Before moving to Alaska, I had always associated gun ownership with nut jobs, perhaps because the only people I knew who owned guns were distant relatives who got their son started on a shotgun collection at the manly age of six. I also once dated a concealed-weapon-holding handgun owner in the Washington, D.C. area who, after three very strange dates, was revealed to indeed be a nut job.
After moving to Alaska, I was initially unnerved by the pervasive presence of firearms - EVERYWHERE. All of our major low-priced household retailers sport extensive gun sections, complete with a variety of seriously scary looking handguns, sporty shotguns, and family-friendly rifles for all ages, including lovely little pink guns for the under-12 Barbie set. I also realized that I had to redefine my understanding of the word “sports” in Alaska’s retail environment after popping into both Anchorage’s Mountain View Sports and Wasilla’s Sportsman’s Warehouse in search of a basketball and ice skates only to find shotguns and fishing lures.
I’m still astounded, too, by the number of people I’ve met in the past ten years who live in urban Anchorage and suburban Eagle River who own guns. Our neighbors, co-workers, doctors, and elementary school teachers seem to have at least a firearm or two in their arsenal. Alaska is actually the #1 state in the nation for gun ownership with almost 61% of households owning at least one gun. What has amazed me even more was that, out of the many Alaskan gun owners I’ve met, none of them (bar two) have been nut jobs.
Trick-or-Treating at the Gun Counter in Wal-Mart
Perhaps many people here on the last frontier own guns because gun ownership in Alaska is dead easy. Neither permits nor licenses are required, even for handguns. Although Alaska offers a license to carry a concealed handgun, it is not required. Because of this unusual practice, the term “Alaska carry” has come to describe state laws in which no concealed weapons permits are needed but are still offered for when gun owners travel to other states that honor the permit.
Carrying out our Second Amendment right to the fullest has come at a price, however. Our crime rate is lower than many large, congested urban environments, but Alaska is #3 in the nation in gun deaths per capita. Our all-too-frequent suicides, murder-suicides, and accidental deaths have been largely at the hands of guns. A student at my daughter’s school last year was killed in an accidental shooting at a friend’s 14th birthday party.
Despite all these sobering statistics, ten years of life in the 49th state has deadened my sensitivity to lethal weapons and their omnipresence in our lives. Guns have become a natural part of the local backdrop, as normal as earthquakes, drive-thru coffee, and moose nuggets. Perhaps this is what lowered my resistance and allowed my husband and me to catch gun fever and come to the surprising realization that, well, guns are fun.
Now before I go any further, I feel I must make a confessional disclaimer. My husband and I haven’t actually caught full-blown, rifle-totin’, handgun-concealin’ gun fever. We have contracted its milder cousin in the form of a distinct affinity for airsoft guns. Airsoft guns are replicas of actual bullet-firing firearms but fire small plastic, spherical pellets instead. This tiny ammunition provides only a slight sting when striking its intended target and is available in both glow-in-the-dark and biodegradable form.
We decided to turn to airsoft guns because we had finally had enough. We’ve lived in a log house six miles up into the Chugach Mountains for five years now. Every autumn, we come under attack by squadrons of squirrels looking for a way in for the winter and multitudes of magpies in search of nesting materials. After sealing up every exterior orifice on our house with a fine wire mesh, the squirrels have finally realized that they are unwelcome guests and have given up. The magpies, however, have held steadfast in their persistence. After the initial occasional trepidatious trips to pluck insulation from a secluded back window, the magpies have become more brazen, spending up to half an hour pecking away at our front door, trying to pluck sizable strips from deep within our door frame.
We tried to deflect their attacks with loud noises and spray bottles to no avail. We knew it was time to increase our firepower. Not wanting to kill the magpies, we thought a good old airsoft gun would be just scary enough to keep them away for a while. Our neighbor’s pre-teen sons had used this technique with great success in keeping the local squirrel population at bay, so we thought we’d give it a shot. We trekked to our nearest superstore and found what sounded like the perfect blend of war and peace for our battle against the magpies - the “full automatic Defender of World Peace electronic supersoft gun.”
Unlike our neighbor’s kids, who scare off squirrels and magpies while they are already playing outside with their own Defenders of World Peace, our efforts have met with less success. By the time we see or hear an offending avian culprit, find the airsoft gun, load it, and run outside, it is too late. We only see a streak of black and white flying across the sky clutching a shock of pink insulation in its beak.
Although we couldn’t manage to hit or even fire at a moving target in time, we did become quite adept at hitting paper cups and water bottles from an impressive distance of ten feet away. We’ve had so much fun with our “Defender of World Peace” that we’ve been thinking about upgrading to a Red Ryder BB gun. At this rate, I hope we’re not onto Uzis by Christmas!