07 April 2007

Waiting...For What?

I'd been thinking for some time about buying a handgun. A shotgun has been fine until now for both home defense and for taking out predators (and there's nothing like the sound of a pump-action shotgun to send an intruder fleeing). But shotguns are unwieldy, particularly in the middle of the night. When a dog is outside barking intently at something, the 12-gauge is a hassle to get down, load, and maneuver through the doors in a hurry. Besides, have you ever tried carrying a flashlight in one hand and a full-sized shotgun in the other?

Some time back, American Rifleman magazine ran a glowing review of Springfield Armory's new XD series handguns, and I was fascinated. They had high capacity magazines, and looked reliable, well-built, and affordable. Importantly, they also came with built-in accessory rails onto which one could mount, say, a tactical light to illuminate one's target at night. Months passed, and XDs started winning all kinds of awards. I wanted to get a closer look at them, particularly the .45 ACP --- but there was no Springfield Armory dealer anywhere near us.

And then, yesterday, I realized I'd be passing within a mile or two of The Gun Shop in Plainfield. I stopped in, and was immediately impressed with the staff's knowledge and professionalism. I admitted to the salesman that I'd never owned a handgun, but had read about the XD series, and wanted to know more. I explained about our needs for home and varmint defense, and how I wanted an alternative to the shotgun. He could've talked down to me like the ignorant newbie I was, but he did completely the opposite: he smiled and seemed genuinely interested in introducing me to a new kind of firearm. His matter-of-fact explanatory tone immediately put me at ease and made me feel less self-conscious. He had a number of XDs in stock, in a variety of calibers. I gravitated toward the .45 ACP, and he helped me make sure I preferred it to the .40 caliber. He pointed out that the longer barrel made the .45 easier to sight, and he gave tips for holding it securely to minimize kick. He also snapped a tactical light on the rails, and showed me how easy that was to operate. I was sold.

But, of course, I couldn't take delivery. Illinois has a three-day waiting period for handguns. During that time, the State Police do a background check. But with computer technology, the check doesn't take that long; as I understand it, a person could be approved or rejected almost instantly. After all, the waiting period for a rifle or shotgun is only one day. It seems the rationale behind the waiting period is to force a "cooling off period" on any hotheads who might rush out and do something rash with a newly-acquired firearm. This was immortalized by Homer Simpson's "Five DAYS? But I'm angry NOW!"

But in real life, this is preposterous. Particularly in Illinois, a person cannot simply decide on the spur of the moment even to buy ammunition --- let alone a firearm. Even to buy ammo, a person must present a F.O.I.D. (Firearm Owner Identification) card. To get one of those, a person must undergo a rigorous background check with the state police, be photographed, and wait weeks for the card to be sent out. At the gun shop, the salesman wouldn't even let me touch the merchandise until I'd shown him my FOID card (and he did the same with everyone else who came through the door). How many people, do you think, have the foresight to go through the FOID process...but then not buy a firearm until they're (1) as angry as Homer Simpson, or (2) on the verge of committing a crime, or (3) suicidal?

As I tried to figure out when I'd have a large enough block of time to drive back to Plainfield, another thought occurred to me: politically, the same people who imposed the waiting period laws tend to oppose even the slightest regulation or restriction on abortion --- even, notably, 24 hour waiting periods. Most states, including Illinois, have no waiting periods. No state has a waiting period longer than 24 hours. In Illinois, a woman could get a positive pregnancy test in the morning and have an abortion later the same day. But I have to wait three days to pick up my handgun? Regardless of what you believe about women's rights or the legal protections which ought to be accorded to unborn children, ask yourself this: Which is a bigger and more life-changing event? Buying a handgun or having an abortion? Which should require a longer period during which a person should "cool down" and "think it over"? Given the kinds of physical and emotional traumas reported by post-abortive women, and the organizations that have grown up to help them address these traumas, I wonder why this question even needs to be asked.

But I'll still be thinking about it next week, as I watch mile after mile roll by on my way back up to Plainfield.

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