Emily Get Your Gun

By Emily Overholt

A man in his late 50s is asking me if I’ve ever shot a gun before as he hands me a Ruger .22 caliber pistol with 10 live bullets inside. I shake my head and strain to hear his tips through the industrial earmuffs I’m required to wear. He keeps it short. He tells me to close one eye, look at the target and call it a day.

I pull the trigger and guns are no longer a mystery.

In Massachusetts, licensed vendors sold 110,350 guns in 2013. That’s more than 302 guns purchased per day, give or take a pistol. That’s also not including private sales, guns purchased out of state, or the registration of firearms by duly-licensed individuals.

That number seems high, especially for a state where your local police chief decides if and what you can carry.

In 2013, Boston had 4,839 unrestricted class A licenses, licenses to carry. That’s 7.8 licenses per 1,000 residents, and was the fourth-lowest in the state. The town of Chesterfield in Western Massachusetts lead the state with 272.2 permits per 1,000 people.

Being a good ol’ Arizona girl, I set out to get myself a license to carry in the two states I live in, and that’s how I ended up shooting the gun.

In Arizona I don’t actually need a license. I don’t need a license to purchase a firearm. I don’t need a license to shoot a firearm. I don’t need one to sell one or transport one or carry one openly or concealed.

But I can get one.

In a state with so few regulations I can get a license and it is valid in 34 other states.

States that accept an Arizona CCW Permit, courtesy of the NRA-ILA.

So what’s it take to get a license in Arizona? An email, a questionnaire confirming I have no felonies or violent assault charges, a 40-minute long YouTube video reminding me to load and clean the gun safely, and to educate children about gun safety, and $129.

The police are still reviewing my application, but even if I don’t pass I’m more than welcome to carry a sidearm of my choosing anywhere without a sign prohibiting it. Arizona is the wild west after all.

I have always considered myself pro-gun. I think “give more good people guns” is a reasonable solution to the fact that bad people will have them anyway. Guns are great in theory.

But I get a little shy when I’m around a gun. Maybe it’s because I’ve only seen them in the hands of seedy people. The kind of people who open the door with them in hand. The kind of people who have fully automatic rifles. Those people shouldn’t have guns. But hey, I’m not those people.

The first time I held a gun it was an attempt to make me less scared. Like most 20-something-year-olds in Arizona, a good friend of mine had a gun, something I didn’t know until he took it out of its holster to leave in my car as we walked into a bar.

I froze. I became skittish and awkward. I’m sure I was sweating. He told me to breathe and showed me how to break it down. Then he removed the clip and handed it to me.

No one tells you how heavy a gun is.

I thanked him and handed it back. I forgot the entire ordeal and went back to my in-theory gun loving.

Then I started this story.

In Massachusetts they don’t just hand you a gun. Though the attendees of the Holbrook gun show make it seem as if they do. I’m a long way from home, but this place doesn’t feel it.

This is the first time I’ve ever been in a room full of guns. I am immediately tense. My J.Crew clad companion and I stick out like outsiders. I feel like a fraud. Instead of marveling at the machinery, I am frightened by the hundreds of guns that other people are happily picking up. Are there no rules?

The dealers are nice, though they become less friendly when I admit I am in the middle of my certification. They won’t be getting $500 or more from me today. One nice man tells me I’ll want a .9 or a 22 caliber, for both stopping power and ease of use, though the 22 ammunition is more expensive. He shows me a nice Glock that he assures me would fit well in my hand. I can’t touch it because I don’t have a license. The conversation ends. I scurry to another room.

The people at a gun show, or at least at this gun show, are mostly what people imagine they are. Slightly overweight with bad teeth, graying hair, and lots of camouflage. There is a man carving bears into tree stumps with a chainsaw for our entertainment. He will not let me take a photo of him.

I walk to the parking lot to smoke a cigarette, sure I will feel more confident after taking a safety course.

Four hours.

That’s how long it takes before someone will hand you a gun in the state of Massachusetts. The class started with a YouTube video and ended with me shooting a gun.

The video that started my CCW class.

As Scott Baisley, a former police officer and an instructor at Mass Firearms School in Holliston, drones on about state firearms laws, tips to fill out an approvable application, and other classes I can take, shots ring out from the room next door.

Baisley tells us club members are shooting AK-47s next door.

Still, Baisley’s confidence is reassuring. His pleasant demeanor and self-assuredness makes me less wary of the semiautomatic weapon displayed prominently at his hip. He reminds us it’s loaded.

“An unloaded firearm is a paperweight,” he scoffs, as he explains why a restricted Class A license — as in a license for a semi-automatic pistol but not a license to carry — is practically death. For Baisley, a firearm not at his side and full of bullets has no purpose.

After three hours of slides and very little information, it’s time to learn how to load a gun. A group of instructors place revolvers and brutal looking Glocks on the front table. As I wait for my turn, one instructor reminds a student “Never, ever, surrender your weapon to the police.”

Sounds like home.

“Glock17" by Ken Lunde, http://lundestudio.com — Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons — http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glock17.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Glock17.jpg

The revolver is simple, but it doesn’t have that cool factor I wanted from a gun. If I’m geting a concealed carry license I don’t want to be a cowboy, I want to be a cop.

I need to put a magazine in, chamber a cartridge, then remove the magazine, remove the bullet, and lock the slide back. According to the manual, locking the slide takes between five and eight pounds of force. It felt like 100.

It takes me seven tries to finally lock my slide. Every time I don’t get it I become a little more panicked. While trying to get the appropriate leverage I manage to point the gun at three different people.

They are about to hand me one of these and let me fire it. Does no one see this is a bad idea?

Our instructor brings out some “lady guns” after he watches me damage my hands. They’re lighter, they pull easier, one is small. It’s a little offensive, but I can handle them better.

It’s time to fire.

My friend shoots his Ruger with significantly more ease than I did. I was too flustered to hand him my phone when I walked up to the firing line. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOHuQTqfJg0

Fifteen pops later and my instructor signs my certificate. As long as State Police approves, I could be walking around armed any day now.

Except I won’t be. In Boston I need to take a “Moon Island Qualification Test” at the police academy. I have to make 25 of 30 shots into the bullseye before anyone will sign off on a gun permit. My aim wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t that good.

Looks like if I want to be a cowboy I have to head back west.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story the caliber of firearms was misidentified and a cartridge was misidentified as a bullet, which is in fact a part of a cartridge. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.