Reader Cole Mayer writes:
About six years ago, while I was still in college, a friend brought his arsenal of firearms to a session of Dungeons and Dragons. A few of my other friends had expressed interest in purchasing handguns, so he brought them for show-and-tell. He passed around his revolvers for us to examine, but I didn’t want to touch them.
Fast forward to June of 2015. I was a newspaper journalist, just about to end my three-year tenure of covering crimes, courts, and fires, and move from California to Idaho, where my wife had accepted a teaching position. My final article was how one of my good sources of information in the community finally convinced me to take his NRA-certified handgun course, something he offered for free.
It was my first time firing a gun, at age 26. I wasn’t quite as scared of guns as I was when my friend brought out his assortment of handguns and his newly purchased Mosin Nagant, but my hands were shaky. We spent four hours shooting various handguns – a snub-nosed revolver that I was surprisingly accurate with (earning the nickname, “The Heart Surgeon”), a Beretta 92FS, and a S&W hand-cannon chambered in .460 – which I only shot once. I nearly hit myself in the face with the gun from the recoil, but by this time, I realized something: I was having fun. And I was fairly comfortable with handguns.
I went out for one more round of training. This time, though, instead of taking the class, I reported on the class. By that point, I was also starting to do research into purchasing my own M1911.
While living in California, with the stringent firearm laws there that have only tightened since I left, handguns were the only firearms on my radar. Something like an AR-15 or AK-47/74 never even entered my mind.
Jump to June 2016. A co-worker, Colin, invited a few of us to go shooting. I was excited, having never shot a rifle. He spread out his collection. A SIG522 rifle, a PAP M92 PV pistol (similar to a Krinkov/AKS-74U), two AR-15s he built, his GLOCK 19, and a few revolvers. It was my first time shooting an AR-15.
There was public outcry at the time after New York Daily News writer Gersh Kuntzman said he’d given himself a temporary case of PTSD after firing an AR-15. He said it “felt like a bazooka,” that he was “terrified,” even calling it “horrifying, menacing.” He was justifiably derided to the point where he wrote a follow-up piece on how commenters questioned his masculinity. I only question, based on his terrifying description of the event, whether he was actually firing an AR-15, and if he was wearing hearing protection.
To me, it’s a tool not unlike a car, a chef’s knife, or a hammer at a construction site. It’s not scary. Yes, it’s loud, though I’ve used both earmuff-style ear protection and good ol’ ear plugs. The AK-74 I fired was louder than an AR-15. And the Serbian-made PAP was louder still, (though the sound levels aren’t bad). In the wrong hands, a tool — any tool — can do many horrible things. He and I clearly had very different experiences.
Let’s take a moment to compare California and Idaho. In looking at some national relocation statistics from last year, Idaho had the second-largest influx of people, 63 percent of moves being inward. For California, it was 54 percent inbound, 46 percent outbound. With California enacting or adding to the ballot new legislation requiring AR-15s to only have fixed 10-round magazines – no more ‘bullet buttons’ – and restrictions on ammunition, plus requiring a background check when loaning a gun to anyone not family or even just buying ammo.
As it is, if there’s a larger-capacity mag, you can’t have a pistol grip, telescoping or folding stock, flash hider, grenade/flare launcher, or forward pistol grip. So it’s much harder to have an AR that’s actually fun to use in California. If the laws are enacted, larger magazines must be turned in. I’ll be interested to see if the migration numbers change, especially if the opponents of “Gunmegeddon” fail to stop the legislation, which looks likely.
The California Attorney General’s report noted that 70.1 percent of the 1,861 homicides were from firearms. Idaho, on the other hand, saw a whopping 77.8 percent of murders done by firearm. But there were only 30 murders reported. To be fair, California has more than 38 million people compared to Idaho’s 1.6 million. Doing some quick back-of-the-napkin math, if Idaho had a comparable population there would be about 1,140 homicides – still far fewer than the Golden State. And yet we have the super dangerous, terrifying full-feature AR-15s here.
There were nine reported homicides in El Dorado County in 2015 alone, where I worked. That’s nearly a third of the homicides reported in the entire state of Idaho. I certainly feel safer here now.
What do all these laws and stats mean for me? First, research in the form of price comparison, and waiting for my chosen manufacturer of lower receivers to restock. It arrived at my firearms dealer on Sept. 21 (for my non-gun friends or anyone who hasn’t ordered a gun online, it’s the one part that can’t be delivered to your front door; it needs to be shipped to a Federal Firearms License holder). I paid extra for an engraving of the cat that kept me company for nearly a year of unemployment.
I had the upper receiver for about a month before my lower arrived. I tested the upper with two range trips, using one of Colin’s lowers. Second, he and I built the rifle on Sept. 24, making what I have dubbed the Catling Gun a reality. Next, I’m going to replace some parts, starting with a free-floating quad rail. And then, because I’m cheap, I want a used locker to keep ammo in, and possibly the guns until I get a proper gun safe.
Far from being scared out of my wits, I built my own AR-15. It’s fun to shoot, and trying to improve my aim gives me a goal. And it makes me feel that much more free, especially compared to my California friends. Freedom smells like gunpowder smoke while test-firing your new rifle in the windy, dusty desert (and remember: operators wear bandanas!). I highly recommend it.