How I bought my gun in Chicago
Jake Malooley navigates the complex process of getting a handgun in Chicago.
The majority of the class time is eaten up by a 2001 video produced by the National Rifle Association called “Basics of Personal Protection in the Home.” It stars middle-American everyman archetypes reacting to home-invasion scenarios. The Treat Williams doppelgänger host, Mark, spouts an endless supply of brainwashy life-defense advice: “Use your gun and think with minimal emotional reasoning,” he says, to counter “that forgiveness state of mind.” When confronted by an attacker, Mark commands, “Shoot you must! Not just one shot, but two or three or more. You keep shooting until the threat stops.” When lunchtime comes around, I’m not hungry.
After I score a 25 out of 25 on the written multiple-choice exam and successfully pass muster on the range, I get a ride from Rodriguez to the Blue Line. I tell him about how my roommate has threatened to move out if I bring a gun into the apartment, how he doesn’t want to live in a home with a deadly weapon that could be used against us by a home invader.
“The criminals are going to have guns no matter what,” Rodriguez replies. “Now that Chicagoans can have handguns, someone is going to think twice before breaking into your house. I’ve never had to shoot someone, thank God, but if I did, I’d give thanks to my attorneys: Smith & Wesson.”
“But what if I shoot and miss, and the bullet goes through a wall and hits one of my neighbors?” I ask.
Rodriguez relates a deeply unsettling story of a man cleaning his gun at home. “He’s pointing the gun at the ceiling and inadvertently pulls the trigger,” my instructor says. “Bang! The .44 Magnum round flies through the ceiling into the room of his neighbor’s infant baby girl, right through her crib, killing her instantly. Devastating.” With that, he gives me a diploma-like piece of paper and I board the El with my bullet-blasted paper police silhouette in tow.
One train transfer and dozens of dirty looks later, I arrive at a dreary strip mall off the Orange Line. Jammed between a Little Caesars and Dollar Tree at 4770 South Kedzie Avenue is the Chicago Police Department records office—the only place in the city to file gun-related paperwork. I fill out the yellow, one-page Chicago Firearms Permit form, attach two passport-size photos and hand over a $100 check and the affidavit signed by Rodriguez stating I’ve completed the class. A man wearing a lab coat and latex gloves places my hand on a scanner to record my fingerprints. “Busy day,” the technician comments to one of the policemen on staff. “Like, 20 CFP applications.”
A couple of weeks later, the permit arrives in the mail and I head to Midwest Sporting Goods in southwest suburban Lyons. The showroom of the gun-slash-bait boutique is crowded with guys in trucker hats aiming rifles at the walls and making guttural fake-shooting noises: Goosh! The shop happens to be running a sale on Glocks. The salesman, a friendly hulk named Angel, wears a loaded gun on his hip. The barrage of forms asks the by-now-familiar Taxi Driver questions (“Have you ever been a fugitive of justice?”), and Angel makes a phone call for a $5 instant background check.
Seventy-two hours pass—the mandatory waiting period—and it’s back to Midwest Sporting Goods for the pickup. I sign here and initial there to the song “Friends in Low Places.” One of the clerks, Kevin, is discussing the Tucson, Arizona, shooting in January in which 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner allegedly shot 19 people, killing six. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot at point-blank range with a Glock—a similar model to the one I’m picking up and the one, ironically, Giffords herself owns. A customer points out that police said Loughner used a high-capacity magazine—outlawed in Chicago but not the ’burbs.
“$14.99,” Kevin says, hinting that the store stocks the mag. Perhaps sensing my unease, Kevin says, “A madman is a madman. If [Loughner] had a baseball bat, he still would’ve gone crazy.” Maybe, but you don’t kill six people in a matter of minutes with a Louisville Slugger. I walk out the door with a new gun and, already, more than a bit of buyer’s remorse.
Afterward, I return to the Southwest Side records office to complete the Firearms Registration form and write out a $15 check. It’s the final step to legal gun ownership as far as the city is concerned. But despite all the red tape, the most trying part of becoming a gun owner has been getting existentially comfortable with having an object in the house that’s designed to kill another human being. I’ve moved the Glock to different spots: a closet, an extra bedroom. Anywhere the gun is, I sense its awkward, deadly presence. It’s a piece of furniture that, no matter where I position it, just doesn’t feel right.
On top of that, I’m all too aware of Chekhov’s dictum: If a gun is introduced in the first act, it must go off by the third. I just hope the next time my Glock does go off, I’m at the range, shooting a few rounds at a harmless piece of paper.