Two Journalists Walk Into a Gun Dealership…

One of them is on the verge of hyperventilation. Armed with a debilitating fear of firearms, there she stood, sandwiched in between two shelves lined with long guns. For a good cause, she reminded herself as she exchanged a glance with her partner, for journalism.

At Colby College on March 11, a Waterville resident fired two shots from a 9mm handgun. While no one was injured, its occurrence echoed like something of a warning signal. 

Bates’ proximity to Colby raised a question for the investigators: How easy is it to purchase a gun near Bates? 

Outside of the store, a flag that reads ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ is displayed. After some pause, they push the door open and are greeted by two older white men standing behind the counter consulting other customers. 

The two browse the racks of rifles and attempt to gather themselves before initiating a conversation with a salesman.

With a smile, the salesman rises from his chair and rests his hands on the glass case filled with a variety of handguns. “How are you, folks? What can I do for you guys?” 

They step up to the counter, and inquire about self defense weapons. The man is helpful and talkative, resembling an uncle at a family barbeque. 

The teenagers originate from Virginia and California—two very different states with very different gun laws. Both girls are more than a little uneducated on guns, especially Maine guns, and made this clear to the salesman. Upon learning this, the man hands the teenagers a business card of an instructor in Portland that teaches classes about gun use. He said the classes are “not at all required” in the state of Maine as of October 2015, but they used to be mandatory if one wanted a conceal and carry license.

Still, the two are comforted by the simple act of suggesting these classes to be taken by novice gun owners.

He tells the girls about handguns, explaining the differences between revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Before endorsing one over the other, he asks the girls if they would store this weapon in their house or carry it with them throughout the day; they elect the latter choice, which leads him to recommend a revolver. At one point, he removes one revolver from the glass case to demonstrate the ease in loading it, clearly indicating his personal preference. 

Then, the salesman asks for the age of his potential customers. After discovering that they are not yet 21, the salesman says he could not sell them a handgun but if a guardian or parent bought it as a gift, that is “perfectly legal.”

The two then inquire about which guns an 18-year-old could buy from the store. He references the guns from the racks the two were originally looking at, and after mentioning an AR-15 rifle, the investigators prompt him further.

“Are those the ones that are in the news lately?” 

“All the time… the way the media talks about it you’d think there’s a mass shooting every seven seconds, and they’re all done with AR-15’s, [but] it’s simply not true.”

He suggests they watch some videos by the Youtuber Colion Noir, who has amassed 2.48 million subscribers at the time of this article for his videos about guns and advocacy for the Second Amendment.

In one of his more popular videos, titled “Top 5 Reasons You Need an AR-15,” Noir cites five reasons AR-15’s are needed, ranging from defending yourself from mobs during phases of civil unrest to ‘if criminals have them, you need one too.’ 

AR-15’s are a popular type of semi-automatic rifle, which are considered the civilian version of military weapons. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault-weapon ban that lasted for the next decade. While the number of mass shootings during this period decreased in comparison to previous decades, the ban expired in 2004. Semi-automatic rifles were quickly reintroduced into the market and are a primary choice for many gun owners today.

Though the investigators didn’t get far enough in the process to purchase a gun, it’s almost certain that if one of them showed a Maine license that aged them at least 18 years old, they could have walked out of the shop with an AR-15.

As the two left, the salesman called out to them, “Stay safe.” 

After all, isn’t that what we all want? This issue is incredibly polarizing, but pro-gun or anti-gun, the ultimate goal is to feel safe within our country. While the investigators’ beliefs may have remained relatively the same, they are glad they embarked on this journey. It taught them both the true importance in seeking out opinions besides their own, even if the path to doing so is fraught with fear.

Though the investigators answered their original question, there is one left on their minds: Are guns really the answer to a growing need for safety in the United States?