Nancy Lanza and I shared a hobby: guns.
I first picked up a gun in 2004. I was 25 years old and had already gone through all sorts of heinous tribulations that I had convinced myself were female rites of passage—a date rape in Newark, N.J.; an assault by two men in Martha’s Vineyard; and three violent muggings in New York City. I’d walked in and out of therapy and enrolled and dropped out of several self-defense classes when I realized my physical prowess did not match my mental brawn. But in 2004, I was living in Chicago and hanging out with a lot of tough guys, or so they liked to pretend. And a boyfriend took me to a shooting range for the first time—me in my long layered hair, glasses, and white lacy sweater, whining about what recoil might feel like while in aisles next to me men shot photocopied Osama bin Laden targets. I put on the goggles and earmuffs, took the .22 as if it were a snappy puppy that might bite, and I fired.
I fell in love with guns from the first shot. It’s hard to explain what it was that did it. The hard pop and cold ease in the aftermath—a sort of Zen-like calm that spreads through you after the high adrenaline burst of the shot. Or was it the fact that I was actually good at it, a fairly decent shot, and a dog-and-pony show for the shooting range that afternoon? Oh, look, a girl who can shoot. Or was it the power, the feeling that I was in control of something that could destroy more effectively than almost anything on the planet? That I, a historically scrawny, weak nerd who’d been the prey to all sorts of danger, could now be the danger.
The attention I got at the range that day, with big working-class Chicago guys marveling at my lady-focus and lady-drive and lady-aim! My boyfriend was never so proud. I posted a series of my new shooting-range photos on MySpace, and I never felt sexier.
I had discovered yet another calling that would upend expectation. Like reports about Nancy Lanza, I liked craft beers and outdrinking men at bars. I knew my Cormac McCarthy and my Herman Melville and my Jack London, my James Bond and my rappers and motorcycles. My first crush was the Marlboro Man, his ads all over my bedroom. Guns seemed the pinnacle of virility, and the ultimate way for me to be a badass woman—a tough girl in a man’s world, just a hair shy of being an actual man.
So for years, I went to shooting ranges. I shot .22-caliber rifles and M1911 semi-automatic pistols and Marlin .30-30 lever rifles and Glocks and ultimately even a shotgun. Boyfriends came and went, and they were all amazed by my love of guns and shooting. Until the one that wasn’t. We got serious just as I was considering buying a .357 Magnum. “I’d consider leaving you if you got one,” he said. “I don’t want that in my house.”
I remember laughing and saying something emasculating. But I was surprised. And I listened to his argument and realized that this man actually loved me and in building a life with me, one that could include children even, felt it would not be possible if I harbored instruments of death in our nest. I told him I’d forget about it. But I didn’t.