I had assumed that I would need to get some type of license to purchase any kind of gun, and that in fact it would likely involve a background check and probably a waiting period. So I was somewhat non-plussed to find out that there is no license, background check or waiting period required for purchasing an air rifle.
A second surprise came when I approached the huge floor-to-ceiling display of these rifles. They were graded by velocity, which ranged from 350-1200 feet/second. They were also graded by the size of the “varmint” (as the boxes labeled them) that the rifle would “take out” (again, their term). On each box was a silhouette of the intended animal target. These ranged from squirrels and rodents, to woodchucks and raccoons, to beavers and foxes, and finally, bobcats and coyotes.
Bobcats and coyotes? Wouldn’t an air rifle capable of “taking out” a bobcat or a coyote also be capable of “taking out” a human being? And this is a gun that requires no license, background checks or waiting periods?
In the end, with increased misgivings, I settled on the least powerful of all the items available. It was marked “Entry Level” and bore no images of creatures it was designed to kill. It was, to be specific, a Marlin Cowboy lever-action .177 caliber BB rifle with a wood stock and a metal barrel, adjustable rear sight, and a velocity of “up to” 350 feet/second. Total cost: $39.99, plus $3.95 for 1500 BBs. It looked exactly like the Red Ryder air rifle that Ralphie longs for in “A Christmas Story – and, like that one, carried the warning that it “may cause serious injury, particularly to the eye.”
This is an excerpt from this week's "Cape Cod Notebook." The full essay can heard in the audio posted above.