleaning kit, ammo, and my documents. “Back in a few.”
I don’t know what to do so I sidle up to the jewelry case. The cop pays me no mind.
Harley returns with the typed up purchase agreement. I sign it. He hands me a copy and a bag. “Keep the gun in the box and place it in the trunk of your car. Under no circumstance should it ever be transported any other way.” The cop glances my way.
I spend the next two days playing with the gun—unloaded. I steel my nerves, load it, release the safety.
What do I want?
I hold the gun with my finger still on the trigger, in my lap, as the sun sets.