"America is my place.... I have no choice, and I have always felt that. Anyplace else, I’m just a tourist, I don’t connect. In America, I feel as if I have some deep notion of what’s going on. I am trying to get at what I think about America. I can feel this country." - George Gardner
Exclusively represented by The Andrew Smith Gallery, Tucson, AZ., Deborah Bell Photographs, New York, and Paul M. Hertzmann Inc., San Francisco the collection of American documentary photographer George W. Gardner (b. 1940) comprises thousands of photographs realized largely between 1960 and 1988. His far-reaching work, truly an "American document," reveals his deep empathy for the American experience, from the most ordinary moments of daily life to events that have shaped American history.
Whether practicing primarily as an independent photographer and choosing his own subjects or working on assignment, Gardner created a unified vision that defines and encompasses the American experience.
In 1984 journalist Patrick Carr and George W. Gardner published Gun People. In interviews and environmental portraits of Americans who used guns, this prescient landmark explores one of the most controversial arenas of current political, personal and journalistic interest. With nuance and complexity, the book delves into the large and small issues around all aspects of this debate.
The Gardner portraits combined with the first person interviews create a highly charged document which now stands as the most important documentary study of a large segment of the American population in the late 20th Century. It is unflinchingly straightforward in its photography and texts, examining guns, history, paranoia, fear, machismo, hubris and common sense.
Gardner did not approach his subjects for this project as an outsider. Both a photographer and animal trapper, he grew up in rural America where there was little controversy over the practical aspects of gun ownership. The results are consummate photographs devoid of confrontational irony or judgement.
In the introduction Carr summarizes the statistics (at that time) and positions in the pro-gun and gun control debate:
The United States is the only nation in the world which specifically grants its citizens the right to own and bear arms. The Second Amendment to the Constitution declares that 'A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.'…
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the American’s right to self-protection with a gun has become a central issue in both the nation's perception of itself and the eyes of the world, and ever since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the overall trend has been toward tighter control (or elimination) of the private citizen's legal access to firearms. Behind this trend is the notion that large numbers of guns in the hands of the citizenry encourage crime and deadly violence that would not occur without the availability of such instruments.
Recently, however, that notion has come under concerted attack, and is no longer the article of political faith it once was. The sweeping trend toward tough gun-control laws is now a hard-fought, bitter, and often unsuccessful campaign. The notion that we live in a society which is far from 'civilized' and should act accordingly has risen to the fore, and more and more Americans of all political stripes are showing deep interest in the techniques of self-preservation…
The furor surrounding the debate is, in a way, responsible for the making of this book. The debate is so hot, and its issues so central, that it tends to be the only gun-related matter to which journalistic media professionals are willing to apportion time--which means that it is the only nonfictional gun--related information received by media consumers. Fictional input, of course, is available in megadoses--how would prime-time television sound without all those lively ripples of submachine gun fire, those manly shotgun blasts, the casual popping of .38s and '45s and '22s which keeps every plot line…moving right along?...
Obviously, there is a disturbing schizophrenia here, a strange and irrational divergence between the media's almost universally anti-gun journalistic coverage and its wholehearted fictional commitment to the gun as the power and glamour object, and the resultant middle-ground reality gap is communicated to media consumers….
It was this characteristic of media output, and the strength of the media-generated stereotypes available to me and those around me, that initiated my decision to embark upon Gun People; basically, I was curious, I wanted to find out who the 'gun people,' really were.
...Gun People demanded the 'oral history' approach. The whole rationale behind the book stemmed from the fact that the voices of 'gun people,' if heard at all in the mass media, are routinely muffled by the louder voices of the editors, producers, and reporters presenting them, so the task facing George Gardner and myself would be to simply present those voices as clearly as possible, regardless of our personal opinions of what was being said, The copy in the book, therefore, should be in the form of first-person monologues edited from tape-recorded interviews. Gun People is
not about gun people; It is gun people.
It is difficult to step back from the gun control debate, but I believe that some essential points about it must be made, and I feel compelled to make them. My position is that of the man in the middle; ever since beginning work on Gun People, I have been exposed to the arguments of both sides on a daily basis, and have become uniquely familiar with their ins and outs, and also their broader characteristics.
Given that, it seems to me that overall, the statistics favor the pro-gun forces, but those forces offer us a social scenario which is deeply disturbing. While their wish to see recreational shooters and responsible hunters take their pleasures without undue restriction is morally unassailable (except by animal-rights activists), the implications of their stance on handguns for personal protection are grim indeed: their relentless fight to guarantee the American citizen's right to defend his or her life with a gun implies that such an extreme is necessary in our society. That is a hard notion to sell to a nation which prides itself on its compassion. So, for the same reason, is their argument that what this country needs is not more restrictive gun control legislation, but a criminal justice system capable of removing the threat posed by violent criminals. Their basic point that a national handgun ban would be nothing more than a placebo for the liberal sensibility--is a very bitter pill indeed.
The gun-control advocates, on the other hand, seem to offer little in the way of persuasive statistics, but the basic emotional appeal of their cause-Guns kill people! Get rid of the gunsl Stop the killing!-is enormously seductive. One horrific incident of public mayhem like the 'McDonald's Massacre' of 1984 is fully capable of winning literally millions of supporters to their cause despite the fact that it obscures the less newsworthy but no less brutal (and infinitely more frequent) daily violation …[by stabbing and beating]...of unprotected citizens in their homes…
The arguments, therefore, are very different in tone and implication, and it is the great irony of the debate … that neither argument—one grimly pragmatic, the other heartbreakingly optimistic--can have any effect on the basic philosophy of its opponent.
Now it is time to meet some gun people.
Andrea Coulehan, an artist and mother who lives in Lenox, Massachusetts, shot a gun for the first time in fifteen years on the day she was interviewed.
I began shooting at the age of about ten because the late Al Dynan took me under his wing. He was a top shooter in the Northeast and he was also like a father to me.
We'd go out in the back and shoot his .45 whenever I was over at his house, which was frequently, and I really loved it. A gun is a very powerful thing, and as a kid, being able to shoot a gun was a big thing. None of my friends shot guns; they didn't do anything like that. I made bullets and everything, and I felt really good about that at that age.
I didn't really talk about it at school; it was just something special to me. And I was always outside, I was always sort of the tomboy of the family, so it was really natural for me to hook up with someone like Al, who didn't have any kids. He really liked showing me things, taught me how to drive his Jeep and stuff. He had hunting dogs, and I loved that whole life, I just thought it was wonderful. He was a country boy, very civic-minded, very bright, very compassionate. He had his own gun shop there in the house, and he had business from all over the country. Artie Shaw would come to the house, people like that. He made guns, too, and he was a hunter, and he would take me out hunting. He was a real sportsman, you know. He was a man’s man. It was all very powerful, I thought back then. I still do. That type of man is always attractive to me.
At Al's funeral there were a few younger people who expressed the same kind of feeling for him that I have, so I think he had other kids he took under his wing. I never knew about anybody else at the time, though---l thought I was his little girl. I think I was, really. I really miss him now that he's gone. I really miss him. Still.
I started doing less shooting in high school, with boyfriends and activities and so on, and then I went away to college, and then I got married, and that kind of ended it. I just didn't see Al that much after that. But back when I used to go over to his house, he would really make sure that every time we would go out to the range in back and shoot. He really thought I had a lot of potential.
I never knew about this till later, but he talked to my parents about getting me into competition. They didn't want me to do it, though. I don't know why. I mean they would let me go out on the range in back and shoot, so it wasn't as if they thought I was going to have a bad accident or something. It really doesn't make any sense. I wish that they'd let me. I just really don't understand why they did that. Pistol shooting at a target is just a great sport, and I really loved it. I was good at it, too.
When I shot just now, it felt great. It still feels great. I really started shaking after I shot those two shots because I haven't fired a gun in so many years, but I was still good!
Ray Milligan, pictured with his three children and his Savage over-under 22/20-gauge combination gun is a professional fur trapper based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
During the late sixties and early seventies, the Vietnam years, mv wife and I were part of the back-to-nature movement. We bought a small farmstead in north-central Kansas and had our three children there. My wife did pottery and weaving and stuff, and we had milk cows and pigs and chickens and ducks and goats, and I was a predator trapper. Then I wrote a book or two on trapping, and started to manufacture scent lures to attract wild animals. That business got going very well, establishing us nationally, and that afforded us the luxury to live anywhere in the country. We picked the Santa Fe area because it's a cultural hub, and because it's a very good area for trapping coyotes.
I chose coyotes because they are very destructive to livestock--their natural niche in this world is as scavengers, but when times are tough they become wolf-like and kill sheep and even cattle-so landowners open their gates to me. Usually, access to land is the trapper’s biggest problem.
