It’s not hard to get your hands on illegal guns and rifles in America. It took me about two hours. I called a guy from the old neighborhood in LA, said something about a “piece”, and, hours later, I was staring at an AK-47 and an illegally modified AR-15, which were sitting on a kitchen table. Welcome to America.

Admittedly, he was surprised at my interest in being strapped since it’s been a good minute since I was about the life, but when I explained I was simply curious to see how long it’d take for me to get a gat, he agreed to the idea. He had some handguns, too, he said, although I didn’t see ‘em. I took his word for it after seeing the AK-47 and AR-15, because those weapons leave an impression.

Some of the weapons were smuggled in, while others were bought on the up and up – waiting period and all. Moving them is not his thing; he collects, and, on occasion, heads out to the desert with others to shoot. If I needed something, we could talk to another homie and with a few hundred dollars out of pocket, I’d be set. I passed on the opportunity.

I didn’t expect my search to be so successful – especially since the black market usually requires some know-how, something I don’t have much of these days, since, well, I’ve done a complete 180, and I rarely spend any time even associating with people running afoul of the law. But it was shockingly easy.

Looking at these highly dangerous weapons, I felt deeply disturbed – despite being a veteran and having served in Iraq. There’s something about seeing these weapons here in the US and not in a combat zone; it makes it all too unsettling, as though they’re out of place with the idea I have of a peaceful America in my mind.

I found it hard not to wonder if people planning mass shootings found it just as easy to get their hands on dangerous and illegal weapons as I did. It seems so, unfortunately.

When I was growing up, you lived by the gun and died by the gun. You respected the steel. The sounds of drive-bys would keep me up at night. My Tío Memo and Tío Beto were killed by guns in East LA in the late 1990s. Our aunt’s home in City Terrace was shot at while everyone was sitting outside eating and drinking, celebrating life. And, then, in Fresno, right there off of Ninth Street near the McKenzie Market, tough boys in their Nike Cortez shoes who were “slanging shit” on the block killed a kid for wearing the wrong color or something. On another occasion, after a shooting, my sister Jenny and I saw a body on the floor riddled with bullets on our way home from church.

The first time I saw a gun up close I was a kid – about 12 years old. I remember feeling intimidated by the heavy handgun and its shiny exterior. It was in this purple velvet Crown Royal bag and belonged to a teacher’s assistant at the elementary school, who showed it to me one morning before school in his car, parked near the front of the main building. The next time I saw a gun was when them tough boys, cousins of a childhood friend, rushed another kid because he had stepped to me a day earlier for talking to his sister. The oldest of the cousins walked down the block with a small piece to his side, with little regard for who saw what. People don’t talk on the block. He then told the kid that, the next time he stepped to me, he’d have to answer to him (and his gun). I never heard from the kid or his sister again.

Still, despite the gun violence I lived through, I go shooting at the range to this day. Usually, with a Glock 45 and a Beretta 9. I like guns, especially the physics of ballistics, something I learned about in the military. I also respect the Second Amendment. What concerns me is how easy it is for people who are dangerous to get their hands on weapons.

My homie with the AK-47 told me that mass shooters don’t go out of their way to find a shady character like him to buy from; they don’t have to. He claimed their arms dealers get those weapons legally, along with some baby formula and peanut butter, depending on where they live in the US. Then they have a bad day, maybe a bad week, and decide everyone else is responsible for it. He asked me: “When was the last time a brown or black kid from the hood was shooting up schools like the white kids?” I didn’t say a word – but I remembered the drive-bys of my childhood, and how differently politicians and the media treated them.

Mass shootings in schools and other public places targeting middle class, sometimes mostly white, America are becoming so widely accepted as a normal way of life people have the audacity to say add more guns. But imagine this being said if we were talking about gang violence in some inner city neighborhood in Los Angeles. It just wouldn’t happen.

Having grown up in the hood, I know the government can take away guns if they want to. I’ve seen it happen. When they crack down on gang violence, they bust down some doors, make arrests, even take some guns regardless of whether they were obtained legally – never mind the Second Amendment. But America seems concerned with taking guns away from some people more than others. This disparity makes no sense.

Guns are just as dangerous in the hands of gang-bangers as in the hands of a young man with mental health issues. It’s time that our politicians acknowledge that it’s way too easy to get guns – legal and illegal – in this country. No one should be able to get an AK-47 through a few phone calls – including me.

Until we make it harder for everyone to get guns, it looks like mommies and daddies will instead consider buying their little girls and boys backpacks with bulletproof plates inside, forcing them to carry the weight on their shoulders of our collective inaction as a nation.