It’s a friend’s birthday and her house is packed, so I settle into a seat on the porch across from a guy I just met. He’s late-twenties, in a beige button-up, cargo shorts and flip flops, with a paunch and a grizzly beard. He’s a theoretical physicist finishing a PhD, soon to be employed by Raytheon, perhaps the biggest business in the city, a world leader, according to their website, “in the design, development and production of missle systems.” I tell him it’s not clear to me what exactly this Tucson branch of Raytheon produces. He replies, “Every munition used by the U.S. military that’s not a bullet.”
We’re getting along, it’s come out that both of us like hiking and beer and chips, so I say, “Oh, so you’ll be working for the devil.”
“I don’t like it either,” he says. In fact, he hates, hates the military industrial complex, but he also has a baby on the way, and apparently “They offered a great benefit package.”
Looking to shift the conversation to something less caustic, I mention the nuclear warheads that until recently ringed our city, and, reaching for a nacho, I say the next obvious thing that comes to mind, “We should disarm everybody. Nukes, guns, we should just recycle them all.”
At that this guy crosses his arms and leans back. Then he smiles. “You thought I was a Liberal.” He laughs. My faux-pas was failing to remember that so many Arizonans may vote elephant or donkey, but are in fact dyed-in-the-rough-wool Libertarians — proponents of the law of the cowboy land though none of us are exactly cowboys. He has no issue with Raytheon’s agenda, per se. He just doesn’t like the government having that killer of an arsenal.
He tells me he sleeps with a Glock .357 subcompact semi-automatic pistol — with an extended magazine holding 15 rounds — on his bedside table. In the winter, when it gets dark earlier, he carries this sidearm on his bicycle commute through town. No, he doesn’t have it on him now because he knew he’d be drinking, and drinking while in possession of a firearm would be irresponsible. I suggest, too, that since we’re at a party at a friend’s house in a perfectly safe part of town there’s no need for it anyway. He cocks his head and throws down, “You never know.”
He also keeps a 12-gauge shotgun around for home defense, but his real pride and joy is an AR-15 semi-automatic would-be assault rifle that he built himself with parts purchased online — except, of course, for the serial-numbered lower receiver, which he picked up at a gun show. He owns several different “uppers,” each featuring barrels of different weights and lengths and accommodating various calibers, but at the moment the weapon is configured to fire .233 Remington cartridges, few from a 30-round magazine.
“By cartridge, you mean bullet?”
“Yeah,” he says.
Technically, this weapon is a mere rifle, not an assault rifle, because it’s only semi-automatic, but he has a kit to convert it in an emergency. Not wanting to ask what sort of emergency this guy is planning for I ask instead, simply, “Why?”
“Because the police have them.” He is adamant. It’s a matter of principle. When it comes down to it, down to the end of days, the apocalypse, or riots, or some fascist socialist regime nightmare, he’ll be ready. The police are the first line of control, and even with their M4s, with his AR-15 he’ll be able to match their firepower.
And as he says this I think to myself that this guy is crazy, but a functioning sort of crazy apparently. He’s articulate. He trims his beard, and he likes hiking and beer and chips. He’s a theoretical physicist and is about to go to work for a Fortune 500 company. He’s married, and has a kid on the way. But he’s crazy!
Is he crazy?
Every once in a while, when my wife and I are out walking on the dirt roads north of our house — out where we hear coyotes wailing every night — and a shady character strolls by, my shoulders instinctually go back, my chest goes out, my eyes narrow, and my hand moves toward my Leatherman. I have had to ask her to refrain from laughing, at least until the unsavory character is out of earshot.
Craig Reinbold‘s writing has appeared in many journals and magazines. He is a regular contributor to Essay Daily, the blog-cum-conversation about all things essay, and recently co-edited, with Ander Monson, How We Speak to One Another: An Essay Daily Reader. Now back in his home state, Wisconsin, he works in the ER of a Milwaukee-area hospital.