Coyotes, in fact, have become quite a pest in recent years. Historically, they were a Plains animal, scavenging after the wolf packs which followed the buffalo, but something happened to them following the poisoning campaigns which ended in 1972. They dispersed, and now you find them everywhere. It's a phenomenon: nobody really knows why it happened but we do know that coyotes are highly intelligent animals. We judge the intelligence of animals by the number of vocal sounds they make, and studies have shown that excluding primates, the wolf makes the most vocal sounds of any mammal. The coyote makes one sound less than the wolf, tying with the dolphin.
That makes them the hardest furbearers to put into a trap, but I do pretty well, I average about three hundred per season, when their fur is prime and they qualify as a renewable resource. They really are renewable, too. A female coyote is a very efficient and adaptable reproductive machine. If I go into a particular area and eliminate 60 percent of the coyote population, the females will react accordingly that year and produce large litters. If I hadn’t gone in there, there would be less food per coyote and greater stress, and the females would react by producing smaller litters. I go back to the same farms every year, and every year I take eight or ten coyotes there.
I have no trouble selling the fur; the American fur market is growing these days because average Americans are beginning to realize that like the Europeans, they might never be able to afford their own house, but they can afford a nice car and they can afford a nice fur,
I take the Savage with me on the trap line. The .22 barrel will dispatch animals in the traps, and the 20-gauge shotgun barrel is for when they bust out of the traps, which they often do when you get near them. It's a simple gun without a lot of technology to go wrong, and I can depend on it. When it's twenty degrees below zero, or when I’ve dropped it in a river going after a raccoon, it will work.
Ron McMillan (with shotgun) runs the Bristol Bay Fishing Lodge in the Wood River lakes system of Southwestern Alaska.
Up here we hunt anything from caribou and moose to ducks and geese, and of course there's bear. We've got quite a few Alaskan brown bears right around here. Some people call them "grizzlies," but any bear that's more than seventy-five miles from salt water is classified as "a grizzly," so you can call it what you want.
You have to watch out for them. Once in a while we'll get one come into the camp. Last fall, one came right up on the porch, and my wife had her nose against the window glass, looking out. The bear put his nose right up against hers, looking in. In the fall, I pretty much don't set foot outside the house without a gun, especially when I go out to turn off the generator for the night. It's pitch black out there, and you can run right into each other. People around here always have a gun handy.
This place here we call "Bear City." It's a place that people normally can't or don't get into, and there's a lot of salmon running in the river and lot of good berry bushes along there, so it's a good food source for the bears. There's high grass in there, and they'll lay up in it during the daytime. We fish there, and since I just don't want to walk up on one, before we go in I'll crank off a couple of shots to let them know we're coming. Usually they'll get up and look around, or they'll get up and run. These are very, very wild bears. They're not like the ones you run into in the lower forty-eight; these bears don't know people, so if they hear you talking, they'll leave.
I use a Ruger bolt-action .338 Magnum when I'm bear hunting, and I load it with 250-grain silvertips. For protection when we're fishing I use a l2-gauge pump or a .44 Magnum sidearm. I load the pump with Magnum slugs backed up by double-ought buckshot.
With the .44, let's put it this way: it's the most powerful handgun you can carry, with the muzzle velocity being what it is, so if a person had time to get it out, I think it could do a bear in pretty well at close range. I hope I never have to use it, though. I’d much rather use the shotgun. Still, it's a pretty mean handgun, and most people around here put a lot of faith in it being able to stop a bear at close range. Most of us who are carrying handguns are carrying a .44. The longer the barrel, the better. When you're carrying a lot of gear, sometimes you can't carry a shotgun too, so you have to rely on that .44.
We encourage our fishing clients not to bring any guns with them, because so many of them have the story in mind that every time they see a bear, they're going to have to use that gun. That's not true, and an untrained, inexperienced person with a gun in hand is more dangerous than a bear.
Sandra Cipollino, a New York State medical secretory began shooting seriously three years ago, she competes in trap and skeet matches and hunts pheasant and deer.
My first deer hunt was a strange experience. My husband had just gotten a .357/.38 combination Rossi lever-action carbine, which is a nice, light woman’s gun in the woods, and we went out into the woods with it. I was standing there, and I saw this doe. We had a doe permit, so I put the gun up, but I got so nervous I said, I can’ do this!”
I put the gun down, and my husband said, “You dummy! What are you doing in the woods with a hunting license and a gun if you're not going to shoot it?
So I picked the gun up, and I shot, and I got my first deer. Then it was like, I don’t believe I got it! I didn’t have any bad feelings then--it all went through my head before I shot. Once you've pulled the trigger, it's over. You either get it or you miss it, and that’s what’s, important. That first time, it was so funny—I tell you, I never shook so hard in my whole life, about anything. The adrenaline rush is really something.
I guess I wasn't really sure about whether or not I was going to do it when I went out; it was the whole idea of shooting an animal, how to justify that to myself. It was like when I first started pheasant hunting. I’d be walking along and a bird would come up, and subconsciously I’d shoot to miss. But I just had to make a resolve--either I started doing it, or my husband wouldn’t take me hunting anymore--and understand that I was shooting them for food, that they weren’t just going to waste. That’s how I justify it, and how I can enjoy it. And when you shoot your first one, and watch your own dog bring it back to you, it’s really thrilling to see it all happen together. I can’t really explain it, but it's so exciting, all of it. And I’m getting pretty good. If I get a chance to shoot at a bird, I don’t miss.
I guess I'm the best woman shooter right around here and in a lot of the trap and skeet matches we shoot, I’m the only woman. I've tried to get the wives of some of the men shooters into it, but they don’t seem as interested as I am. It's like with women in general-l get some strong reactions when I tell them that I shoot. They find it totally amazing. They'll say, "You shoot?” Then they’ll say “Oh I've always wanted to try it,” and you say, “Well, try it! Come out and shoot!" But they don’t. I guess they just don't think women should shoot. It’s like a friend of ours who started shooting recently: his wife is so terrified by guns that when he built their house, he had to build gun closet with a secret panel. She didn’t even want to know what room the guns were in!
You get some men who are weird about women shooters too. I applied for membership in a club around here, for instance, and it was approved by all but three of the men who had to sign it. I found out who they were, and went and talked to them. It turned out that they didn’t want me in because they couldn't be “men” if I was there. They didn't feel that they could swear, and if they wanted to go to the bathroom outside they couldn’t do that--you know just be "men." What can I say? They all signed.
Ray Haas is a counter-sniper and training officer with the Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff’s Department Emergency Response Team. He is pictured with his ERT weapons.
My ERT guns are a customized Colt 45 Government Model pistol, a lightweight M-15 assault rifle, a Remington 1100 l2-gauge shotgun modified for combat use, and a Remington 700 sniper's rifle in .306.
The .45 is our personal weapon, and it's also the only gun we use in entry situations. A handgun allows you good reaction time and target selectivity, it's easy to reload, and the .45 round won't go through walls and hit your own people or civilians. Also, it doesn't have a long barrel; with a long barreled gun, you run the risk of letting the bad guys know where you are, or having them grab the barrel as you go through a doorway. That's why our entry teams don't use shotguns; our shotguns are for firing gas shells and blowing the hinges off doors, that kind of thing.
We use the .45 because of the knock-down power of the .45 round. Once modified, the gun will put two very quick hits on the target, and will function perfectly 99.9 percent of the time; just like Ivory Snow, it's 99 9 percent pure.
My designation is "counter-sniper," and that's why I have the Remington 700. It does the job. It has a Brown's fiberglass stock, one of the first they made, and that keeps it at constant zero; I can put this gun away for a month and it will shoot exactly where it always did when l take it out again With this gun, I can make head shots at six hundred yards, and five out of eight body kill shots at one thousand yards. I put quite a lot of my own money into like I do with most of my equipment, but I'm with people's lives here, and I have to trust my equipment.
Contrary to the public image of SWAT teams, we don’t use the M-16s that much. The .223 round has very high penetration, so we won't use the M-16s in entry situation or in densely populated areas. They are for perimeter use for assaulting buildings without entering them, and, should it ever come to it, for laying down a barrage of covering fire.
We've never had to do that in Hillsborough County. We've had to deal with disturbed people and bank robbers who were armed and holed up somewhere--in one case with explosives rigged--but we've never had a serious, professional problem with an organized group, hard-core terrorists. The closest thing to that in the United States is the biker groups. They're well armed and they train, and they could be effective.
Personally, I don't foresee too many immediate terrorist problems.The United States is a great training ground for terrorists-it's the only place where they can move freely, buy weapons, train with weapons, do whatever they want to do-and they don't want to ruin that situation by performing terrorist actions here.
