I named my gun Roxy after the chick on ”Army Wives” who I thought was spunky. I’m not your typical gun owner — in fact, according to a Gallup survey, I fall in the least likely demographic to own a gun: I’m a woman, under 34 years old, a college graduate, I live on the east coast, and I am a Democrat. But I do. And Roxy is big.
I was raised in an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood in Santa Cruz, California, a town known for liberal politics, surfers, lackadaisical laws on marijuana, and hippies. We were lapsed-Protestant, my mom was a surgical nurse, my dad worked in real estate, and my brother, four years my junior, followed me around, LEGOs in hand. My childhood was normal. I read Seventeen and Sassy, not Guns & Ammo, and I was never particularly interested in playing cops and robbers. I preferred Barbies.
At 19, I began volunteering with the Sheriff’s Office at a service center where I did community outreach, took cold police reports with no suspect information, and drank coffee with deputies. Our coffee sessions eventually lead to shooting range outings, where they taught me to use a handgun. I learned and practiced on a .22 (a small caliber), and worked my way up to a 9mm.
After enjoying target practice and growing annoyed with the cost of renting a gun at the range, I decided to buy my own. I was over 21, the required age for gun ownership in California. I walked into a sporting goods store and stared blankly into the glass case.
“Can I help you, miss?”
I looked up to find a bearded gentleman in a lot of flannel. That seemed appropriate.
“I’d like to buy a gun. How do I go about this?” I asked.
Without skipping a beat, he explained the process: I would need to apply for a permit (name, address, social security number, proof of residence) and pass a test. I could purchase the gun today, but there would be a 10-day waiting period. I nodded, and declined his offer to study the material for the test when he explained that it’s mostly common sense.
“Are you sure you don’t want to study?” he asked.
“Sir, you can’t learn common sense. And if I can’t pass this without studying, I shouldn’t own a gun,” I responded.
He chuckled and then coughed.
I took the test in five minutes. It was alarmingly easy and I scored 100 percent.
“Great, let’s talk guns, miss.”
“What about that one?” I asked, pointing to a .22.
“Are you going to use this for home protection?” he asked.
“I hope not.”
“Let me ask a different way — if someone was attacking you and you had access to a gun, would you shoot him?”
I paused to consider his question. I had never weighed the consequences of shooting someone; I thought it was something I would figure out if the circumstances presented themselves. While standing in front of dozens of firearms, I quickly realized I needed to decide and be sure before bringing a gun into my home.
“Yes, I would shoot someone if they attacked me,” I replied, intrigued by my sudden aggressive sense of self-preservation and ease with which I would take a human life.
“Then get this one,” he said.
The pistol had a stainless steel brushed slide, loaded chamber indicator, fixed sights, magazine safety, and secure key lock. It used an 8-round single-stack magazine. The gun was heavier than the .22, and bigger — about 7.5 inches. It was a .45 caliber.
“This is the one,” I said.
I handed him my credit card while I picked out a safe that had a digital code and a base that slid out when opened, a la James Bond.
Ten days later, it was official. I was a gun owner.
One could argue I shouldn’t have a firearm if I’m ridiculous enough to name it after a character on a Lifetime TV show, even if I did earn a perfect score on the test. Fair judgement. That being said, safety was always my utmost concern. If not at the shooting range, Roxy was in the safe in my closet. I was the only person who knew the combination. The gun was always unloaded, but with a full clip nearby should I need to protect myself. My confident response to the flannel-wearing sporting goods employee that I would shoot someone if I had to occasionally ran through my head. Would I really?
Something within me shifted with a gun in the house — previously when I thought I heard someone trespassing, I would call 9-1-1 and leave it to the deputies. Now that I had a gun, it was on me. I wouldn’t even think to call the police. I would grab Roxy.
Three years later, I woke up to a crashing sound downstairs. I bolted up in bed, listened for my roommates, and checked the time. It was 3 a.m. on a Tuesday. It was hard to hear anything over the pounding of adrenaline, but there it was again — something was downstairs. I quietly left my bed and crawled over to my closet, turning the safe on silent so it wouldn’t beep, and holding the base in so it didn’t thrust out with a loud, metallic bang. I slowly put in the full clip and loaded the gun while tip-toeing to the hall, noting my roommates’ doors were both closed. As I made my way down the stairs, I started creating rules in my head: Only shoot someone if they attack you. Turn on the lights to verify it’s an intruder. Tell them you have a gun. Fire off a warning shot first to show you’re serious. Keep enough distance so if someone runs at you, you can hit center mass before they attack. The rules were jumbled and frantic. My confidence that I would use my gun if necessary was dissipating quickly. I suddenly wasn’t sure what would constitute “necessary.”
After slowly checking each room, Roxy loaded at my hip, my finger not on the trigger, I found the condo empty.
I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.
I couldn’t quite reconcile how I felt about holding a gun with the intent to shoot someone. Did I even have the intent? I was well versed in the statistics that guns are often used against the owners, but I always assumed that would never be me — I would protect myself. After holding a gun with this-is-real adrenaline, I wasn’t sure anymore.
A year later, I moved to New York City, leaving Roxy behind with a trusted friend (New York requires residency for six months prior to keeping a gun in a residence and that’s only with a proper permit). In a fit of I’m-almost-30, I’ve decided to get my own place next year. I assume I will have to trade in my doorman building for a walk-up with a fire escape. And after a decade of watching ”Law & Order SVU,” I longed to have Roxy under my bed in the James Bond safe.
Then Sandy Hook happened. Then another shooting at Taft High School. Then Gawker posted the names of all gun owners in NYC (already available in public records, yes). And I hesitated.
My gun ownership, which used to baffle/impress/disgust/fascinate people, is something I feel less and less comfortable discussing. I can never simply state, “I own a gun.” People want to know what, when, why, and how. My political stance is questioned. My thoughts on gun control are at the forefront of the conversation. My sanity/responsibility/ability to operate said firearm are doubted. I spend more time defending my right to bear arms and convincing people I am a responsible gun owner than I’ve spent at the shooting range. It’s been four years now since Roxy and I have made a trip there.
For others, guns represent fear, death, and tragedy. I acknowledge that bringing Roxy to NYC wouldn’t be for recreation anymore, it would be for protection. Eight years after stating, out loud, that I would shoot someone to protect myself, I’m still unsure if I could.
Uncertainty seems dangerous.
At 21, shooting was recreation. At 24, I took the gun from its safe and loaded it out of fear. At 25, I left the gun behind. At 29, I am transferring the gun title to the trusted friend who has been babysitting Roxy for the past four years.
Roxy is currently 3,000 miles away in a small safe, locked in a bigger safe. And there she will stay.