What Do You Say to a Police Captain?

A friend had given my husband a handgun.

English: Tango show in Buenos Aires Español: E...

Tango show in Buenos Aires (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The friend had bought it for protection, but was leaving the country and didn’t want to carry it with him.

Though he had a license for the gun, the serial number had been filed off.

My husband threw it in the closet and forgot about it.

Until the coup.

We were living in Argentina.

It was March 24, 1976.

The Army had tried to hold a coup in December, three months before.

But, the other services got together and talked them out of it.

“You remember what it was like last time. We got blamed for everything that happened afterwards.”

“This time, even though inflation is already more than 1,000 percent, we must wait until most Argentines understand that we are only going to step in to save the country from an economic death spiral if we have to.”

On March 24, 1976, the armed services decided they could not wait any longer.

Because they believed unions were arming, one of their first decrees was that anyone with guns must turn them in to their local police stations.

My husband remembered the gun in the closet.

We discussed it.

This was during a time when citizens were being arrested in the middle of the night, taken away in police cars with no markings and no license plates.

They either showed up three days later or disappeared forever, with the police claiming no knowledge of their whereabouts.

We could not take the risk that someone knew we had a gun and would report us if we did not turn it in.

We decided to walk to the police station.

My husband took the clip out of the gun and we put gun and clip in my purse.

The one-mile walk to the police station took us by armed soldiers on every street corner.

We knew there was a union office in our neighborhood that had been raided and guns confiscated.

The Police Station

When we arrived at the police station, there was a policeman with a bullet-proof vest and a big, scary gun resting in his arm at the door.

He asked us in Spanish, “Why are you here?”

My husband, who speaks fluent Spanish, told him we were there to turn in a gun, as the coup directive broadcast on television the night before had told us to.

He aimed his gun at us and asked, “Where is the gun?”

My husband told him it was in my purse.

He aimed his gun at me and asked me to take the gun out of my purse.

My husband gingerly lifted the clip out first, to make it clear the gun was not loaded, then started to take out the gun.

The policeman stopped us, reassured that we were not carrying a loaded weapon.

Then, he called back into the open plaza of the police station.

“Someone’s here who wants to turn in a gun.”

“Send them in.”

Do You Have the License?

We sat for an hour.

Eventually, the police captain came to talk to us.

“You have to understand, we got no advance warning about this directive or instructions on how to carry it out.

“We heard about it on tv last night, the same time you did.”

“You are the first ones to turn in a weapon.”

“Why don’t you take the gun back home and, in a week or so, when we know what we’re supposed to do, you can bring it back in.”

I conveyed to my husband that there was no way I was going to carry a gun back through the streets of Buenos Aires, with armed soldiers on every street corner, subject to a search at any time.

He tried to explain to the captain that his wife would not carry the gun back home.

Then, he offered it to the captain as a gift.

Sensitive to the appearance of bribery, the captain refused.

But, he came up with a compromise.

“I will accept the gun, temporarily, store it for you, and give you a receipt.”

“When all this calms down in a week or so, you may come back and retrieve the gun.”

Then, I noticed that the license that had been in an envelope with the gun was nowhere to be seen.

I asked the captain where the license was.

He explained to me gently,

“Señora, I am the Captain of the Police. I do not need a license to carry a gun.”

I asked my husband to convey that I did not mean the captain’s license.

I meant the license that went with the gun.

By then, however, it seemed a point not worth pursuing.

We knew we were never going to come back for the gun.

We went home to our apartment and home to the United States several months later.

The Argentine coup that toppled the government on March 24, 1976 kept the government in military hands until 1983.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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