That makes it easy for the people who don't want police departments to spend a lot of money on guys like us. They'll change their tune if a real problem does arise, of course, and then we’ll all be playing catch-up with the terrorists.
Patience Pierce lives on New York City’s Lower East Side. She owns only one gun, a Winchester .30-30 rifle.
My ex-husband gave me this gun in New Orleans. It was on my first date with him, he gave me the gun, and he also gave me some diamond earrings. Then he took me out to dinner and we ate fish. Then we went to Sears and we bought bullets.
The first time we went to target practice, it was on a levee, and we were shooting at little Bud bottles, and I hit it right on the nose, first shot. I was an ace. And from then on I beat all the boys. Being a good shot was pleasing. It wasn't a surprise, though. I think it's easy. Guns are sort of like pool to me; if you can just do it and be very good at it in front of a lot of people, it's fun, I don't want to hurt or kill anything, but I do like it. I like to be good at it. I mean, who wants to be a shit at anything, right? It's better to be a natural.
I don't really know why David gave me the gun. Maybe he knew he was going to take me somewhere where I would need it, Maybe he thought he could impress me, show me that I was in for a lot more than just a romance. We did take a trip down the Amazon not long after that. That was our first trip together. It was a test.
In the city I hide the gun. I keep it in trunks, and I keep no bullets near it. It's hidden away. I don't want to be killed by some junkie with it or have to hit somebody over the head with it. Keeping it loaded would be crazy. I’d shoot myself with it, or some baby would shoot itself. Some innocent child visiting on Avenue B …
I think it's legal for me to have it, but it damn well ought to be illegal, ‘cause it’s a sharpshooter's dream out any New York window. I don't take it out and play with it or anything. If I did that, then I'd probably want to start shooting. See, that's the fear. The fear is that you'd want to start doing target practice, trying to find an empty lot in New York or something. Which would be just stupid, right? 'Cause it's only fun to shoot it. You want to shoot it. If you did, then they'd all pull out their little pistols and have a shoot-out.
They're always fighting out there on the street. It’s very "drug" in the neighborhood, One time we came back from a tour and there were four men with rifles and Madras Bermuda shorts--they didn't really look like cops but I guess they were, some kind of special forces doing a drug bust--and that time we ran away because we were right in the middle. They were on either side of us, aiming right past us. But I hear shots all the time. One time we heard three shots, and we saw them take a body out of the heroin place down the block and put it in the trunk of a car. A couple of people died.
Dr. Richard B. Drooz, a noted Manhattan psychiatrist and teacher, foiled armed robbers at both his offices and his home before deciding to apply for a New York City pistol license.
I am that rare individual, a New York City pistol-license holder. I came to be so after the second attempted robbery, in 1967. The commanding officer of the l9th Precinct police came over to inspect the shambles that my fight with the robber had made of my place before the cops finally showed up, said that he'd never seen such devastation, and asked me, didn't I have a gun?
I said no, I didn't have a gun, and he looked at me as if I were sort of crazy, and said, "Doctor, how long have you been living here in New York City?"
At his suggestion and urging I applied for my pistol license. After a year and a half of all kinds of delay and harassment and so on by the license division of the New York City Police Department, famous for delay and harassment, my license came through, and I've held it ever since.
I carry the gun when I'm abroad, out in the streets, and I personally believe that anybody who takes the trouble to obtain the license has a certain responsibility to have the gun available for the defense of himself and of other people. My own gun, I know, has served to help some other people besides myself.
Incidents do happen. On one occasion, I was driving back to the office late one morning. My teaching work is in Brooklyn, in the heart of the most crime-ridden area of New York City, and I was stopped behind a line of cars at a light. As the car at the head of the line started to move out while I was still obstructed from the front, the door of my car was suddenly ripped open, and a young man pointed a gun at my head and threatened to kill me. He was backed up by two others, one with a knife and the other with what was apparently a toy gun.
I had my gun cross-draw under my coat, and I drew and fired.As I like to tell it, I fired two warning shots---one in the lung, and one in the liver.
The young man in question did not die, although he made a deathbed confession. I must tell you that subsequently, he was extremely nasty to the hospital personnel, and threatened to come back after his release and burn the hospital down. A suspicious fire did in fact start at the hospital shortly after his release, and I received a rather crude message from the staff, the tenor of which was "Why didn't you kill the sonofabitch?"
The gun I carry, and the one I used in the incident in my car, is a .38-caliber Chief's Special, stainless "snubnose." I have other guns, but this one, being a small revolver, is a comfortable gun to carry. Also it has a special sentimental attachment because it came from a lovely man, a very prestigious firearms dealer who was prominent in religious and community activities. One day his store was entered by a man out on parole from Elmira State Reformatory, who just in cold blood killed him and gave his brother a depressed skull fracture.
Deanne Peterson works as a bartender on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California while studying international politics. She owns a .38 Special Smith & Wesson revolver.
I got the gun when I moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago. I felt that having it gave me a necessary sense of security. I took my father with me to get it. He knows all about guns, so it was like having my own in-house expert. We wanted to make sure that it was a gun I could handle, but that it would stop an intruder, which is what it was for.
It's pretty, huh? I keep it all shined up. It's a fun little gun to shoot; it has enough of a kick that I feel like I'm really shooting a gun, it isn't like a .22. They tried to talk me into an automatic, but I didn't feel comfortable with it. When I pull this trigger, I feel like I really have to pull it to get the gun to work. And it's easy for me to load.
When I came here from Chicago I didn't bring it with me at first. I knew I shouldn't bring it on an airplane. But then I went back for my furniture, and brought it with me. Once I had it, you see, I didn't feel safe without it. I go out to the range and shoot it about, oh, once a month. I keep it loaded with hollow-point bullets.
I'm very open about having the gun. I want people to know l have it. I would hate to have my friends think going to pull a prank on me and crawl in my window some night, and have me shoot them. People do like pull pranks, and I seem to have friends who have that kind of sense of humor… Otherwise, people are curious about it. They want me to take it out so they can look at it.
I keep it in my bedroom, but I move it from place to place in there. Sometimes it's under the bed, sometimes it's in a bookcase, sometimes it's in a drawer. I used to keep it in my lingerie drawer, of course. That's where women always keep a gun, right?
We had a Peeping Tom here, so I got the gun and cocked it and told him I had it, and I would use it. I'm more frightened of having someone grab me than I am of shooting someone. I didn't go to the phone and call the police; I know from experience that they don't respond as fast as you'd like them to in a crisis.
See, my first reaction was that I was really angry. I mean, you have to make a definite effort to look in these windows--there are bushes, and there's iron out there--and I knew that we'd never feel as safe as we once did in here. The guy left, but I walked around in here with the gun in my hand for hours.
In a way, my attitude frightened me, because I knew that had he come into the house, I would have shot him.
But really, the minute I know someone's in the house, I'm yelling, "l have a gun, and I'll shoot you!" And if they don't hightail it back out, that's as much of a threat as I need. I really don't want someone in my house that doesn't belong. I know I could be in trouble with the law if the person isn't armed, but I'm not real concerned about being convicted and sent to jail. Being a young female of two females living alone, I think I'd get off pretty lightly.
Tommy Walker has worked as a professional boxer, a bodyguard, an actor, a children’s magazine publisher. He is pictured in his Chicago apartment with his brother’s .32 H & R revolver.
I've had to use guns a few times. They’ve saved my life.
I used to go collecting rent for this guy, and there was attempted robbery on me a couple of times. I used to wear a lightweight .38 Detective Special stuck in the back of my pants. One time this cat was shooting at me with a .22, so I got off a shot. Nobody got hurt, and it was cool.
Another time, I was in a foreign country, and things jumped off. There was a minister, myself, and some other people, and I was one of the people they were relying on. Basically, everybody was starting to lose their heads, and there were some people with handguns who were trying to stop us getting across to the other side where there was a plane waiting to take us away. I can't say that I hurt anyone, but I did get off enough rounds so that I got the people from the mission across and into the plane and to safety. I'll say this much: it was the Congo.
I've gotten a few bullet wounds. I've got spots on my arm and in my side here, where I was shot with a shotgun when a person was trying to rob me. At the time I had a Walther P38 on me. There was a lady from Arkansas that was twenty-seven years old and had eight or nine kids, and I used to go to the building with food for the kids. Well, this lady had a nephew who laid around on his ass and didn’t do nothing, and he knew I carried money, and one night he arranged for his friends to rob me.
So I was sitting on the couch with a kid between my legs, playing with kid and talking to the lady, and this guy came out of a closet that had a curtain in front of it, and when he came out he had a double-barreled shotgun. He said, "This is a stickup. Take out all your money and your jewelry and give me the dough."
