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March 29, 2007

Let Me Tell You About The Stupidest, Stupidest, Stupidest, Stupidest Thing I have Ever, Ever, Ever Done!

No shit.

For I will now regale you with a tale of danger and wonder. A tale with gunfire and explosions. A tale of deceit and shame.

I will tell you a tale of the stupidest thing I have ever done. In my entire life.

I only tell this story now because it’s been almost a year and a half since the events in question have transpired, and recapping the story no longer makes me hang my head in shame as much as it once did... Okay, yes it still does.

But please, if you will allow me some latitude, your honor... Thank you.

Set your wayback machines to September of 2005, I scant two months after I moved from Massachusetts to Florida. I was a newbie to the Gulf Coast, and Hurricane Katrina was fresh on everyone’s mind. Or, given the storm had already past, the aftermath was fresh on everyone’s mind. Looting, assault, rape, murder, you name it. Hurricane Wilma was bearing down on Southwest Florida. Would we be next, I wondered?

And so off I went to the local gun dealer. Ding dang doodle, man! I done went and bought me a Glock 30 – a sub-compact semiautomatic .45 caliber handgun. It shoots bullets as big around as a fucking frying pan. Says I to myself, "I’ll be goddamned if some sorry son of a bitch is gonna loot my new house." Try to rob me? That'll be tough to do with a .45 caliber enema, motherfucker!

But Wilma came and went with no rioting in the streets. No tubs of Heinekin being heisted. No new plasma televisions. No roving gangs looking for women. No hoards of zombies roaming the streets looking to eat brains. I was disappointed, yet relieved. But with the urgency of the storm having passed, I wanted to be a responsible gun owner and made it my mission to learn how to handle my new weapon safely. After all, if I ended up hurting myself or some poor bastard of an innocent bystander, the gun was of no use to me.

Now a quick tangent here. When you buy a Glock (and for all I know this is true for other handgun manufacturers as well, but that’s irrelevant to this story) they give you two magazines along with the gun itself. The idea being if you rotate the strain of a loaded magazine between the two, the springs that feed the bullets won’t wear out as fast.

So after taking my Concealed Carry Weapons class, I went off to the gun range about once a week. I slowly and methodically discharged my new handgun in the safest and most controlled manner as possible. A dozen or so trips and some 2,000 rounds later, dare I say the naturally skilled shooter in me came out again. (I scored as an NRA qualified sharpshooter back in the Boy Scouts, thank you very much.) Whenever my handgun came out, the following four rules of firearm safety were PARAMOUNT in my mind:

1. All guns are always loaded.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4. Be sure of your target.

And this is how it went for two months. Me bringing my new gun to the range, shooting through a few boxes of ammunition, taking it home, cleaning the living piss out of it, and putting it away until I went shooting again. In the meantime, I kept it in the nightstand next to my bed. There isn't a huge of crime where I live, but hey, fortune favors the prepared, right?

Oh, another side tangent. Remember spending hours and hours writing a big research paper for school, and no matter how many times you reread your own work, you didn’t notice your own subtle spelling errors? The turned into "teh". Of turned into "fo". Necessary tuned into "nessecary". You know what I'm talking about... tiny, subtle errors that no matter how many times you looked at it, you didn't see them. I've always found the best way to correct this was to have someone else read you work. Or, in the absence of a third party, to put your work down and take a fresh look at it in the morning.

And so, on a Monday morning, after shooting my gun the previous day, I said to myself, “Self, I wonder how clean my gun really is? I mean if I can spend hours writing a story and not see simple spelling mistakes, I wonder if I’ll see many dirty spots on the inside of my gun from when I cleaned it yesterday?”

A reasonable question, right?

And so, I decided right then and there, just as I’m packing up to head to the gun range again, I would pull a ‘surprise inspection’ on myself. Yep, I'll see just how well of a job I did in cleaning my gun. I set the carrying case down on the kitchen countertop and opened it. My beloved Glock stared up at me with opaque eyes as dark as night. Its stock still glistened from the tiny film of gun oil I had gently massaged into it the night before. I had been handling this handgun for some two months now, and was only just now becoming comfortable feeling its weight in my hand.

I began the same takedown procedures I had performed a dozen times in the past...

