As shooting became a more serious hobby, I became increasingly aware of the legal and political implications of my new weekend activity.
Although I was having so much fun shooting, I had to be discreet about gun ownership at work and among friends. Guns were, are, polarizing and have only become increasingly so in this post-Sandy Hook, post-Virginia Tech, post-Aurora, post-Orlando world. They are viewed by many as instruments of death and destruction, as weapons for murderers and terrorists.
Remember how I said I didn’t grow up with guns? Well, I did grow up in a community where guns were simply unremarkable. We knew enough hunters that venison wasn’t unusual, and there were definitely kids out of school on the first day of deer season. I’m sure we had friends or neighbors that owned guns, but nobody talked about them not out of shame, but because guns just weren’t really a topic of conversation in my semi-rural western New York world.
Then when I did start shooting, I was fresh out of the bubble that was studying for the bar exam, days in which I interacted with video lectures, workbooks, brownie sundaes, and sometimes even my husband. I was a little rusty at remembering what normal people were like, people who weren’t immersed in memorizing arcane facts and applying merciless logic all day. It just never occurred to me in the beginning that guns might be difficult or controversial.
I learned quickly.
See, I live near a state border and while the range we shot at was in the same state I lived in, the fast route was to go through another state and the convenient route for a little dinner or shopping after shooting was also through that state. If you’re familiar at all with traveling with guns, you can already spot the potential problems.
In my home state, I can only travel directly between home and range unless I have a license to carry firearms. That definitely means no dinner stops or errand-running after shooting a few boxes of ammo, but fortunately, the license is relatively easy to get. It does take some processing time and they called my references, but Pennsylvania is a “shall-issue” state, so if you can buy a gun you’re almost certainly going to be able to get the license too. That solved the “dinner and a lane rental” problem if I stayed on my side of the state line, but not the “shooting after shopping” problem if I wanted to head next door.
We don’t exactly have border crossings between PA and Delaware and my home and the range I shot at back then were both close to the line, so it’s easy to accidentally an interstate trip if you make a wrong turn, even if it wasn’t faster for me to go through Delaware and back to PA. I could legally do that if I locked up guns in the trunk and didn’t stop but hello? Shopping? I still liked it back then.
With my Pennsylvania permit, I could leave guns in the car all I liked as long as I stayed in PA, and only had to worry about my own comfort level with how well secured they were. Delaware, however, doesn’t recognize Pennsylvania licenses, and is a “may-issue” state and you might not be approved for a license even after publishing your name in newspaper notices. [Note: As of this posting, Delaware no longer allows any non-resident to receive a permit in any case.] The only other option was to find yet another state’s non-resident permit that would be accepted by Delaware.
That was the moment I realized how hard it could get to be a law-abiding gun owner.
And I hadn’t even gotten into thinking about using a gun for self-defense yet. I just wanted to be able to toss my .22 in the trunk and stop at the range after a trip to Home Depot. Law school hadn’t prepared me for the complexities of non-reciprocal licensing since in most every other area I’d studied, laws were generally either consistent across most of the US or could be bucketed into two or three variations. While there is a federal law that covers traveling between states, the details of staying legal once you’ve stopped somewhere can be drastically different from place to place.
And then I decided that if I knew how to point a gun and make a bullet hole appear where I wanted it to, I would feel kind of silly not being able to apply that skill in self-defense. And if I thought I was prepared to shoot someone in self-defense, then I would definitely feel silly if I didn’t actually have a gun with me if the need arose. Learning the technical part of carrying a gun, drawing from concealment, and all that was one thing….but learning all of the laws and all of their nuances? That definitely put the “Esquire” after my name to work because I sure didn’t want to become a criminal defendant.
Somewhere between trying to understand how a magazine in the same bag as a pistol made the gun loaded by law and why that really cute and easily handled short-barrel rifle I admired was classified as a restricted weapon, I began to appreciate the Second Amendment movement. It was a surprise to me, since I had never before considered myself political in any way, but the more I learned, the more I realized that a lot of the current laws, let alone at-the-time old ones like the federal Assault Weapons Ban really did more to trip up people who wanted to stay legal than anyone else.
I mean, if I found it difficult to untangle firearms regulations with a law degree, what was it like for everyone else?
Every girl should learn how to shoot. It will teach her that doing the right and legal thing isn’t always as easy as it looks, and that “common sense and common morality” aren’t always so obvious or correct.