I said, "Man, you're crazy. You're pointing that gun, and this kid is here!" All the time I was thinking that this gun was going to hurt me, because he was shaking. I had the P38 on my left side under my suede jacket, and the safety catch was on, so I was trying to figure out what to do, because this guy was going to hurt me.
I said, "Man, c'mon, let me move this kid," and I raised the kid up and got my jacket up and knocked the safety off and I pushed the kid away.
We were in a basement, and there was a pipe there with insulation around it, so when he fired the first barrel, all that white shit went in my eye, so I thought he’d blown my face open.
I rolled around and came up and got two shots off. The first one hit him in the leg and ricocheted up his hip, and the second one hit him in the side. He fired the second barrel into the wall. I went over and put my stuff to his head and flushed his cousin out, and somebody called the cops, and thank God, one of the cops who showed up knew me pretty well. The kid with the shotgun went to the hospital and he was all right, and the thing stayed off the record.
The bullet wound I got here in my leg was from a lady who decided that she liked me a lot and I was unfair to her. She came in and emptied a .22, but only hit me once. I didn't even know I'd been hit until I got in my car--l was pretty nervous--and felt the blood in my shoe. The round had gone into the bone end flattened out.
Jimmy Quenemoen and Susan Snyder live in Clearwater, Florida, where Susie runs a surplus store and Jimmy a diversified business. Susie is pictured with an AR-15 assault rifle equipped with various sophisticated sighting systems, and Jimmy demonstrates the art of rappelling forward off a building roof.
SUSIE: We built the buildings we have here--a chartreuse house, a purple-and-white house, and an orange-and-green camouflage house--and we're pioneers. It’s an all black neighborhood, and we are the only people who would have the nerve.
Of course, the people in the neighborhood know us, and know who we are, and we don’t get any trouble at all. Nothing-not even bottles or chicken bones or anything thrown into the property. The local cops know us too. Sometimes we go up on the roof of the building at night with the AR-15 and the laser sight, and sight in on the police cars. Those guys see that little red dot show up on their car, and they know: "Oho, that’s Jimmy!"
JIMMY: That's a great weapon. The AR-15 is a great little rifle, and the sighting systems make it just about unbeatable. That's the state of the art, right there. The laser on it projects a beam which puts a red dot on whatever you’re aiming at, and where that red dot is, that’s exactly where the bullet is going to go, right there in the middle of that red dot.
That particular type of laser has an interesting history. It was originally designed for the American 180, which is a drum-fed, two thousand-round-per-minute full-auto .22 built for police departments. It was a psychological thing; they wanted to bring it out and let the press hear about it, let it be seen on television, so that the bad guys would know what it was. If you were holding a hostage, and you saw that little red dot on your chest, you would know what was going to happen if you didn’t surrender. In three seconds your chest wouldn't be there.
Police departments didn’t go for it, though. They thought it was a cruel weapon, basically. I mean, you can put that dot on a cinder-block wall with the American 180, and just cut it in half. It’s like a buzz saw. Unbelievable. Small targets are just gone, vaporized.
With the laser on the AR-15, though, sometimes you don't even need to put the weapon to your shoulder. When I'm running assault courses, I can run into a building with four or five targets seven yards away, put the dot on the targets, squeeze the trigger a couple of times for each target, and just buzz right through that building. You don’t have to stop or anything--just do it at a dead run, because wherever that dot is, that’s where your bullets are going. It totally eliminates the business of lining up your rear sight and your front sight and the target, and it totally eliminates guesswork.
"At night you can find the target with the Starlite scope."
SUSIE: The laser’s only part of it, though That gun also has the Aimpoint sight, which is like a conventional scope except that instead of cross hairs it has a little illuminated red dot in the center of the sight Then it has the Starlite scope, too. That's a light-amplification sight; you can see at night with it. At night, you can find the target with the Starlite scope, get the red dot in the Aimpoint centered right on him, then flick on the laser and put that red dot right on him. Then, if you want to shoot' you've got him. And if you don't want to shoot, he knows you can.
JIMMY: The whole system is fairly expensive right now—though it's like pocket calculators and stuff, the price is dropping fast--but even so we sell quite a few of them. Mostly we sell to people with boats. Anywhere in the Florida area, you see, you have a problem with hijackers; the drug smugglers need lots of boats, 'cause they usually sink them when they've made one run with them and usually they kill everybody on board when they do a hijack.
People with big boats will buy a Starlite and a laser, then, and mount them on an AR-15 or a Mini-l4 That way, they can eliminate a very serious problem without even firing a shot. The people who are going to hijack them know what it is when they see that red dot on their boat, and when they see an AR-I5 or a Mini-I4, they know that those guns will punch holes in half-inch steel at seventy-five yards. So they just leave, see.
I've seen boaters come in who are totally against guns but the fear has overpowered them, they just have no choice. They'll buy the gun and they'll buy a couple of thousand rounds of .223 ammunition, they'll go out to the range and practice, and they'll put it on board. They have to,
SUSIE: Really. It Just started a few years ago' and it happens all the time. That laser and the AR-l5 are a real good deterrent, though.
It works pretty well around here, too. Jimmy gets out of his truck here with it, and probably a .45 too, and people know. They know Jimmy. He's a locksmith, and he's the only one who will go in this neighborhood after dark. They call him "Magic Jim."
Dennis M. Peinsipp, a Vietnam veteran, runs Shooter’s Shack, Central Florida’s largest firearms dealership, and Counterforce Special Security, Ind., in Clearwater. He is pictured with a standard U.S. military machine gun, the M-60.
The M-60 machine gun is my favorite weapon. It’s belt fed. It hooks up to an ammunition belt, and it just flat gits it--twelve-hundred meter range, .308 caliber. That’s the way to go to war! Happiness is a belt-fed weapon.
It has to be belt-fed, see, because the machine guns you see on TV--you know, this little thing the guy has in his coat-are submachine guns, and they don't make it unless you're going to murder someone in a phone booth. That’s because the average submachine gun has a cyclic rate of between seven hundred and nine hundred rounds a minute, but it only has a thirty-round clip.
What that means is that you have somewhere between one and a half and two seconds of firepower before your clip is empty-zzt-zzt, it's over!--and the average trooper ain't bright enough to pick a target, shoot the target, and move on to the next one in that amount of time. The only full-auto that's worth a shit in the field, then, is a belt-fed weapon with a lot of ammo.
They found out about all that the hard way in Vietnam by giving everybody a full-auto weapon. That wasn’t a smart thing to do. Most of the guys were going zzzt, zzzt, and not even hitting anything, and there went twenty rounds. I think the number of rounds expended per kill in Vietnam was something like seventeen million. In World War II, where the guys had to aim, I think it was something like one-point-two million. That tells you something: you can't hit nothing if you don't look down the sights.
That was a mess in Vietnam, though. The new standard rifle, the M-16, was thrown into a combat zone without proper testing, and so it had problems all by itself. On top of that, the military took guys and trained them on the M-14 in the United States--made 'em sleep, live and die with this big, heavy hunk of machinery you could use as a baseball bat--and then put 'em on a boat, handed them an M-16 at the other end, and said, "Go to it, bozo-breath. Go kill some gooks."
The guys looked at this thing, and it looked like a toy. It was full-auto, it was all this plastic stuff, it was half the weight of the guns they'd been trained on, it had half the range of what they'd been trained on, and it shot a bullet that was half the size of what they’d been trained on. These guys didn't even know how to load the magazines properly.
So the M-16 got a bad reputation it didn’t deserve, and you still hear that around today. But most of the young kids coming out of the Army today they Iove that 16. I do, too—always have. You hear a lot of bitching from people who don't know any better about the capabilities of the .223 round it fires, but have they ever seen what it does?
It's that light bullet and those high velocities. We had an ARVN in our group in Vietnam who was shot in the back of the leg with a .223: the round went into his leg, came up across his body, and came out behind his ear. If he’d been shot with an M-14, he might have lost a kneecap.
That round had a lot more killing power than anyone ever credited it with, until the Russians adopted it. Then it was just dandy. That's kind of funny; the Russians accepted it, so it must be good. You hear a lot of that kind of crap in my business.
The second day after JFK’s assassination, I knew there was a conspiracy, because the cops in Dallas had signed an affidavit saying that the gun used was a 7.65-millimeter Mauser with a 4-to-3 X 'scope, and they had identified it absolutely’ I figured that was right, because a Mauser would blow Kennedy's head off, because it’s some gun, it’s equivalent to our .30-06. Then, the second day—oho! --it was a Carcano Mannlicher like this one here, and hey, they had made a mistake. Now it was a 6.5 millimeter, and I said "No way!"