1. Eject the magazine from the gun. Set it aside. In fact, I always set both magazines on the other side of the table whenever I'm cleaning it. As if somehow a bullet could magically jump up and over six or seven feet into the firing chamber of the gun. I knew it couldn't, but somehow just seeing the bullets wayyyy over there made me feel safer. Anyway, knowing I only had two magazines and since I was looking at both of them sitting on my kitchen counter, the only thing to worry about is if there was a round already chambered in the gun. Now because the gun was still new to me, I didn't trust myself to keep a bullet chambered like that. I kept a loaded magazine in the handle, so all I would have to do in an emergency is rack the slide, and then point and click. But, none the less, safety is paramount. So let's assume there is a bullet in the gun and we have to remove it. That is done by...

2. Pulling back and release the slide. Any chambered round would then be ejected. Not surprisingly, this didn't happen because again, I don't keep the gun loaded to that degree. I was now 100% confident my handgun was unloaded.

3. Holding the gun in my right hand, use my left hand to depress the two ‘take down’ levels on each side of the gun.

4. Point the gun in a safe direction and pull the trigger, releasing an internal catch holding the slide in place.

5. Once released, pull the slide forward and off the of the handle of the gun, thus separating the gun into two pieces and completing what is known as a ‘field strip’.

I detailed all of those steps merely because I want you to understand what I expected to happen. But what actually happened is anothe rmatter. As I completed step 4...

KA-FUCKING BOOM!

And for those of you who have never personally fired a gun -- especially in an enclosed area without hearing protection -- you have no idea of the level of sound, ferocity and pure violence of which I speak.

Upon squeezing that trigger -– very nonchalantly, I might add -– I was instantly greeted with a lick of flame that I thought only happened in the movies. An instant later, the sound was deafening. As is typical with most Florida homes, the ceilings are high and the floors are tile; sound fucking echoes, man. There were three dogs in the house at the time this even occurred. All three fucking screwed and hid under whatever bed ther were nearest to. I noticed the ringing in my left ear almost immediately; that was the ear on the same side as the muzzle of my gun.

The very instant it happened, I was aware of two things: One, my gun had just fired. I wasn’t quite sure how just yet, hell I was looking at the magazines on the counter so I was somewhat baffled and trying to understand how the impossible just happened. But regardless, it did happen I knew that was in certainty. And two, I was going to jail. I wasn’t sure for what, but I knew that discharging a firearm in the city limits was generally frowned upon. The cops would show up responding to a call of gunfire, I would explain what happened, they would sympathize but I would still leave in handcuffs. It was as simple as that. I accepted this fact almost as quickly as I grasped what just happened.

To illustrate how unprepared I was for this handgun to be discharging at that moment, you'll have to allow me another tangent. The way a semiautomatic gun works is like this. The operator manually pulls and releases a slide mechanism which accomplishes two things: it both loads Bullet-A and cocks back the firing pin. Upon pulling the trigger, firing pin slams forward and Bullet-A fires; the recoil energy from Bullet-A loads Bullet-B and re-readies the firing pin. Firing Bullet-B loads Bullet-C and readies the firing pin again.. etc, etc, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. The only way to interrupt this process is to either run out of bullets, or have some other force absorb the energy of the recoil and thus interrupting the reload process. What could absorb this energy? Say for example... some limp wrested sissy who was lackadaisically holding the gun with one hand and wasn’t expecting a handgun to fire a bullet into his kitchen wall. You know, “for example”.

And that’s pretty much what happened. So about the same time I was watching this big lick of flame shoot out of the gun I was holding, about the same time I was losing the hearing in my left ear for a few weeks, there was a piece of 4”x4” white tile above my stove that exploded into a thousand little pieces.

I wouldn’t say that my life flashed before my eyes, because it didn’t. But your mind does accomplish a good hours worth of thinking in an instant, that much I know.

So okay, my gun goes off, I hastily set it down as if it were 1000 degrees Centigrade... and I ask myself. What the fuck just happened? And by that mean you know what happened – the fucking gun just fired. Right in my kitchen. Into my wall. Without my consent. What the fuck. But how did this happen with an unloaded gun that was evidently loaded despite my doing 'all the right things'?

The answer came instantaneously to me. It didn’t hide, I didn’t have to seek for it. It wasn't like when you're trying to remember that actor's name and it's right on the tip of your tongue and you almost have it. It was a very simple answer that came to me without a moment hesitation.

I bought a third magazine yesterday.

STOP. WAIT. Reflect back upon your thoughts as you read that last statement. For a split second; for a tiny fraction of a moment; you thought, "Ooooooooooooh! He bought a third magazine!" As if that explained everything. As if for a split second because you understood the mistake I made, that makes it all okay.

