How I bought my gun in Chicago
Jake Malooley navigates the complex process of getting a handgun in Chicago.
Very little. I grew up in a small town about 100 miles west of Chicago where everyone had six guns, except my family. The single mom who raised me is as unwaveringly against firearms as Chicago’s outgoing mayor. Around age eight or nine, my friends and I would act out the cult 1987 vampire film The Lost Boys. But instead of using wooden stakes to hunt for Kiefer Sutherland and his bloodsucking New Romantic gang, we’d carry toy guns. One day, my mom came into the garage where we were playing, opened up a garbage bag and said, “Put the guns in here.”
As a preteen, I had a couple of friends whose fathers were gun owners. In the summer, my buddy Justin and I would sneak into his parents’ room while they were at work and take turns gripping his dad’s trigger-locked .357 Magnum by its black handle. Now, when I finally come clean to Mom that I, a 26-year-old man, am going through the process of acquiring a handgun, I can’t say I’m surprised by her reaction.
“I feel like someone punched me in the stomach,” she tells me over the phone. “I don’t associate guns with anything except for death… . Last night, I was watching Oprah and she had on this woman who had her whole face blown off by her violent husband. He blew out one of her eyes, blew out her whole jaw—everything. There’s so much aggressive behavior in the world. Why perpetuate it?”
“What if I’m using the gun for self-defense?” I counter.
“That’s bullshit! You barely have time to reach for the phone to call 911. You think you’re gonna have time to get a gun and shoot somebody?” she snaps back. “Thanks for ruining my day with this news!” She hangs up.
Having spent most of my adult life in one of the most tightly gun-regulated cities in the U.S., I find Rodriguez’s rabidly pro-gun worldview tough to swallow. The Chicago native got his first gun at age 16 and admits he feels naked without a firearm. “Like walking around in your underwear,” he says. “We live in a world where there are sheep, sheepdogs, then, of course, there’s the wolf: the one that wants to devour, take advantage of you. Are you going to be a sheep or a sheepdog?” That kill-or-be-killed outlook, to me, never seemed necessary; I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, I’ve never been attacked. But maybe that’s just the sheep in me talking.
Rodriguez teaches me the basics: Treat every gun as if it were loaded, keep my finger off the trigger and, he says, “only aim at what you intend to destroy.” He has me exercise the proper hold on a plastic model gun, then on his Glock, which he customized with a skull decal of comic-book vigilante the Punisher. I feed plastic-tipped inert ammo into the magazine, cock the gun and skittishly fix the sights on human-shaped targets. After all, Rodriguez says, I’m not hunting quail in Chicago.
“This guy’s comin’ with the machete!” Rodriguez says of the knife-wielding maniac on the target. “He wants to hurt ya! Point the weapon like you really mean it!” I slowly, weakly hoist the surprisingly hefty gun. Teach isn’t happy.
“He just busted your door down, okay? Big, 6'2", 300 pounds—and he doesn’t like you, wants to neutralize you. You neutralize him before he neutralizes you. So, punch out the weapon like you really mean it.”