Then I noticed that in the description of the Carcano, nobody had found the clip. A Carcano Mannlicher will not function or repeat without a clip. With a Carcano, you push the loaded clip down into the gun, and as you work the bolt and fire five rounds, as the sixth round goes into the breech the clip falls out the bottom of the gun; there’s nothing to hold it in. But there was no clip in the gun, near the gun, found by the gun. There were three empty shells and one live round, which was still in the gun. That should have left two more live rounds in the clip, and the clip in the gun--but there was no clip, and no other live rounds. There were other mistakes, too, about where the empty shells were and what kind of 'scope was used, and also, we have a picture of the Mauser, after it was found, being held up on the roof of the Texas School Book Depository Building by the police. That was in the Dallas Cinema Association movie. So we know that the Carcano was a fake-out, a cover-up gun.
In fact, Kennedy was hit by four bullets. First, someone in front of the sign (this is all as seen in the Zapruder film) gets him in the neck with an umbrella gun from a range of about five yards. The idea of that was to paralyze him. I've got one of the rockets that are fired from the umbrella gun. I bought it at a gun show. It was a weapon designed for the CIA.
So in the Zapruder film you see Kennedy reaching for his neck; that's the puncture wound done by the rocket fired from the umbrella gun. Nobody carries an umbrella in Dallas, but in the film, on this nice sunny day, this guy whips out an umbrella when Kennedy comes along, and rotates it, aiming at the limousine, and--ah! —Kennedy’s reaching for his neck.
He stays paralyzed for the next one hundred frames of the film, then three bullets hit him within two frames. A pistol bullet hits him in the back at frame 312, and his head goes forward two inches, and then at frame 313 he explodes, because a shot coming in from over his cheekbone blows out the right side of his skull, and a shot coming from the Grassy Knoll blows out his occipital bone. My guess is that those two shots came from .30-06-type rifles firing scintered uranium bullets, which weigh sixty percent more than lead bullets and are totally frangible. That’s why, in the X rays of Kennedy's brain, you have thirty or forty "stars," which are little tiny bits of metal. No normal bullet is going to do that.
I used to collect guns. I collect anything. I have Indian art, I have Japanese and oriental antiques. I collect stone statues--I love stone statues--and I have many lions' heads in the house and outside too. Right now I have maybe five Ferraris and eighteen Rolls-Royces of all kinds. I used to collect restaurants, too--French restaurants, Indonesian restaurants, other kinds of restaurants--but then I changed to just collecting Benihanas. I also used to collect antique Japanese guns; then I started to shoot, so now I have old guns and new guns too.
But I don't collect all these things anymore. I have so many things that I don't want to own anything more. Talk about airplanes? I have four different kinds of airplane, and I don't even fly. I have a pilot sitting in the Miami house doing nothing, because I don't fly. I don't want to waste my time and money, so I don't collect things anymore.
That's why I didn't renew my New York gun permit. As a matter of fact, I had a permit to build a pistol range in the garage, but the garage burned down, so everything went kaputo.
I used to carry a small gun on my leg, though, inside my boot, because I'd rather kill a guy than have him kill me. When I had just three restaurants in New York, I collected cash from Benihana West, Benihana East, and Benihana Palace--but since I don't see the money anymore, I don't have to carry a gun. I have a driver to pick me up and take me anywhere I want to go, so I am very safe.
Back when I had a smaller operation, I wanted to protect myself. If somebody stuck me up, I would have been the first guy to give everything I had: that's why I used to wear a lot of gold around my neck and on my fingers--to have something to give. I thought of the gun in the same way: if something happened, I wanted to survive. I wanted to live. I have survived so many accidents--in my car, in my boat, even an airplane crash a long time ago--so I know about surviving, and now I feel that I can survive without the gun.
I like small guns because I am small. The gun I used to carry was a Browning .25 automatic. It shoots well, that gun. It's very powerful. It hurts a little bit, but it's a challenge: with a small gun, you have to have a technique to shoot well.
In Japan, all guns are prohibited. Only policemen have guns. That's why we Japanese are always fascinated to see guns. One of the reasons I collected them was that fascination. In Miami, you know, you can just buy a gun if you are a legitimate person and you have the right identification.
It's amazing. Now, I have over a dozen guns: back in Japan, I never even saw them.
Lots of Japanese friends of mine come over here, and the first thing they want to do is shoot. It's the first time in their lives that they've shot a gun! It is such a pleasure for them.
Marsha Beasley is a U.S. Champion smallbore rifle shooter and is Junior Programs Coordinator with the National Rifle Association. She works to develop and promote youth shooting programs in the United States.
In competitive rifle shooting, it's not so much the amount of time you put into it as the quality of the time. It's been said by several top coaches that how fast you progress is directly related to your ability to analyze your shooting, to think about it. This is in contrast with a sport such as weight lifting, in which somebody who does enough lifting and strength training—practice--will progress. In shooting that's not true; it all hinges on how well you think about what you're doing.
People have varying natural talent for shooting, of course, but it is a sport which can be learned. All you have to have is correctable eyesight. Then you have to learn how to hold the rifle steady enough to shoot a ten, you have to learn how to read the wind, and you have to develop the mental skills--basically concentration--to be able to repeat each action time after time in a match situation. Once you do all that and you get really good, you're basically shooting for perfection, in the standard .22 rifle prone event, where you shoot sixty shots at a ten ring less than half an inch in diameter fifty meters away, the world record is a 598 out of 600. There is just no room for mistakes.
More women are getting involved in shooting, partly because three Olympic shooting events for women were added in 1984. Also the NRA is looking for ways to make the sport more accessible to females. Right now, the average junior program has about 20 percent females--but why is that? Is it that girls don't want to shoot, or is it that they've always been told that they don't want to? We would like to move it closer to fifty-fifty.
This is a great sport. It offers opportunities most other sports don't. As I said, it requires learned skills and doesn't depend on body size or weight or strength. Shooting is a very safe sport. Additionally, it's not one you have to abandon when you turn sixteen or thirty; it's very much a lifetime sport. It offers team camaraderie as well as solo competition, and in addition to sport, develops great things like discipline and concentration, that kind of thing.
There are about two thousand NRA-affiliated Junior Clubs, which is how most young shooters get their start. I started shooting at age eleven at a junior club, but if there hadn't happened to be a club four blocks from my parent's house, I doubt I would have ever gotten involved in the sport. I'd like to see clubs that offer youth shooting Programs in every community in the United States, so that every kid growing up would have the chance to learn to shoot.
It is a shame there are not more adults interested in organizing junior clubs, because I think that kids are almost innately interested in learning to shoot, or at least trying it. If you ask youngsters, "Do you want to go shooting?" without exception it's "Oh, yeah!" That's how it's been with every kid I’ve ever asked, boys and girls too. People just love to shoot, and they really should get the chance.
Mickey Fowler progressed from motorcycle and automobile racing to International Practical Shooting Confederation and NRA "action shooting" competition. He is a three time Bianchi Cup winner and a U.S. National Combat Champion.
The appeal of the sport is that whereas most formalized handgun competitions use the same course of fire every time, with the same point total to shoot for, IPSC shooters are constantly given new challenges; it's a new match with a different course design every time. This means that IPSC shooters are the most proficient all-around gun handlers in the world. They learn it all: how to draw the gun quickly, how to hit a small target quickly, how to reload the gun quickly, how to shoot running, sitting, strong-handed, weak-handed—whatever--from all kinds of positions at all kinds of ranges. A world-class IPSC shooter can't have a hole in his skills.
The word "practical" is in the name of the sport because the sport is somewhat related to real-life self-defense with a handgun. Some of the matches are built around simulated real-life situations that could actually happen. You shoot at cardboard, buff-colored targets which simulate a head and torso, the aim being in most cases to place two quick shots in a vital zone, and there are no restrictions on equipment; you use whatever you think is going to do the best job. The equipment we use nowadays, therefore, is a direct result of match design. A lot of the guns, for instance, have compensators. That's because compensators cut down on muzzle rise, which means that your second shot can be fired accurately a lot more quickly than it otherwise would. That also means, of course, that the guns we use in competition are not practical guns for self-defense; not many people would want to carry around a gun that has as many gadgets on and is as long as a compensated .45 Government Model.
Even though the sport is called "practical" shooting, then, it's basically a game. It flies completely in the face of sound self-defense tactics much of the time. If you used the tactics that win IPSC matches in a real-life self-defense situation, you'd be in a lot of trouble. On the other hand, the game does teach you to shoot a powerful handgun quickly and accurately, and that is no small advantage
The game really started catching on in a big way in the middle 1970s, and since then it's grown a hundredfold with all that entails. When I got started, the most you could hope to win was a gun; now, it's possible for a top shooter to win about fifty thousand dollars a year, plus equipment and contracts with gun and accessory manufacturers. The future of IPSC or "action" shooting lies with the companies outside the firearms industry, though, if it really takes off, it'll be because cigarette and beer companies and the like get involved. We're starting to see that now and also some regular media coverage. We're bucking a strong anti-handgun media bias, of course, but hopefully while the sport has a way to go before it achieves the dollar status of golf or tennis, it can surely get up to where we can be a full-time professional shooter.
