Loaded Gift 

A writer considers his history of gun ownership.

Sadly enough, it’s not that I didn’t want the gun. I did. I told my Dad this after a few beers in the Redskins’ parking lot before a game in October. Ten years ago, he gave me a smaller gun when I moved into an apartment. It was a derringer, a .38 caliber double-barrel derringer. I was living on Cary Street, the not-so-nice part of Cary Street where the gunshots aren’t the firecrackers-in-the-distance variety, but in your back alley. I was a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University. The shots were so loud I’d roll out of bed and lie on the floor until they stopped and crawl into the kitchen to peer out the back window, looking for bodies. I never saw any.

I’ve never had an occasion to actually use the derringer. I’m not sure what I would do if confronted with such an occasion. Once, I did come close, in my head at least. While watching TV late one night, the light in the apartment’s spare storage room — there happened to be an indoor window — suddenly switched on. The rest of the apartment was dark, except for David Letterman. Convinced of a burglar, I grabbed the derringer, which I kept in a stand under the TV, and crept over by the window. I was scared, but very confident that I had the element of surprise working in my favor, along with a few Molsons. Gun drawn, I jumped in front of the window, looking for something to shoot. There was nothing. No shots fired. The landlord later found a short circuit.

After that imaginary confrontation, I feel confident that, given the chance, in the real world I could be a killing machine. I’ve listened to 50 Cent. I’ve lived in the hood.

OK, I wasn’t much of a fighter in school — I mostly got beat up. But I still have the derringer, which is quite cool, even if only one of the chambers works. I could shoot one bullet at a time.

But because the barrel is so short, I doubt I could actually hit anything. A few years ago, I took it to my grandparent’s house for target practice — it’s in the country, where target practice is legal — and couldn’t hit anything. I stood 10 feet from a tree and missed. The combination of tiny gun, short barrel and big bullet made it extremely difficult to control. I learned later that bigger guns absorb most of the kickback; the kick from a derringer shoots directly up your arm. So I figured if I ever encountered a robber, burglar, or some other criminal, I’d have to shoot him point-blank, no more than 2 feet away — and pray I’d hit him, because I wouldn’t get another shot.

After college, my wife and I moved into an apartment outside the inner city, near Chippenham Hospital off Jahnke Road. It was still on the bus line, and close enough to both the city, where I worked, and the safe shopping of the suburbs. We felt safer in the apartment community, with bike trails and a pool.

When the drug dealers took over the apartment next door, we moved to Powhatan and rented a house in the middle of the woods. Only problem: There was a peeping Tom. Apparently he came around at night when I was still at work. Once, the peeper busted a window at a neighbor’s house. One night, I thought I saw someone in the woods so I grabbed the derringer and went hunting. I had no flashlight and it was after midnight. I found nothing. No shots fired.

Again, we moved. This time we purchased our first house, our current residence, in a tight suburb with lots of neighbors in Chesterfield. We figured this was the best way to go, both for safety as well as schools — and it’s close to work.

And now I have the revolver. It’s a police-issue revolver, my dad says. It has a little holster, and I keep it safely out of the reach of our two boys. I have friends and colleagues who think I’m an idiot for keeping a gun in the house, especially with children. And there’s the Catch-22 of gun ownership: How do you ensure the gun is accessible enough to respond to a possible intruder without it being too accessible?

For now, the solution is to put it securely away, up really high, in a place our children can neither climb nor use a chair to get to. We don’t keep a ladder in the house, but I can reach it quickly and easily.

Safety, after all, is priority one. And how can any of us feel safe? Young people are getting more and more violent. There’s the ongoing threat of terrorism (Richmond is home to a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank). A neighbor had someone bust into his house once in the middle of the day. We suspect another neighbor down the road just got out of the pen. And the firecrackers we hear on the weekends, they sound to me like gunshots.

Luckily, I have a new gun. S

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