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« Part 3: Arma virumque cano | Main | Part 5: Shooting the Walther P22 »

February 03, 2004

Part 4: My First Handgun

I bought my first gun last week, and it was both easier and harder than I thought it would be.

The actual process is pretty easy, but deciding what gun to buy is anything but, as their are about a million different things to consider, and enough different ways to accomodate each consideration that I quickly became a little overwhelmed by the choices. But, with some help from both knowledgeable friends and several gun store owners, I made my decision.

Before I get deeper into the details, I do want to point out that never in my life have I found a group of hobbyists as friendly and open to helping a newby as I have in the shooting world. I'm sure I've asked some really stupid questions, and I know I pestered one poor guy to death, but everyone I've run into has been very helpful and willing to take the time to help me learn this new sport.

One thing that everyone I talked to stressed was that buying a gun is a very personal thing. Each person will have their own unique set of requirements, as a consequence, it makes it difficult for folks to give advice on what caliber or gun to buy, unless they can take the time to get to know you, and your reasons for the purchase. It was a little frustrating because I was looking for help to cut down on some of the options, but at the same time, it forced me to consider carefully exactly what I wanted from this first gun.

I decided to start out with a .22 as my first handgun. As I detailed earlier, I went shooting with Uncle, and shot a .45 and a 9mm, and while I was comfortable with both, I wanted something that I could shoot a lot without spending a lot of money on ammunition. I wanted to be very comfortable handling, maintaining, and shooting a gun before I started looking for my carry gun. Plus, I was told that it's a good idea to start off with a smaller gun, to avoid developing any bad habits, like flinching. The final consideration was that two of my kids said they were interested in going shooting with me. So it worked out that a .22 was the way to go for me.

The next consideration was revolver vs semi-auto. There are trade offs to each, and most often, I got a recommendation to get a revolver, based on easier maintenance and higher reliability.

So I went with a semi-auto.

Why? I don't really know except that it felt like the right decision.

Finally, I had to choose an actual gun. I went to a couple of different ranges and gun stores, and handled several guns, including Rugers, Brownings, and I can't remember what else. The people helping me were very patient, showing me several different guns at each place I went. I almost bought a Ruger .22, but it felt a little bit awkward in my hand, so I kept looking. Finally, I was handed a Walther P22, and I had my gun. It felt right in my hand, was balanced nicely, and had a trigger safety.

That safety was very important to me, since I could lock the gun, keeping my kids safe. This lock not only locks the trigger but mechanically locks the slide as well, and isn't subject to tampering. I'm comfortable that there's no way any of my kids can fire the gun without my being there.

Of course, I've also hidden it in a locked case.

Now some folks say you shouldn't tell your kids there's a gun in the house. They think that what they don't iknow won't hurt them. I'm just the opposite. If they don't know it's there, and then find it, they're much more liable to mess around with it. I know that's how I would have reacted if I'd found a gun as a kid. But, if they know it's there, know to leave it alone, and know that if they do want to shoot, I'll take them to the range with me, the curiousity that goes along with something being forbidden is eliminated completely.

Anyway, I made my selection, and asked the lady behind the counter for any accessories I might need. She came up with a cleaning kit, and a secondary cleaning tool called a Bore Snake that slides down the barrel and cleans it. She recommended it for use after light shooting when I wasn't going to do a full cleaning of the gun. Then she brought me a brick of CCI MiniMag ammo, and we started to fill out the paperwork.

I had to produce my Driver's License and fill out a form declaring that I was sane, buying the gun for myself, not under a restraining order, not a felon, and things like that. Meanwhile, she was running my instant background check (a $10 non refundable fee).

This may not be a popular position among gun rights folks, but I don't mind the whole background check process. Not because I think it's a deterrent to criminals (it isn't) but because it is a reasonable precaution to take to insure that those who shouldn't be able to easily purchase a gun can't. If we accept that it is fair to restrict certain groups from gun ownership, ie criminals, etc., then it is only prudent to take what steps we can to ensure that they can't buy them legally. On the other hand, the argument that since it doesn't stop criminals from getting ahold of guns, it is a needless invasion of our privacy is also a good one. On balance, I'd rather put up with the invasion if it keeps a few guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, unless of course, the background checks become a pretext to expand the definition of "who shouldn't have them."

Now this was at about 5:00PM on a Friday, and my background check came back Yellow, which means Pending. Something in my background required a closer look before my application would be approved. Because it was so late on a Friday, all the supervisors were gone, so it would be Monday before my background check would be completed. When I asked, they said it was fairly common and could be a chance resemblence in names, or possibly someone else using my SSN to try and get a gun. (I didn't feel too good about that possibility) I knew it would clear eventually, so I went ahead and paid for the cleaning gear and the bullets, put a deposit on the gun, and headed for the house. It was on the way there that I realized what the hold was.

Because of where I work, I have a couple of Security Clearances through the NRC and the DOE. I assumed, and later had verified, that if you have a security clearance, anyone running a background check will have to get permission to access the file. It's entirely routine, and usually only adds a couple of hours to the process.

So, the following Monday, I called the gun shop around noon, and my background check was cleared. I drove over after work and picked up my gun and headed for the house. I asked the clerk about carrying a gun without a concealed carry permit, and she said that I didn't need a permit to transport a gun as long as I wasn't carrying it with the intent to go armed. Since it was unloaded in the case, that showed my lack of intent.

And that was it; I had my first gun.

This weekend, I took the P22 to the range. I'll report on that next, but the short version is fun to shoot, fairly accurate, with only a few gripes about reassembly after cleaning.

Posted by Rich