Michael Bane began his journalistic career as a newspaperman. Innumerable div and book credits later, he now freelances out of Tampa, Florida.
I started shooting when I was about six. I shot with my father, and when I got older I went out shooting with my friends. That was in Memphis, and in Tennessee in those days, it wasn't that big a deal to shoot. You'd just go on down to any vacant lot and plink away; nobody thought that much of it.
When I went to college, then, it was a real shock. I got a job on the college newspaper right away, and on the first day they explained to me that to have the right attitude, you had to be "for gun control." Back in Tennessee, that attitude was nonexistent.
It was funny. I still had guns, but this was college in the sixties; I had a ponytail, the whole deal. People would come out to my trailer, look around, and say, "What's that?" I'd say, "That's a gun," and they'd go, "Oh my God! It's a gun!" Eventually I got a Huey P. Newton poster with the quote "An unarmed people are slaves, or subject to slavery at any moment." I'd just point to the poster, and that was okay: if Brother Huey says it's cool.
Having guns where other people didn't, and having guns but having no decent place to shoot them, continued until just a couple of years ago when IPSC-style combat pistol shooting started up here in Tampa. I was desperate to shoot, so I got involved in that, and for the past year or so
I've been doing it really seriously. I tried to do it haphazardly, but the only thing you can accomplish that way is creative failure.
The thing about shooting, you see, is that if you're serious about it, it tends to be an all-absorbing kind of sport. It's like you're a computer and it's filling up all your memory, it's eating up all your thinking time. And after a while, shooting becomes the only thing that's interesting. Your career isn't really interesting anymore.
In my case, I also have the problem that I'm a writer, and these are grim times for writers. The basic dynamics of the marketplace have changed since I got into it, and all the things which made it an interesting career just don't exist anymore. Now, it's like, "You want another div on some celebrity nitwit? That's fine..."
I have a sideline writing for the gun magazines these days, though, and that's fun. It started out as a joke between my friend Mac and me; we decided that we'd write for the gun magazines, because that way we'd get free guns. It seemed like a real good idea at the time. I can sell stories just fine, so I went to it, and now I'm "a gun writer."
At this point, if I could get away with writing just outdoor stuff, that's what I'd do--but the money's just not there. It's two hundred dollars or three hundred dollars an article, tops, so even if you write like crazy you can't do it. I never have gotten a free gun, either: the whole plan was a bust. My shooting's improving, though.
Mary Ellen Moore lives with Michael Bane (previous interview), and is also a writer by profession. She lived around Michael’s guns for ten years before taking up shooting herself.
As Michael said, he was involved in IPSC shooting very haphazardly at first, and that was really irritating to me. He was always last, and he'd come home and grumble. He started thinking about quitting completely, but he really liked the people he shot with and he really looked forward to the matches; it was only after he came home that he was miserable. We talked about it, and he told me that if I were doing it with him, he could really get into it and enjoy it more.
I went to one of the matches, then, and once I got over the hump of meeting the people--basically, I'm not very outgoing--I started to like it. For a long time I’d been a fan of the woman character Purdy on "The New Avengers" TV show. On every show they somehow, managed to fit in a sequence in one of those combat "fun houses," with Purdy going through the course in these weird long dresses and high boots, shooting "A" hits on everything, then blowing the smoke from her gun and putting it back on her hip. When I saw that first IPSC match, I thought, "That's just what Purdy does!"
I edged into it gradually, and now I'm really serious about shooting. In fact, shooting is the main reason I’m looking for a job right now when you’re a freelance writer, your time is never really your own, but with a well-defined permanent job, I can have my own hours when I'm not working, And with a regular paycheck coming in, I can help pay for bullets and new guns and matches and so on. I used to work all the time--all I did was work--but now, even though this sounds trite, I've found out through shooting that there's more to life than work. I’ll do my job really well, but I really don't want work to take over my life again, because I'd rather shoot than work.
I think that shooting has helped my self-confidence tremendously. Whenever I used to have to do something hard, I'd think back to when I had to appear on television to promote one of my books, and think, "If I could be on television without passing out, I can do this." Now, I think about shooting: "If I can get up in front of forty people every Sunday and humiliate myself in this strange sport, and come out of it still liking it, I can certainly go interview some housing developer somewhere."
Also, if I put the time into it, I can really see myself doing well at this sport on a national level. The top national IPSC woman shooter has only been doing it three years, she's in no better or worse shape than I am, and she had no more of an edge than me when she started. That's kind of exciting for somebody like me, who's never participated in sports in her life. Maybe, if I'm willing to work at it, I could be the top woman in the field.
Tony Carlotto is co-owner of a photography store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He also raises horses, pigs, and chickens.
Hard to say why I first started buying guns. I like western history and stuff, so I started buying the replicas.
Had a friend who was a dealer, and he had a few. I saw how they looked; they looked pretty nice. That’s how I saw the .44-40. It’s an 1875 Remington replica, and I got that. Then I saw the .357, and it looked pretty nice. Now I’ve got about twelve or so.
I use them for playing. Go outside some days and blow up five hundred hounds. Shoot beer cans, pails, raccoons. Usually with coons it’s three o’clock in the morning and the neighbors are wondering what’s going on. Last coon was a big one, in the bard. I’d just got a new gun, that little Bernardelli. Never fired it till then. I went up to the barn and the coon got out the window. Come back, and I was laying in bed and I hear the chickens going crazy, so I went back and he’s eating all the eggs and he’s got a couple of them inside there, so I waited for his two beady eyes to come out, and let loose with it. Worked pretty good.
At first I didn’t have the heart to shoot coons, but after they started destroying everything—probably cost me two or three hundred bucks’ worth of feed and vitamins and that—I started getting mad. Then this last one shit on my power saw, and I said, "That’s it, there’s no more heart for them."
My favorite gun is that 1863 Springfield rifle there, black powder. That’s a lot of fun. I bought it one day, took it out and fired it. Then I did it twice more so I got to like the idea. Plus it’s inexpensive to shoot, plus the history involved in it. There’s Civil War history in it, western history in it.
I like the .357 too. Use it for plinking around. Expensive way to do it, though—twenty bucks for fifty shells.
Plinking’s great. My cousin comes over and he’s got a 22-pump just like that Winchester I got, so I’ll let me shoot a lot of my rounds. Chicken eggs once in a while from the porch. I got one on the first shot once; figured that wasn’t too smart. We figured it’d take us about 25 rounds, and I got it first shot. Just to make it exciting one day I took a Playboy centerfold and shot the tits, right through the nipples from a hundred feet with a ‘scope on it.
I’ve never been in trouble with guns. I got shot in the ass with a pellet gun once when I was a kid, but that’s about it. We used to have wars with BB guns, wore winter coats in the summertime and the pellets would bounce off, but this one kid had a pellet gun he could cock up about twenty times so it was real powerful, and he got me in the left cheek. I only found it about two months ago ‘cause it was starting to come out. Well, actually, it was my wife who found it.
Kurt Hermann, a New York advertising executive, lives in Connecticut. One of the guns he owns is a one-hundred-seventy-five-dollar mail-order replica of a .45 Thompson ("Tommy") gun. Federally designated a "non-gun" the Thompson will not fire.
Anything that's unique appeals to me, or something that nobody else has. How many people around here would have Thompsons? I’d say there weren’t any. I feel this makes me unique, like the car that I drive, the clothes that I wear, the audio equipment that I buy and use--everything. I feel that I'm an individualist.
I throw parties here every year, and we were going to have a 1920s speakeasy party with the clothes and the records and everything, and I thought that definitely I had to get a machine gun. I was calling on an agency, and the gal had to excuse herself. She had a Sharper Image catalogue on her desk, and I was flipping through it while I was waiting, and there it was, the Thompson! So I grabbed the phone and I called and ordered it on my Visa card, and by the time she came back and said, "What are you doing?" I just said, "I just called and ordered a machine gun." Haa! That’s how it all started.
I always wanted to get one of these, because I like the historical conversational value it has. It’s not something you normally see in somebody's living room when you go over to their house.
The first reaction is, "Is it real?"
I sort of go along with it. I say, "Of course it is. Why?" They say, "Isn’t it illegal?"
"Not in Connecticut."
"Oh, really? Does it fire?"
"Yeah. I take it to the range once in a while with friends and we all fire it."
Eventually I let them in on the fact that it’s replica and I have it just because it played a big part in our country's history in the twenties.
