Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Life's hard lessons: An introduction to gun ownership

Two months ago I was on the last few minutes of my shift when the phone rang. I was a little surprised to see a friend of mine was calling so late, since he usually doesn't on weekdays, and picked up. He told me that a friend of his, with whom I was well acquainted, had an incident with a neighbor, and was afraid to stay at his apartment that night. He wanted to know if he could borrow or buy a gun from me.

By 9:30pm I was at the first friend's house, waiting for the second friend to arrive with his girlfriend. First friend had expressed interest in firearms, and had been meaning to buy a gun after he became more aware that he was the only one who could protect his loved ones in cases of sudden violence. Though he worked the next day, I recommended he stay up to catch the general firearms safety I was going to cover, and he agreed. While we chatted, I jotted down notes for firearm safety points to cover as they popped into my head. I didn't want to skip something important when second friend had an immediate threat.

An hour later the second friend arrived with his girlfriend. Both were very shaken. Second friend told me what had happened.

Second friend was returning home, and while ascending the last flight of stairs, saw his neighbor from across the hall standing at the top of the stairs fuming with rage. The neighbor began yelling at second friend, insisting that everything was "all your fault" and "you know what you did." Second friend had had extremely limited contact with this particular neighbor, aside from the occasional "hello" they hadn't spoken. This made the anger at second friend cause for confusion. Second friend attempted to calm the neighbor by insisting he hadn't done anything, and asking for specifics as to what the neighbor believe he had done, trying to diffuse the situation. As the neighbor began to calm, second friend didn't want to leave any animosity between them, and offered to go grab some beers, and sit down with him, and talk about what was going on. Second friend just wanted to be a good guy, and keep things smooth between neighbors. Neighbor agreed, and after indecisively rattling off a surprising number of alcoholic beverages, settled on one. Second friend was happy to be one step closer to resolving the confusion, and went to a nearby store to get the drinks.

Without getting into too much detail; second friend returned, and entered neighbor's apartment to drink and talk with him. Neighbor began acting erratic and in a threatening manner, and after second friend began to realize neighbor's instability he began to think about the situation he was currently in, and realized that he was in serious danger. Second friend feared for his life. Fortunately he managed to escape to his apartment, and called the police. The police arrived, but said they wouldn't want to write a report of the incident because of the odd nature of the story. Neighbor didn't answer the door. Second friend and his girlfriend packed up some short-term supplies, and went to his girlfriend's mother's place nearby. At first it seemed to me that neighbor was on some sort of substance, but hidden in the details of the story, neighbor exhibited control and forethought that indicated he was well aware of what he was doing, and that he seemed to be toying with second friend. Fortunately, the details also revealed neighbor was afraid of the police.

After a short discussion about how to correct the police's actions, and recommendations on further action, we got into the firearm safety training.

California law prohibits transfer of firearms under 50 years old without a 10 day waiting period, and a background check, and prevents lending of handguns if the recipient does not have a Handgun Safety Permit (a simple test meant only to add another hurdle to gun ownership, and drain more money from gun owners). I brought my Chinese SKS since it was a long gun, and met the C&R requirements for transfer. I would have lent them a loaner shotgun I had picked up, but I hadn't test fired it yet, which made it impossible for me to lend for personal safety from a specific threat. An SKS was not the best tool for this particular situation considering overpenetration, and minor complexity of a semi-auto; but it was the best I could do at the time. Because the gun was C&R, my intention was to legally sell it to second friend to avoid potential complications surrounding borrowed firearms.

Neither of them had had any extended contact with firearms, and were understandably skittish. The first part of the lesson was focused on the 4 rules of firearm safety, and why they exist. They were very receptive, and were comfortable enough to ask questions as we progressed. After the first run-through, I covered the rules again, and made sure they had them memorized. I made sure they understood that guns will not fire on their own, and that they are in charge of making sure the gun is safe. I recommended they correct each other if one sees the other break rule two or three, because these rules can be broken absent mindedly or out of natural habit, and that safety is everyone's responsibility.

We then got into the legalities of using a firearm in self defense. I gave them example scenarios, and told them how each would be viewed by themselves in the heat of the moment, by the district attorney, and by a jury. I made absolutely sure they understood that the firearm was to be treated as an ace-in-the-hole, only to be pulled out at the last minute for immediate use. I was relieved that they seemed to grasp the concept that the gun would only escalate the situation, and that their attacker should never know it exists until it's too late. People seem to think a gun can serve as a deterrent in most situations, to be brandished, or threatened with, but in most situations, implying or threatening use of a gun will only make things worse.

Second friend had always been very laid back, but as I talked about the possibility of neighbor kicking down their door and crossing their threshold, I could see the fire in his eyes. He knew he had screwed up before, and he came to grips with the knowledge that he could have lost his life just because he was trying to be a nice guy. When you talk to people about gun ownership, you can sometimes tell if they'll pull the trigger when it matters most. Second friend was scared at the thought, but it was obvious to me that he would to pull the trigger if the time came. He had experienced one of life's hard lessons, and had emerged rattled, but unscathed. He had learned from it.

We talked about the layout of their apartment, where to have the firearm, and what state to keep it in (they settled on bolt open, magazine loaded, which was acceptable to me because of the reliability of the SKS). I told them that they always shoot center of mass, and that they always shoot until the threat is stopped. I told them to keep their phones ready, and charged, and what to tell the 911 operator. Then I told them how people can accidentally incriminate themselves when they give police reports, and that the only sentences out of their mouths after a self-defense shooting should be, "I was afraid for my life, I thought he was going to kill me" and "I want to talk to my lawyer."

After the bulk of the legalities were out of the way, we got into specific firearm instruction. I took apart the SKS, and (to their intrigue) explained exactly how it worked. I told them how it loaded from the stripper clips, how it fired, and how the gas operated the piston that pushed the bolt back, ejecting the spent casing, and loading a new cartridge. As I explained how the gun worked, they began to relax. They told me that now that they understood how it worked, and what everything did, the gun wasn't as scary. I showed them how to make sure it was unloaded, how to drop the magazine, how to operate the bolt and safety, and how to clear a jam.

After follow up questions were out of the way, we began actual practice. First, with the unloaded rifle and the ammunition in the next room, we practiced working the action, shouldering the rifle, lining up the sights, and squeezing the trigger. I was a little worried about second friend's girlfriend since she was on the petite side, but she handled the rifle with resolve. After some more practice and familiarity, we practiced loading the rifle from stripper clips, dumping the magazine, and clearing the chamber (followed up by a second check of the chamber).

After all this, second friend and his girlfriend were sitting taller in their chairs. They told me that they felt much more confident about the whole situation, and the relief in their faces amplified the statement.

After a quick recap of all we had covered, and a few outstanding questions, we were just about done. After determining second friend was legally eligible to own the rifle, I legally sold the SKS and 50 rounds of ammo on stripper clips to second friend for one dollar and no cents.

We set a date the next day to go to a nearby gun store and pick out a gun. I left at 1:30am.

The next day we met at the gun store, and due to California's paperwork requirements could not yet start DROS on a handgun. (why did they decide on a handgun instead of a long gun? You'll have to ask James) Instead we set a date that weekend to go to the range, and try out some handguns.

An epilogue will follow. I gotta go for now.
Don't worry, everything ended well :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very, very nicely done.