I first fired a gun when I was about four years old. My dad hunted some, but was more of a “plinker,” which means he was more interested in shooting tin cans in the country than stalking pheasants or deer. When I was very young, we lived in an old house that had a dirt-walled basement. Dad and I would go down there and stick a dime into the wall. He would kneel and rest the long stock of his Browning semi-automatic .22 rifle on his shoulder. I would stand behind him, aim at the dime, and shoot.
As we grew up, Dad would take me and my brothers shooting at fast-flowing Mosquito Creek. We’d plink some tin cans and then the real contest would begin. Dad had saved our burned out light bulbs for a year. He’d toss them, one at a time, into the creek. My youngest brother would take a shot. If he missed the bobbing receding target, the rifle was passed to the middle brother. If he missed, I got a shot. By this time the bulb was getting pretty small. If I missed, Dad would break it every time—but only after waiting a few more seconds to let the target float away to a respectable distance. Anything under fifty yards was too easy.
I continued to plink through high school. It was a cheap date to take a girl down to the creek and shoot fifty rounds—and it made me seem more interesting than the guys who took her to a movie. I often hunted rabbits and squirrels with a high-school friend who actually cleaned and ate them. But since high school, I hadn’t done much shooting of any kind.
About ten years ago, a few co-workers and I started going to Bill’s after work. We’d rent a pistol and shoot targets for an hour or so, then get to the real reason we’d taken off early from work—going to the Robbinsdale Muni for beers. We called ourselves the Drunks with Guns Club, although we were smart enough to do the shooting first and the drinking after. It was an infrequent club, and died off when I changed jobs. Then, last year, Dad gave me the P.38 for Christmas. As I racked the slide a couple of times in his living room and listened to those sounds once again, I could feel the old compulsions starting to build.
Bill’s Gun Shop and Range in Robbinsdale is subtly military in its demeanor. All of the salespeople on the floor are dressed in black shirts with the Bill’s logo above the pocket. Their trousers are khaki, but not like what you’d get from the Gap. The back pocket openings are slashes, and there is a canvas strap over the right one. The leg pocket layout is slightly different from that of typical cargo pants. There is a small pocket high on the left leg, about the size of a pistol magazine, and the knees are double layered. These are “tactical” pants. Every employee carries a large-caliber sidearm in a clearly visible holster. Every one of them is unfailingly polite and extremely knowledgeable about the merchandise.
The showroom holds five tall, locked glass showcases. They are filled with about two hundred pistols, both new and used. If you ask to see a pistol, the clerk unlocks the case, removes the pistol you wish to examine, racks the slide open (or drops the cylinder, if it’s a revolver) to check that it is unloaded, shows the open chamber to you so you can confirm it is unloaded, and only then inserts an empty magazine, closes the slide, and hands you the pistol, butt first. That’s how it should be done. That’s how it’s always done at Bill’s.
On the north wall of the display floor hang assault rifles and shotguns. These are not locked away, but can only be handled with the assistance of a clerk. If you take one down, and you haven’t asked first, a clerk is with you right away to make sure you are getting the proper instruction and information about what you are looking at.