I think that was an interesting period. It was a very tragic period. I'm not supporting that period, but I think the costumes that they wore, and everything else, were interesting, like other periods in our country and the world. The killings and the murders that went on were very tragic not only to the people who were involved--their own group, "The Mob', as they called it--but also the innocent people that got in the way accidentally,
Sometimes I pick the Thompson up and look mean and pull out one of the records from the era and imagine what it was like.
I would have been a federal man. In fact, when I was Iooking at careers I was considering the FBI. That changed because my father was a major influence on me getting into advertising, but I was very serious about joining the FBI.
I'm an NRA member because I think it's one of the last freedoms we have in this country, and if they take that away from us we have nothing. If the Soviets knew that Americans didn’t have guns in their homes, they would find a very easy way to get in here. As Iong as everybody has a weapon in their home--or at least the Soviets think we do—they have no chance over here. That's one of freedoms in the strength of our country.
Jack "Cowboy" Clement is a Nashville record producer/songwriter whose clients include Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
I was in the Marine Corps, you know. Got an "Expert" marksmanship badge, which ain't that easy. I was classified as an MP and was on the drill team, so I had three weapons: a .45 pistol, an M-1 rifle, and an old Springfield '03 with a chrome-plated bayonet.
The Springfield was better balanced for drilling than the M-1, see. You could flip it in the air with the bayonet on. I perfected what I called "the double toss": the rifle would flip twice, then come down with the bayonet sticking in the ground. That would bend the bayonet, of course, but you could bend it back. When they chrome-plated them, that took the temper out of them, see. I had a lot of fun on the drill team.
The .30-30 I have now is a nice gun, but I don't shoot it much. The elevator on the sights is missing, for one thing. I found that out one night when I decided it was time to try it out. I'd had it a year or two, and I had a few rounds, and I thought it would be perfectly safe to squeeze off a few here in the house if I got me a proper backdrop.
I looked over at the door. It was an unnecessary door, and I hadn't gotten around to tearing it out, so I decided to write myself a little note to remind myself about that by blowing the shit out of the doorknob.
I went and got my gun and loaded it up. I squeezed off a round into the floor just to make sure it was working, then I got away from the door a bit, lined it up real good, and squeezed it off. You don't jerk the trigger, you know—you squeeeeeeze the trigger. You got to line 'em up and squeeeeeeze 'em off.
I fully expected to see that doorknob just disintegrate before my eyes, but it didn't, so I thought, "Well, I'll take a little better aim." I lined it up again and squeezed off another one, but still nothing happened.
I decided to go down and take a look. I saw that the grouping was pretty good; it was just low. Then I looked at the gun, and sure enough, the little elevator on the sights wasn't there. No wonder I was shooting low!
I went back to the door, and oho, I'd done shot through it. I went looking for holes. There were holes out the back of the door--those were a little bigger than the holes in the front--and then there was a hole through a wall that was really kinda large. Then I noticed that the radio on the receptionist's desk was shattered, and beyond that was a hole through the front window, going out toward houses where a bunch of kids were sleeping and stuff. Oooooooooh
Anyway, I decided, "No more squeezing off rounds in the house." I've still got a nice little .22 around here, though and I can hit some things with that.
Cole Palen, pictured with his flare gun beneath the muzzle of the twin Spandau machine guns on his World War I Fokker Triplane, is the proprietor of the famous flying circus in Rhinebeck, New York.
In the beginning, when a Frenchman and a German met in the sky, their paths were just crossing as they flew over each other's territory, trying to find out what was going on. They would wave to each other, because they were sharing the excitement and beauty of flying. They were well fed, and they wore the best uniforms and flew the best planes, and that was the way to fight a war: just wave at your enemy.
The fighting started one day when one pilot, instead of waving, thumbed his nose at the other guy. The next time they met, there was a pistol; then there was a rifle, then a machine gun firing out to the side of the airplane, then a machine gun fixed to the top wing and firing over the propeller.
Some of those early rigs were something else. On the British FE-28, for instance, which was a "pusher" plane, the gunner had to use one gun for shooting ahead; then climb up over the pilot to another gun mounted on top of a ladder whenever they were attacked from behind, then climb back to his seat.
Then along came a poor daredevil stunt pilot flying for the military, one Roland Garros, who realized that if he could fire the machine gun straight down the line of flight of the airplane, he wouldn't have to fly in one direction and shoot in another: he could just aim the whole airplane. He thought about it, and came up with a way to do it. He mounted the gun behind the whirling blades of the propeller, to the back of which he had attached triangular steel plates, and fired: some bullets few out between the blades and the ones that hit the blades simply bounced off.
For a few weeks, Garros was the terror of the skies—but firing the gun into the propeller blades was like hitting them with a sledgehammer, though, so finally his propeller broke, and he had to glide down and land in a meadow. And since the hunting had been so much better over German-held territory than over French, all the people who ran up to his plane were speaking German.
When the Germans realized they had captured Roland Garros, the Terror of the Skies, they sent all their best technicians to inspect his plane and find out how he did this marvelous thing. One of those Germans was Author Fokker, one of their leading aircraft designers. He laughed when he saw the little plates on the blades, and within forty-eight hours came up with a mechanical means of lining the engine to the machine gun. All the parts within an engine are connected to other parts with gears or connecting rods or cams or push rods or whatever, and everything is precisely timed, and Fokker just extended this back to the machine gun: when a little cam connected to the engine came up and said "Don't shoot,', because the propeller was in the way, the gun didn't shoot.
Fokker knew that it would work--it was so ridiculously simple--but the bigwigs wouldn't believe him. Even though he was a civilian, they made him go up in a plane and prove the synchronization gear worked by shooting down an enemy plane. Fokker went up, but he couldn’t do it, so they got their ace, Max Immelman, to try it. It worked fine, and the Germans ruled the skies until the Allies found out how the synchronization gear worked. Then the dogfights really got started.
Captain Tony Parker is a flight instructor on the F-16 the United States Air Force’s frontline combat fighter aircraft. He is pictured at MacDill AFB, Florida, as armorers load 20-millimeter cannon ammunition into his fighter.
Basically, a fighter aircraft is a flying gun, and that hasn't changed much. The F-16 is a flying weapons system configured for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat with a variety of weapons, but for close-in fighting and strafing it relies on its gun.
That's something we learned in Vietnam. Initially, our F-4 fighters did not carry an internal gun. Unless they were carrying a gun pod, they had bad problems with MIGs that got inside the range of their missiles. Now, all U.S. fighter aircraft are produced with an internal gun.
The gun itself is an old weapon--it's the same six-barreled 20-millimeter cannon that's been in service since the late 1950s--but it does the job. Its maximum rate of fire is six thousand rounds a minute, and you really don't need more than that. That's a hundred rounds a second which can be put into a very small piece of sky, and one 20-millimeter round in the right place will have a very negative effect on any airframe. The F-l6 carries enough ammunition for about five very short bursts.
The gun is very reliable; it's a proven weapon, and in combination with the F-16's computer sighting system it's pretty definitive. The computer is the key to it; it cuts out a lot of guesswork and reduces the margin of error substantially. With this system, once the sight is punched up in visual display and the radar is locked in on the target, the computer makes a lot of calculations that previously had to be made by the pilot. For instance, it calculates the range of the target, the G's the target is pulling, the G's your own aircraft is pulling, and the gravity drop of the rounds once they're fired.
Basically, the computer makes sure that the rounds actually arrive exactly where you aim them--right on the target in a tracking shot, ahead of him in most other shots—by compensating for the various motion factors working against that result.
The computer does that very well, too. Vietnam-era computer gunsights had to make assumptions about movement which were not necessarily true, but this is new technology, and when the radar is locked onto the target, it doesn't make assumptions. Instead, it instantly collates observed data on what's actually happening, so that what you see is what you get. It works very well indeed, even without a radar lock.
This whole weapons system, in fact, is really great. It’s the best there is. This is it, right here: this aircraft is the most sophisticated, most maneuverable fighter in the sky. It's the premier fighter of the Free World, and it's better than anything the Russians have.
That feels good, of course, but really, air-to-air combat hasn't changed that much. The other guy can still make unexpected moves, and he might survive your hits and come back at you, or his wingman might be working on you at the same time--all those factors are still operating in a dogfight. American technology gives us an edge, but it’s not a guarantee by any means.
No, it's still hairy, even with the F-l6. The pilot still has to make an awful lot of fast, correct decisions under a lot of pressure. That's why fighter pilots have to be such aggressive, competitive people. When it comes down to it, the guy who gets the other guy in his sights is still the winner.
Bijan, the internationally famous men’s clothing designer achieved some notoriety in the fashion world with his line of bullet-resistant clothing and his ten thousand-dollar gold-plated .38 Special Colt revolver. He is pictured in the office of his Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, boutique.
