By Susan McKeown
This year, when I turned seventy, I decided to go to grad school and pursue my dream of earning an MFA in nonfiction. For one of our assignments, we were told to go into a business, meet a stranger, and then write about the encounter for 10 minutes. I decided to choose an experience out of my comfort zone.
I walked in The Village Gun Shop and met Zac, the salesperson. I told him I was interested in purchasing an assault rifle. “Excuse me?” he replied, surprised at my white-haired, forthright demeanor.
“I want to buy an assault rifle,” I repeated.
“Oh, ok.” he regained his salesman persona.
“What does it take to buy an assault rifle?” I asked.
“Well, first of all, we will do a thorough federal background check, then if that comes back clear, we write up the sale and you pay for it.”
“How long does that take?”
“Usually five minutes. Occasionally, if someone has a very common name, it may take up to three days. If there is anything about someone that makes me uncomfortable, even before the background check, I will not sell to them. Like if someone comes in with a swastika tattooed on his neck, I’ll say ‘get out of my store.’ I just won’t sell if I have a bad feeling.”
I told Zac that I didn’t have my driver’s license on me, which was true. However, it was in the car. And I could get it. But I had more questions. We went to the back of the store, and he showed me a vast array of weaponry. He took a popular seller off the wall, one that had “very little kickback.” The gun was $899.00. So, for just over $900.00, I could be the proud owner of my very own assault weapon in about five to ten minutes.
During our conversation, I learned some things about Zac. I learned that he was married with three children—ten, seven, and four—who all will be attending the same village school in September. He was an involved Dad, “not a babysitter,” he was quick to point out. Zac was also a Boy Scout leader and was planning a campout the following weekend with his troupe. In short, he seemed like a sensible guy and a good father. So I asked him if he worried about his children given the incidents of school shootings.
“Of course, I do,” he said. “We talk about it. We talk about what to do in case something should happen. There is a resource officer at the school, also.” I neglected to ask him if he felt teachers should be armed. Perhaps, I really did not want to hear the answer.
Zac had strong feelings about the Second Amendment. He has had two deployments, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan (for which I thanked him). He said he saw women and children blown up with his own eyes. When I asked him why a civilian should need to own an assault weapon, Zac responded that, in addition to sport-shooting, the Second Amendment gave him the right to own a weapon to defend himself.
“Why do you think no country would invade us?” Zac asked, before answering his own question. “Not only because of our military, but because there are more guns in our country than in any other. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese said they would never invade America because of the number of weapons. Plus, you never know when citizens may need to defend themselves against the government.”
The discussion then turned to our current administration. Zac stated he was a Republican and voted for the President. He didn’t always like Trump’s behavior, he told me, but he believed the President was “a good family man and had the good of the country at heart.” I calmly pointed out some of the President’s behaviors I thought ran contrary to that opinion and hoped, at least, it left something for Zac to consider. He did not argue my points. I did not ask him if he would cast the same vote today. He never asked why I wanted to buy an assault weapon.
Before I left, I wished Zac and his children a safe school year, while hoping our country would do what was needed to ensure just such an outcome.
Susan McKeown is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.