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Glock 19

“The gun feels much too good.”

 I was reading the first, early news about the Virginia Tech killings, feeling disgusted by anyone who could inflict such damage on anyone else but smug in my psychic distance from the killer, when my eyes locked on one phrase:

…9 millimeter Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol…

 My throat went dry. I know that gun. I could see that gun in my hands, black and strangely beautiful. I have even written lustfully about that gun, in an essay celebrating guns, women, and lesbian love.

 Most of the “gun” part of that essay is about the M16A1—the rifle I shot as a young recruit on a training range in the Air Force—but at the end of the essay, as a civilian unable to stop loving guns, I drive to a gun store. From this point forward, Seung-Hui Cho and I are nearly in lockstep.

 “I walk up to the glass counter packed with pistols neatly lined up on velvet with price tags turned out so I don’t even have to ask, and I looky-loo for a while as a businessman with rolled-up sleeves leans one elbow on the cash register and talks about how he’s going to cook the wild duck he shot last weekend.”

 According to Time Magazine, John Markell, owner of Roanoke Firearms, said “Cho browsed for awhile, then picked out a Glock 19, which was not an unusual choice.” Like Cho, I then talked to a gun clerk, in my case a woman with curling chestnut-brown hair.

 “She then says she has just the thing for me and disappears in the back of the store, returning a moment later to open a smooth black plastic case and reveal a nine millimeter semi-automatic Glock, its black matte contours nestled in dimpled pink foam.”

 John Markell probably didn’t engage with Cho or say he had “just the thing” for him. Cho, as the world knows now, was a silent young man who saved his raging gibberish for poetry and screenplays so weird they scared several writing instructors. But for both of us, there came a moment where the gun was brought forth and became the object of desire.

 “I run my right hand across the twin nubs of its sights while inhaling the light musk scent of gun oil; then I slowly trace my fingers along the smooth, silky curves of the barrel before toying with the dark recesses of the pistol’s frame.”

 Here is where Cho and I parted ways. Cho, the killer, filled out paperwork, bought the gun, and later used it to kill 32 people. (He also used a .22 Walther.) I, the writer, took a business card, a list of firing ranges, and some adjectives, and went home to write the first notes toward what I intended to be a provocative essay. I later made an appointment with a weapons instructor to spend an afternoon on an indoor firing range earning my first NRA badge, an achievement so out of sync with the gentle Birkenstockian activities of the typical writing student that I pointedly mentioned it in the forward to my thesis.

 Above all, I wanted to prove to my writing instructor that I was not, in his words, afraid of “risk” in my writing, a word that rang in my ears louder than the echo of a .45.

 “I feel myself succumb. I am born for this gun. It is costly; it is dangerous; it is beautiful. It is, perhaps, irresistible.”

 This isn’t a moral fable about not judging by appearances, or whether handguns should be legal, or even how we can tell the difference between writing that is the product of a writing student hell-bent on impressing her instructor or originates from a rank cesspool of insanity and evil. I don’t have answers to any of these questions.

 But what strikes me most now—what I draw comfort from—is the fundamental goodness of most members of the writing community. I wrote that essay feeling my mind on the keen edge of outlier behavior; I wrote it to be racy and more than a little disruptive; and that is how it was received. What I did not know then was that an essay where the only thing destroyed is a paper target is as close to the edge as most healthy writers ever go. We innocents cannot really comprehend the world Cho inhabited—and God willing, we never will.

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