“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner
Yesterday, I took an old man to a gun shop. He is my friend. I know the guy from the synagogue. He’s an immigrant from Ukraine. He came to the United States from the ruins of the old Soviet Union in the 1990s as a political refugee. Back in the old country, he experienced antisemitism, the old school variety. Now, with the fighting in Gaza and the pro-Palestinian demonstrations in our country, he is afraid.
My friend wants to buy a gun.
I am not convinced that buying a pistol is a good idea, at least not for my friend. For a man his age, he is in remarkably good shape. He is mind is sharp as a razor, and his body is intact. My friend is a stubborn old man. So am I, so understand him. Once he latches onto to an idea, he hangs on to it like a bulldog. He has convinced himself that he needs a pistol (specifically, a SIG Sauer P365), and he wants to get a concealed carry license. I’m not going to change his mind, but he might change it on his own.
Shooters is a basically a bunker. there is a sign outside the place that proudly proclaims the business to be veteran-owned. Inside, there is a small gun shop and an indoor shooting range. There are no windows in the building. To enter, a person has to go through a set of heavy steel doors. The interior is well lit but claustrophobic. There is a smell in the place that can only be found around freshly cleaned firearms. I could also detect a whiff of gunpowder smoke from the firing range. That scent is impossible to mistake.
I drive my friend to Shooters, a gun store north of Racine, Wisconsin. the old guy doesn’t have a driver’s license anymore. It seems odd to me that the State of Wisconsin won’t let him operate a motor vehicle, but it will gladly issue him a concealed carry permit. Go figure.
We walked up to a young man working behind the counter. He tall and thin with a tattoo above his right eyebrow. He was friendly. I let my friend do the talking. He’s the one who wants the gun. The old man asked the young one about getting a compact pistol for concealed carry. The vendor pulled up his shirt to show my friend the SIG Sauer in the holster on his belt. The young guy walked over to the show case to bring out a couple different models for my friend to handle. My friend asked the gun dealer about how many rounds the magazine held. The smaller model had an eight-round magazine, but the young man assured my friend that they could order him a magazine with a larger capacity.
At this point, it might be worthwhile to note that the old guy has in fact fired a weapon. His father was an officer in the Soviet Army during World War II. My friend’s dad showed him how to shoot the standard issue Soviet Army pistol. That was over seventy years ago. The man hasn’t shot a round since then. He’s out of practice.
My friend held the gun in his hand. He struggled to move the slide. The young guy told him that the slide was probably a bit stiff because it was a brand-new pistol. He gave my friend one of the weapons they rent and told him that the slide should be easier to move. It wasn’t. My friend had a tremor in his left hand as he worked to move the slide.
The conversation shifted to the subject of getting a concealed carry license. The old man somehow had the idea that he needed 36 hours of practice with the weapon before he could qualify for the permit. The dealer explained to him that was not the case, and that the gun shop held regular classes for concealed carry. Each class lasted three hours and cost $75. After the class, my friend would get a form to fill out and send to the state. That was the whole deal.
My friend kept asking the young guy questions in his thick Slavic accent. The old man couldn’t quite accept the idea that getting the license was that simple. My friend also asked the young man how much everything would cost: the pistol, the hostler, the ammo, cleaning equipment, targets for the range, etc. The old guy tallied up the numbers in his head and sighed.
He said, “I think for everything, it is maybe $1000.”
The dealer nodded.
I told my friend, “That’s about right. Owning and shooting a gun is expensive.”
We left the gun shop without buying the SIG. My friend needed more time think about it. I drove him to my house. We had coffee with my wife as our little grandson, Asher, ran wild. The old man started telling us stories from his life. That’s what old men do.
He was only a child when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. He and his grandfather were evacuated to the east as the Nazis advanced. Both of my friend’s parents were Soviet officers, and the children of some military personnel sent out of harm’s way, or at least that was the plan.
My friend told us, “We were in the train heading to a town on the Volga. The German fighters, the Stukas, fired on the train. We all got out and ran for cover. My grandfather, he threw himself over me when the planes were shooting. I looked from under his arm, and I saw the bullets tearing up the ground. When the planes left, I saw dead bodies around us, and blood on the ground. I was just an eight-year-old boy, and those things I saw!”
My wife, Karin, listened silently. Her father had also fought in Russia during World War II, but her father had been on the German side. Karin’s dad had been an enlisted man in the Luftwaffe. My friend knows this.
My friend told me a story once about what happened when he was a teenager. A few says before Stalin died, he issued a decree that the Soviet Jews should be deported to the labor camps in Siberia. My friend’s father knew about the order. One day, my friend saw his father carefully cleaning his parabellum (Lugar). My friend asked his father, “Daddy, what are you doing?’
His dad explained that men from military intelligence would be coming for him. He told his boy, “I will kill them all before they take me.”
Stalin died, and the order was never carried out. Twenty years later, my friend’s father told his boy that he not only intended to kill the soldiers coming to take him away. He had also expected to shoot his wife and son before they were deported to the labor camps.
My friend told us other stories. He told us about how his son was not allowed to become an aviation engineer in the Soviet Union because he was a Jew. He told us how, after the USSR collapsed, ultranationalist Ukrainian militiamen came to his home to threaten the lives of him and his family because they were Jews.
After my friend was done talking, I drove him home. He talked about the Palestinians. He talked about threats. He told me, “Nobody will protect us. We Jews have to protect ourselves.”
I parked on the street in front of his apartment building. He grasped my arm as we sat in the car. He asked me, “You will be at the shul on Saturday?”
He squeezed arm a bit tighter. He said, “You are a good friend. I will see you on Saturday.” Then he got out of the car and left.
I don’t know if he will ever buy the gun.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.