Seven minutes. That’s how long it took me to buy an AR-15, the semiautomatic rifle used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Seven minutes. From the moment I handed the salesperson my driver’s license to the moment I passed my background check.
It likely will take more time than that during the forthcoming round of vigils to respectfully read the names of the more than 100 people who were killed or injured.
Surprising to some, perhaps, though it shouldn’t be, not at this point in our bloody, hate-filled history.
If it weren’t so easy to get a gun in this country, the 29-year-old gunman who went on a shooting rampage in a popular gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday wouldn’t have been able to buy the weapon he used to kill 49 people and injure 53.
If it weren’t so easy to get a gun in this country, another gunman who came before him wouldn’t have been able to use the same kind of firearm to kill elementary-school children in Newtown, Conn.
If it weren’t so appallingly easy to get a gun in this country, it wouldn’t be easy for the next gunman to deliver the kind of carnage that’s as much a part of this country as the American flag.
And there will undoubtedly be a next one.
This has been said, but bears repeating and repeating and repeating some more. If nothing changed after children were slaughtered in their school, do any of us really believe anything will change after the deaths of people so many fear and loathe simply for trying to live their truths?
The gunman was apparently enraged over seeing a same-sex couple kiss. Think about that. Love enraged him. Love made him kill.
But I try not to think about any of that as I drive over to the gun shop in Philadelphia. I need to come up with some plausible story, I think. What if I’m asked why, a day after this massacre, I want to buy the very type of gun used to slaughter people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
I consider my options:
I’m a woman who wants a rifle for safety reasons.
I’m a gun enthusiast with a soft spot for military-style rifles.
I’m a card-carrying member of the NRA who is afraid the government will be coming for my guns.
Turns out I don’t need a story. The AR-15 is on display in the window of the gun shop. It is being promoted as the gun of the week.
What will it take to buy one, I ask the sales guy.
Do I have identification? Yes.
Am I a U.S. citizen? Yes.
“Bingo,” the friendly gun shop sales guy said. “All we have to do is fill paperwork out.” I’ve filled out more paperwork at the doctor’s office for a routine checkup than I did Monday afternoon.
I felt a little squeamish about not telling him who I was and what I was trying to do, but this wasn’t about them; they weren’t doing anything illegal. The truth is that I could have bought the gun as easily in any gun shop in Pennsylvania. I just didn’t realize how easily.
Go to a licensed gun store. Fill out about a page and a half of forms. Wait (if that’s really the right word for it) for an instant background check, and then pay the man. I told the guy I was on a budget, so I got an AR-15 for $759.99. God bless America.
No need for a concealed carry permit. No mandatory training, though the guys did give me a coupon for a free day pass for a local gun range. No need for even a moment to at least consider how gross all of this felt as relatives of the dead were still being notified.
To be fair, there was an extra 10 or 15 minutes or so of chitchat inside the gun store before I walked out with a cardboard box with the words Smith & Wesson emblazoned on it, and an atta-girl for thinking ahead and buying the most popular rifle in the country before there’s a run on the gun from nervous gun owners who fear a ban on them.
“Yeah, because it was about the gun, not Islamic terrorism, right?” a man buying a gun offered, unsolicited.
Here we go, I thought.
The fact is, what shattered so many lives in the early hours Sunday was about many things.
Homophobia, first and foremost.
Radicalism - the American gunman claimed allegiance to the Islamic State and praised the Boston Marathon bombers. Even if that’s not true, the radicals won’t have a problem with that.
And yes, guns. Insane, nonsensical access to guns. So pick whatever reason or narrative matches your politics or agenda. Have at it, because the truth is that while they all play a part, what’s really destroying this country is fear and hate. A festering fear and hate that we better think about when it’s time to vote for our next president, because the fear and hate is not all coming from the outside. It’s not all from some unnamed foreign bogeyman. Increasingly it’s from within, from down the street, the next state over, the next potential leader of this country.
As I walked to my car with my brand-new gun, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t want it, but I also didn’t want it in anyone else’s hands either.
So I drove to the Philadelphia Police Department’s Sixth District, where I seemed to stump more than a few officers when I explained who I was and what I wanted to do. Have you ever tried to turn in a gun in this city? Spoiler alert: It takes longer than it does to buy a gun.
As an officer prepared the paperwork, I noticed a sign that hung on one of the walls.
United We Stand, it read.
My God, I thought, what a lie.
We are more divided every single day, and yet our answer to that is to meet fear and hate with more fear and hate and then expect a different outcome. To be shocked at the world we live in, left to do little else but hold vigils.
While we’re mourning the dead, let us mourn the national loss of humanity that is to blame for this world we have created.
And let us take more than seven minutes to do it.
Helen Ubinas is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.