Well my friend, that split second, that tiny fraction of a moment, was all it takes to kill someone. Or yourself. And I don’t say this to point a finger – fuck after all I’m the guy with the extra stove vent. But my point is for a split second you kind of slapped your knee and shuffled around as if you suddenly understood the punch line to some joke. For a tiny second you allowed yourself that transgression. And that was about as long as it took for me to point a loaded gun at my wall and pull the trigger.

Get my point?

But forgetting this small and seemingly insignificant fact could have had cato-fucking-strophic consequences. First, I’ll detail what actually happened, versus what could have happened.

What happened is the day before, after I went through my two boxes of ammunition at the range, I figured I might was well buy a third magazine. If rotating the rounds between two magazines extends their life, then rotating among three would be even better right? So when I looked across the table and saw the two magazines looking back at me, I had completely forgotten that this new third magazine was sitting in the handle of my gun. When I racked the slide -- with every intention of ejecting any round in the firing chamber -- what I actually did was load my gun to fire. And the scariest part is, I was completely, absolutely 1,000,000% positive the gun was unloaded after I did that.

The bullet came out of the gun and barely nicked the top of the splash plate on the back of the stove. It ricocheted upwards and tore into the white tile, destroying a single square before tumbling through the walls of my house, finally coming to rest into the master bedroom closet. Thankfully, I was using Glaser prefragmented ammunition; so by time the bullet (fragments) reached the closet wall, they had so little energy they literally came to rest on a t-shirt without even so much tearing the cloth. No shit.

Let me illustrate how unprepared for this I was. Before I could even react to the fact that the gun had just fired, the gun had jammed because of that whole limp wrested energy absorption example I gave above. In an imperfect balance of timing and grace, the empty shell was actually caught and dented by the rebounding slide... I have the deformed shell casing sitting on my computer desk to remind me of how complacent I had allowed myself to become.

Long story short, the cops didn’t come. My eternal thanks to my neighbor John who had a table saw going in his garage and I'm assuming that's what drown out the sound of my kitchen wall being put to death. I disassembled my Glock and hid it in various parts of my house; not sure if I was ready to take the, “huh, what gun? No not me," defense should the cities' finest showed up asking questions. But the police sirens didn't come. And as one minute turned into two, which turned into five, then twenty, I became every increasingly confident I may escape jail time for my mental lapse. And so it came to be.

I tell you this story not for laughs -- although I do not fault you if you had a chuckle or ten at my expense, please do –- but rather to teach.

The whole while I was waiting for the cops to come haul me away, the longer I had to sit and think about just how fucking stupid I was. I’m not sure which was worse. The following fact I am not proud to admit, in fact I am embarrassed to even type it. But if I'm going to tell this story, I'm going to tell it. I can't count how many times right after I just purchased it, I sat there in my livingroom holding my gun -- of which I was completely, absolutely 1,000,000% positive was unloaded -- and watched TV. Pointing it indiscriminantly at: the television, the wall, the WINDOW, my DOG, out the SLIDING GLASS WINDOW, the ceiling, my FOOT, whatever. But it was unloaded, so it was safe, right? Accident don't happen to smart people like me, they happen to idiots who aren't careful and play with loaded guns, right? Uh, yeah.

Obviously this behavior was NOT smart. It was NOT responsible. It was NOT reflective upon the million or so legal (AND SMART!) gun owners here in America. What I was stupid. Asinine. Dangerous. Deadly. Dumb. And I could go on, but we’ll just say it was against everything I had been taught. Mr. Meiring, the Rifle Range master at Boy Scout Camp Massawepie would be ashamed of me. I could have killed myself. I could have killed my neighbor. I could have killed MY DOG. I could have put a bullet into the wall and straight into the propane line that feeds the stove. I could have put a bullet through the sliding glass door, through the pool cage screen, and into my neighbor’s kid. What I did was the epitome of stupid. Period, end of story.

But thank goodness none of that happened. Misfortune only gave me a glancing blow of her sword. I escaped with my life and the life of those around me. It could have been otherwise.

Needless to say my behavior has since been corrected. The gun stays in my nightstand until I go to the range, have to carry it somewhere, or have to defend my home. When I unload my gun, I remove the magazine, pull back the slide and look from the top all the way down through the handle not once, but three times. THREE TIMES. If I can’t see my little wiggling piggies on the other side, something ain't right. No more assuming. I am Joe Fucking Safety now.

Feel free to disperse this story as far and as wide as you so choose. Just please, don’t be as stupid as I was.


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