“You, ma’am, are carrying as well?” he asks.
I nod, then jump right in.
“Requesting or demanding?” I ask.
“Requesting and then I’ll be demanding,” comes the reply.
I stand, watching as he removes the gun from my hip. I can hear the revolver’s wheel turning as he checks the chamber for bullets. Then he hands it back to me — the first time I’ve handled a real handgun — and I slide it, if somewhat amateurishly, into the holster.
“Okay,” the cop says. “I appreciate your cooperation.”
Before he leaves, Sean asks if someone sent him over.
“Actually, we had a radio call. I guess you were out on the boardwalk,” the cop replies.
“I think I know the guy…” Sean says wryly.
“I talked to one person that had called. He said you were headed south,” the cop says. “So we were looking for you. We appreciate your cooperation. Have a good day.”
I glance around me and notice several cruisers are parked along the edge of the Mexican restaurant’s lot, plus the SUV.
Nate turns to me.
“You have just experienced the hassle of the open-carry movement,” he says.
“That guy was actually very good, very straightforward,” Sean comments, as the SUV and its entourage drive away. “He was not out to abuse rights, he was not out to try and make anything up. He was just doing his job.”
This makes one cop stop for Sean, two for Sam, and three for Nate.
And, of course, one for me.
“It’s all very complicated,” I tell them, speaking of the various gun laws, regulations, and restrictions, from state to federal, as we collect our trash from lunch.
“And if we just followed the Second Amendment the way it was written, none of this would be necessary,” he says.
Shortly after our encounter with the cops, we part ways, agreeing to meet up at a later time that night. Nate, Sean, and Sam are taking me to a local firing range, and come evening, I will have fired my first gun.
The range is located in a squat brown building with an American flag in the window and a big neon sign bearing the word “GUNS” in all capitals. Inside is a small series of booths separated by dividers. It’s busy, and people in groups wait their turns, snapping pictures, flashes going off in time to the sound of the guns. The ground is littered with glittering brass shell casings, and I can feel them through the soles of my shoes as I walk to my appointed booth.
Sean is my teacher for the evening, and he patiently goes over how to handle the first guns I will shoot, a .22-caliber CZ Kadet and his .40-caliber Sig Sauer P229. I try to remember, listening to his instructions over the loud pops and bangs from neighboring rangegoers. I take a deep breath. Eject the magazine. Click the slide back to make sure it’s not loaded. The CZ is heavy in my hands and heavier still as I slide a full magazine inside and give it a firm tap with my hand. I position my hands, making sure my grip is not too weak and my thumbs are not too low. My finger slides over the trigger, pulls back.
An explosion erupts, and the gun jerks back in my hands, shell ejecting onto the floor; it drops and I don’t see it. I’m transfixed. I try again, trying not to close my eyes. The smell of gunpowder tickles my nose.
I finish the clip, watching the holes that have appeared in the paper target I was aiming at. They’re nowhere near where they should be, but it’s not bad.
Sean reels the target in and points to a cluster of holes around the bottom of one of the bull’s-eyes. It’s a clover pattern, he says; it’s good.
“You should be proud of that,” he says, over the din. I smile.
At the end of the night, I have shot eight guns — three handguns, one carbine, and four rifles. The list is a litter of letters and numbers to me. There are the CZ Kadet, Sig Sauer, and CZ 97B for handguns. The carbine is an FN PS90. For rifles, I handle the Ruger Mini-14, the Kel-Tec SU-16CA .223, the not-so-fearsome AR-15 .223 — a gun that might be soon made illegal — that weighs so much I can barely hold it to my shoulder, and the Ruger 10/22, a lightweight rifle without much recoil (kickback) that turns out to be my favorite. (Though the range generally does not allow certain types of rifles to be used, for the purpose of this article, we were permitted to shoot the Kel-Tec SU-16CA and the AR-15.)
The evening after my shooting adventure, I’m due to meet another open carrier, Tom, at a coffee shop in Mission Valley.
Tom is a neatly bearded gentleman with wire-rimmed glasses. Fresh from work, it appears, he wears a dress shirt and black slacks along with his Springfield Armory 1911 .45 that is barely visible on his belt. His wife sits across from him, reading.
Tom smiles as he introduces himself, assures me that I’m not too terribly late, and offers me a coffee before we settle down to talk.
While not new to gun ownership — in fact, he’s an avid collector — Tom has only been open carrying for a few months. He is a member of several of the online forums previously mentioned, where he reads and responds to various topics and discussions.
Unlike Nate, Sam, and Sean, with whom he is acquainted, Tom has not been stopped by many people, curious or otherwise. He speculates that, because of his dress, most may take him for a plainclothes police officer.
“They must think you’ve got a badge somewhere,” I joke.
“Could be,” he agrees. “That’s the first thought. But people need to be aware that a citizen living in a free country is allowed to have liberty and to do these things. And most people assume it’s against the law.”