Buying a handgun in Maine is as easy as buying a cheeseburger. Years ago when I was living in Bangor, I was swimming laps at the YMCA, and I took a break to chat with a cute lifeguard. The conversation turned to firearms. “I’ve always wanted to own a gun,“ I told him.
“I can sell you one!” he said.
Turns out that he, like many Mainers, was a gun dealer on the side.
A week later, I was the proud owner of a snub-nosed revolver and four boxes of ammo.
I’d wanted a gun ever since I learned to shoot a rifle at summer camp when I was 10. I adored shooting — the solid feel of the gun in my hands, the precise motions of opening the chamber, pushing in the ammo, then clicking it shut. I enjoyed sighting down the barrel, then carefully squeezing the trigger, bracing against the inevitable kick. Most of all, I loved how good I was at it. Every shot landed in or near the bull’s eye. At summer’s end, I won the prize for the best shot in my age group. I’d always been a near-sighted, uncompetitive klutz, the last kid chosen for any team. Finally, a sport I was good at.
When I got back from camp, I clamored for a gun. My parents were horrified. They were raising a nice Jewish girl, not Annie Oakley. No way was their daughter going to be the only kid at synagogue packing heat.
I didn’t get to shoot again until I moved to Bangor to practice law decades later. (I later left the law and became a librarian.) Violent crime wasn’t a problem. The scariest thing in Bangor was my neighbor, famed horror novelist Stephen King. I just wanted to reclaim the joy I’d felt shooting that rifle as a kid.
Happily, I was still a great shot. My boyfriend and I would drive to a pal’s dairy farm, put up a target on a hay bale in the middle of an empty field and take turns decimating that sucker. Sometimes we’d use magazine photos of celebrities and politicians we disliked as targets. “Take that, Anita Bryant!” we’d call as we blasted her to smithereens. “Die, Jesse Helms!” “Eat lead, Abba!” We’d have a few beers, go through a box of ammo and call it a day. It wasn’t about hurting anyone. It was just a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Then we got married, I got pregnant, and we moved to Philadelphia. I stashed my snubby in a closet and never gave it another thought until 10 years later when my marriage went south. When you’re going through an acrimonious divorce, having a gun in the house doesn’t seem like such a great idea. My soon-to-be ex was very angry. I didn’t think he’d actually shoot me, but there were times he surely wanted to. Also, my son was heading towards adolescence. Our kid wasn’t an impulsive, irresponsible hothead, but I wasn’t so sure about his friends.
I phoned the cops. “I’d like to get rid of my gun,” I said. Minutes later an officer was at my door. Disposing of a handgun in the Philadelphia suburbs is as easy as buying one in Bangor. When you tell the authorities you want to turn your gun in, a law kicks in that covers how soon they have to come get it (immediately) and what they have to do with it (destroy it).
When I handed him the gun, the cop said, almost reproachfully, “This is a great piece.”
“It’s yours!“ I said. “You can have it.”
He shook his head. He was obligated by law to destroy it, but it was clear that he hated to destroy such a good firearm. The last thing he was supposed to do was guilt-trip me, but he couldn’t help it.
“Why didn’t you just sell it?“ he asked.
“Because I didn’t want it to end up in the hands of somebody who might use it to hurt someone?” I suggested.
He didn’t exactly roll his eyes, but I suddenly felt like somebody handing a perfectly good puppy over to a shelter to be put down. He didn’t say another word. He just gave me a form to sign and left.
Now, years later, I’m happily divorced, and my son is all grown up. Time to get another gun? I don’t think so. I get enough enjoyment from my other activities. Reading. Swimming. Walking the dog. I don’t need a gun. In fact, I’d be perfectly happy if getting one was completely out of the question, even for a harmless librarian like me. I support strict gun control laws, given how many innocent people are killed by the millions of guns in this country.
But those folks who love their guns, who enjoy owning them and shooting them and bonding over them, proclaiming that you’ll only take their weapons away when you pry them from their cold, dead hands?
I hate to say this, but I totally get it.