In order to buy a handgun in California, one must meet California requirements.
  • In order to buy a handgun in California, one must meet California requirements.
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I thought it might be worth a column, maybe two. Column 1: acquiring state-mandated handgun education. Column 2: acquiring a handgun. I should insert, right at the top, when it comes to guns, I’m on nobody’s side.

In order to buy a handgun in California, one must meet California requirements. Despite my best efforts, I am not a felon, not a mentally disordered sex offender, or, as far as I know, been convicted of any one of a whole bunch of misdemeanors that I have not (and I’ll wager no one else has) read. Plus, I am over 21. Good to go.

I decide step 1 is passing a Handgun Safety Certification exam, which is required before you buy a handgun and not a big deal. You can get the study booklet for free online or from any gun dealer. Seems to boil down to: When practicing at a target range, you should point your handgun at (a) the person next to you, (b) the snack bar, (c) the instructor, (d) in a safe direction with your finger off the trigger, (e) all of the above.

A journalist needs to fact-check everything, so I signed up for a four-hour course from what I’ll call Potentate Protection Services. It was a Groupon deal, 59 bucks in exchange for “...hands-on instruction in operating a handgun, including proper handling, cleaning, storage, shooting, and snacks [italics mine]. The course includes gun rental, ammo, range time, eye and ear protection, and snacks. Upon completion, each student may receive an optional handgun-safety certificate.”

Now, Potentate Protection Services is located in a part of town that counsels me to withdraw all the valuables from my truck before entering. Class is scheduled from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.

There are four students tonight. Me and three women. The women are mid-40s, average everything, save for one who has a magnificent tattoo — a pair of intertwining snakes, slithering shoulder to wrist.

The instructor arrives a half-hour late. He’s 5'8", mid-50s, clean-shaven, wearing cop shoes, black trousers, and a black shirt. He has two big duffel bags slung around his shoulders and lugs a BIG transport case (handgun subdivision). Instructor introduces himself, gives a five-minute hi-ya spiel, starts a video, and leaves.

The video is produced by the California Department of Justice and repeats the same info found in their brochure. Followed by two more videos. Think DOJ/DMV/VA film festival that goes on a little shy of forever.

Finally, lights come on; it’s time to take the Handgun Safety Certificate test. The instructor is still absent; his assistant is a Japanese woman, around 50, with a taped-up right foot, on crutches. She hands out the 30-question, three-page test.

The room is as quiet as any I’ve seen in college during finals. Test takes five minutes. We four set our papers on Japanese crutch lady’s desk. But, wait, they are returned. We shall grade ourselves. Japanese crutch lady reads out the answers. We mark our tests. She leaves the room. One student walks up to her desk to look at her answer sheet — no, not to cheat — because Japanese crutch lady read the wrong answer, thusly causing us to get that answer wrong. Student reads off the right answer. We all change our scores. Harmony is restored.

After a passage of time, Japanese crutch lady returns and we await the instructor who is still missing. Magically, without looking at any tests, Japanese crutch lady announces we have passed our exam and begins a heroic monologue about her foot operations and, by god, her foot operations are worthy of a monologue. I quit counting after the first three.

Twenty minutes pass. The instructor returns, goes to work, and his work is pretty good. We practice how to insert and eject magazines, how to take a ready position, prepare to fire, dry fire. Over and over.

Finally, it’s time to go to the firing range. Instructor calls out directions and gives us each a clear plastic baggie with 20 rounds of ammo inside.

It’s a long honk out to the firing range. There are four of us driving four cars, accompanied by four plastic baggies filled with ammo. We arrive within five minutes of each other, all students and plastic baggies present and accounted for. The range is almost full at 8:30, Tuesday night. We four hover in the parking lot, use the restrooms, look at want-ads pinned to an outside bulletin board, slog back to our vehicles, and wait.

Forty minutes pass. Our instructor arrives, hands out ear and eye protection, and leads us into the office. On the way, I’m handed a Halloween-sized mini Hershey’s bar.

Ah, yes, the snack.

Read Guns & Ammo, Part 1

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