Pro-gun people are always talking about fixing the mental health system, but concrete proposals are in short supply. Meanwhile, the mental health community is fiercely protective of patient privacy, and these interests can run counter to the reporting necessary for any background check to be effective. The salesman took my paperwork into the back room, where he checked the six-digit PIN on my firearms license against the computerized state database and ran my information through the F.B.I.’s national instant criminal background check system. Fifteen minutes and a few hundred dollars later, I was an official gun owner.

Then I knew precisely the word for the feeling that shell casing gave me every time I felt for it in my vest pocket. The word was “transgressive” and the effect was steroidal. I was the father of a gun-murdered child and I had taken a gun course and obtained a gun license and purchased a gun. I wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but I was doing it anyway.

One other realization accompanied the rush of power that surged through me. When you walk down the street knowing you are lethal, there can be no such thing as a “modest” gun. That was why the little Ruger remained so long in a drawer in my desk, rendered inoperative by a cable gun lock strung through its innards. Weeks passed before I was able to muster up the courage to try shooting the thing.