When I grew up, most kids taped the latest Tiger Beat hottie on the wall. Not me. I idolized a Guns & Ammo poster of the compact SIG SAUER P232. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciated Alyssa Milano as much as the next hormone-crazed teen. But that SIG was a siren: small and light, with smoother lines than an America’s Cup champion. I wanted that SIG bad. Thanks to a conspiracy of Uncle Sam and Mom and Dad, I had to wait. Fast forward to my first day on The Job . . .
There I was, a freshly-minted police officer, holding the P232’s bigger brother, the P229. I was Ralphie on Christmas morning. Only better. The SIG SAUER P229 was the icing on the cake of my dream career.
As I savored the SIG I kept hearing a strange warning: “it’s a wet gun.” Shouldn’t that be “a wet dream”? Nope. After the first jam at the range I understood exactly what they meant.
The SIG was a high maintenance handgun. I had to clean it constantly, maintain it religiously and oil it constantly (i.e. “keep it wet”). If I took a week off, Florida’s high humidity threatened to rust the SIG’s surface. Making sure the SIG SAUER P229 was “in service” was a constant battle.
And serious business. I could be a better and faster gunfighter than the bad guy, but my mad skills were a moot point if my trusty (not rusty) gun wouldn’t operate. My life and the life of my fellow citizens depended on my ability to care for my new love. Not the first time I learned that co-dependency’s a bitch.
In these Internet-enabled days, you can summon a step-by-step maintenance guide for the most obscure firearm on YouTube video in less time than it takes to order a pepperoni pizza. You can research a weapon’s foibles in milliseconds.
Back in 2000, a caring gun owner had to go to something called a library to get the latest information on the ballistic object of his desire. Like armed self-defense itself, the information was strictly hit or miss. In this case, miss.
I figured the best way to get to grips with my SIG P229 was to squeeze off a few hundred rounds, take it apart, clean and lubricate it, and put it back together. Lather, rinse, repeat. Unfortunately, my police department only supplies rounds for qualifying. With a heavy heart (and a much lighter wallet), I invested in my own survival.
As much as I loved my SIG, I had no idea how many hands it had gone through before it found its way into my Safariland SS3 Holster. (Sorry. It had to be said.) So I started a ritual I was destined to repeat hundreds of times.
I disassembled the gun and placed the parts on a cloth with surgical precision. I examined every piece, gave each one due care and attention and put her back together again with equal focus.
At the range, I inserted fifteen 115-grain, Gold Dot hollow points into the P229’s magazine. Yes, hollow points. I know it sounds extravagant, but I’m a big believer that you should train like you fight, down to the last detail. Besides, it was our first time together.
I’m a lefty; I used my right palm to smack the magazine into place. I heard “click” and I knew she was set. I pulled back the slide and loaded my first round.
With ears and eyes on, I slowly squeezed the trigger. Boom, boom, boom. Fifteen rounds exploded through the chamber, flawlessly. I should have taken my time, but I was excited. Another mag, “click.”
The wind picked up. The dust circled. She fired beautifully again and again and again. Not one misfire. Even better: I shot a smaller group than People Who Love to Be Tasered.
It was one of those rare moments in life when adult experience exceeds childhood expectations. When your dreams become reality. More to the point, I knew the SIG was the one. I would look after her and she would look after me. The more I shot and cared for the P229, the more I thought I’d never let her go.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. When my police department received a grant, we switched to the Glock .40 cal. A fearsome weapon. And I understand the advantages of a “combat” trigger. But the Glock’s nowhere near as sweet as my old SIG SAUER P229 9mm.
I will never forget that hot humid day at the range, getting to know a gun that would go on to protect me, my family, my colleagues and my community. There’s only one first time.
[Christopher P. Fusaro was born and raised in the true south: Florida. He’s currently a supervisor for road patrol and an adjunct instructor at the police academy. Please click here to follow Chris’ wry Tweets, just like Cameron Crowe.]