Commentary by ALLEN ETZLER
ANNAPOLIS—I was brought up around firearms. I was taught to treat them with respect, but not fear them.
So, three months after turning 21, right around Christmas, I decided it was time to buy my first handgun.
My stepfather, who is my lifelong firearms instructor, informed me that buying a handgun would be a long process. The most fun part of the process would be deciding what I wanted to buy.
I wanted the gun for target shooting. I wanted something with inexpensive ammunition, and that was easy to operate, reliable and accurate. I also wanted something fairly affordable, because it was a Christmas present from my parents.
Dec. 16 (Day 1): Nine days before Christmas, I walked into Hendershots Sporting Goods, in Hagerstown, thinking I was going to buy an M1911 pistol, but after holding and examining an array of guns, I decided I wanted a Smith and Wesson 22A semi-automatic handgun. I knew nothing about the gun, but I loved its functionality and feel.
I took it to the register to begin the process. I handed the clerk my drivers license, so he could begin filling out his portion of the paperwork. I thought that after filling out the paperwork I would get to take my gun home. I was wrong.
The store clerk brought me four forms to fill out. One was the federal form required for any firearm purchased from a licensed dealer. The second was the application for a regulated firearm, which is where the background check takes place. The third was the state registration of the firearm.
The final form is a one-sheet piece of paper that requires only your signature. This paper is a waiver that says the purchaser recognizes the requirement of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or any facility similar, to disclose to the Maryland State Police whether you have a mental disorder, and a history of violence.
The background check form consisted of 11 yes or no answer questions that required my initials after each one. The questions addressed my age, U.S. citizenship, use of drugs or alcohol, history of mental illness and criminal history. One question requires the applicant to write-in his or her country of citizenship. If the applicant is not a citizen, he or she must write in their INS-issued alien number or admission number.
The gun registration form contains the firearm information, including the serial number, make and model of the firearm, as well as personal information, and dealer information.
I submitted the paperwork, paid the clerk and was getting ready to leave the store when the clerk told me that in order to be able to take the handgun home I was going to have to complete the Maryland State Police gun safety training course online, and bring a certificate of completion with me when I came to pick up the gun.
Maryland law requires a seven-day minimum waiting period before the purchaser can actually take a regulated firearm home with them. Depending on the number of firearms purchases statewide at the time, the waiting period can extend longer. During this period the police perform a ballistic fingerprinting test with the firearm.
Ballistic fingerprinting is a process in which one single round is fired from the gun. The firearm will leave a distinct set of marks on the casing that is only identifiable to that particular gun.
After the ballistics fingerprinting is done, the state police ships the gun back to the dealer.
Dec. 22 (Day 7): The Maryland gun safety course can be done online, so almost a week after my purchase, I began the safety-training program.
I watched several minutes of video clips, taking copious notes, as the instructor informed me about turning the safety on and off, assembling and disassembling the weapon, and the cardinal rules of safety for all handguns.
The video took nearly 30 minutes, and just as I prepared to use my notes for the final quiz, the instructor said I was finished and allowed me to print my certificate. The safety-training program does not require the handgun purchaser to pay attention to the program, nor does it require the purchaser to actually watch the video.
Dec. 24 (Day 9): On Christmas Eve, I still had not received a call about my gun being ready to pick up. It turns out that in the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., and because of fears about a possible assault weapons ban, gun sales in Maryland and elsewhere skyrocketed. Rather than seven days, my handgun was not ready to be picked up for 13 days.
Waiting periods have only increased since I purchased my gun and some people are waiting for more than three weeks.
Dec. 29 (Day 14): After I received notification that my gun was ready, I went back to the gun store to pick it up. When I arrived, the clerk handed me the gun, and some more paperwork. This paperwork was for proof that I received the gun. It took less than three minutes to fill it out and required only my signature and initials in a few places. That afternoon, I took my gun home.