Personally, I do not like guns. Personally, I am more in silk and double-breasted and single-breasted suits and wool and cashmere and those things. But that has no meaning. If you do anything in good taste, the market is there for it.
I am a designer. I design for men all over the world; they are kings, presidents, senators, doctors, attorneys, actors, princes, businessmen. My philosophy as a designer is that I should always bring something different to these men.
Everything I design is a fact of life, something that is already available in the world--but after I put my taste into it, it is very different. And one thing is always in mind: quality. AII this could be in a line of men's clothing for fall, or a summer collection, or a tuxedo to be made, a chinchilla bedspread, a perfume for men in Baccarat bottles, a gun.
To the average person, what I do is a little bit crazy, a little bit outrageous, and quite controversial, but my clients understand the quality. And being a men's designer includes being an artist--an artist in taste, and an artist in knowing what is going on in the world--and so I know that nowadays, anybody who is very famous or very rich is a target. Believe me! Protection is something very important to them. So I took this bullet-resistant material, Kevlar, which is very light and thin, and I designed it into my lines of clothing between the fabric and the lining. Then the man is protected, and he looks wonderful because he is wearing a Bijan suit, so he feels good. I decided not to charge my clients for such clothing if they wanted it.
Then on one of the trips I made to visit a client--he is head of a country in Europe; you know him--he asked me to do something that was masculine and different and chic something that as a gift would be most impressive. I want to swim against the river, so I thought that if I designed a gun, it would be different; it would be something that maybe a lot of people would not like, but it would be controversial, and it would be chic and pretty and well worth the money.
So I had the opportunity to make and sell a limited edition of two hundred guns, all numbered. I made the grip of dark blue leather in my factory in Italy. My organization in conjunction with Colt produced the gun. We used seventeen or eighteen layers of blue ink polish in the custom shop to make it that particular dark, beautiful blue. We used fifty-six grams of gold to make that simple but very pretty finish on the cylinder and the other parts. We used a special mink for the cover, placed it in a beautiful beveled Lucite box, and then enclosed it in a black velvet bag. The reason for the box was to do something so that people would not carry the gun. It would be something that people would keep in their home and discuss.
I was so proud and happy to hear that my gun had become a topic of conversation all over the world. The most beautiful recognition I got was from a particular royal family in Europe who told me that. Forgive me please for saying this, but many royal families and personalities bought the gun to say, "Thank you, Bijan.
Andy Morandi, eighty-one, has spent his whole life collecting and trading guns of all sorts. Formerly a restaurateur and hotelier, he now runs a small cheese- and ham-smoking business near Hillsdale, New York.
The good guns are a great investment, but you have to know what you're doing. For instance, there's that .22 Hornet up there on the wall, that Brno made in Czechoslovakia that I paid a hundred-and-some dollars for thirty years ago. A year ago I checked in some catalogs, and the gun in "good used" condition was up to $750 or $780.
That's because there isn't a good .22 Hornet made in America. There's a couple of small American companies making a .22 Hornet now, but we gun people term them as being made out of "plowshare" material. Terrible. That Brno is the smoothest darn thing you ever saw. Of course, they don't make them any more.
Winchesters were a good investment--until Winchester started to go bad. Anybody buying Winchesters likes to have them made before World War II or before 1964. Since '64 they started to go bad. They've come out with those Replica models and Commemorative models, and they've gone over pretty well, but old-timers like me turn down our noses. We know there's a dollar in 'em, but we don't want these replicas. You want the genuine stuff, whether it's honey or salad dressing or butter. If you want butter, you want butter. You want cheese, you want cheese. They're making an artificial cheese now, y'know. Kraft has it.
American guns started to go bad after World War II. German guns, too. Before then, there used to be a lot handwork done on those guns. When they assembled them, they did it by hand--this one needed to be ground down a little bit here, that one needed to be ground down little bit there--but then World War II came along and the factories all turned to making war materials and running twenty-four hours a day and pushing the stuff out. That gave the gun manufacturers the idea, so they started mass production, and the quality of our guns started to go bad.
Jap guns used to be terrible, but those Japs got smart. And I'll tell you, you take a look at these bums who don’t want to work, that work in our factories--that are pushed by the unions and talked into saying they're worth so much money an hour to sit around and suck cigarettes and spend half their time in the restroom and not show up on Mondays--and you'll see why we gun people a few years ago said "We'd better sit up and pay attention to some of the Jap guns!"
You have to watch Spanish guns, too. Spain years ago made poor guns, but they've learned how to make good guns. The Aya is a good gun, for instance, and I've got a .22 automatic pistol that I bought a year ago just for plinking and if that isn't the sweetest thing! And it's made in Spain.
Bill Douglas has been collecting U.S. and other military guns since he was six years old. Professionally he runs an insurance business in Dunedin, Florida.
I have about fifty-five automatic weapons now. I’ve always enjoyed studying history, particularly the military and police history of the United States and the part that weapons played in it. You buy a gun, and you get a book to find out more about it, and it goes on from there.
There’s all that, and then there’s the design and engineering of the weapon, all the different techniques and developments. You try to put yourself in the shoes of somebody like John Browning, who was one of the most prolific gun inventors, and you try to figure out how he developed these weapons.
The "potato-digger" that I have was one of his guns, and it was the first gas-operated machine gun adopted by the U.S. It came about while he was watching some rifles being fired out behind his shop. There were some reeds nearby, and every time the rifles fired, the blast from the muzzles would bend those reeds back. That’s when John Browning realized how powerful the muzzle blast was, and started figuring out how it could be used to operate an automatic weapon. That was one of those moments which changed world history; and I have one of the guns that came from it.
So it’s an astonishing hobby, and I have to be careful not to give it a disproportionate amount of time. I spend a couple of nights a week talking to other collectors and reading all the literature, and I go to the shows about once a month, and I give my little talks and lectures; it’s a realizing way to spend time and get away from the frustrations of being an insurance agent.
It’s not as much fun as it used to be, though because the value of U.S. military guns, particularly automatic weapons, is escalating rather drastically. In 1968,you secured machine guns out there, and granted a one-month amnesty. If you had an automatic weapon, you could bring it in either to surrender it or get licensed—but after that there was no way to license such a gun. Today, if you find a German machine gun your uncle brought back from World War II, there is no way to own it legally. You have to turn it in for destruction or be liable for prosecution.
What that means, of course, is that the pool of machine guns that can be owned and traded legally is frozen, so the value has gone out of sight. I used to trade a lot, but now it’s kind of like trading two twenty-five-thousand-dollar cats for a fifty-thousand-dollar dog. A lot of doctors and lawyers are getting into collecting machine guns now; it takes that kind of income.
Personally I am anticipating that my collection will be an aid in my retirement planning. On the other hand, automatic weapons are getting a lot of negative publicity from the so-called "cocaine-cowboys" with their MAC-10s down in Miami, and it may be just a matter of time before somebody says that they shouldn’t be privately owned anymore.
That’s something we all think about a lot. The machine gun legally licensed to collectors are almost never involved in crimes; the "cocaine-cowboys" are suing automatic weapons bought illegally and never registered, or they are buying semi-automatic assault rifles and then illegally converting them into machine guns. Unfortunately, the press doesn’t usually make such fine distinctions, and legal machine gun owners end up lumped in with the bad guys.
Christopher Wright is a freelance writer/photographer and a recently initiated gun owner. She is pictured sharpening, her Florida dove-hunting skills in New England’s Berkshire Hills.
I like guns because they’re very solid, precise, well-made instruments. They make great noises: when you work the action of a gun, it makes a nice, satisfying click, and you know that this instrument is going to do what you want it to do.
I remember that from my first experience with guns, which was target shooting at summer camp with bolt-action .22 rifles. I liked the sound and the feel of working the bolt action as much as I liked seeing the little holes appear in the target.
After I quit going to summer camp, I didn’t have much to do with guns until my former husband’s brother took me dove hunting. I found that I liked that as much as I had liked shooting when I was a little girl, and for somebody who hadn't picked up a gun in years, I did okay: I brought down half-a-dozen doves my first time out, and I thought that was just terrific.
I wasn't squeamish about it. In fact, I was the opposite. I liked the whole experience. I had been a fisherperson for years, and as a child I was an avid dissector of small animals, so I guess I never have been a squeamish person. I didn't even mind picking up the doves and snapping their little necks if they were still flopping around, then cleaning them when we got them home. In fact, I adapted a little Kliban poem about cats and "mousies" to my feelings about dove hunting:
Since that first dove hunt, which was eight years ago, I have wanted to own a shotgun. Very recently I took care of that wish with a very pretty little Ithica Model I00 l2-gauge, side-by-side. I like the notion of having a l2-gauge, not something smaller. It packs a wallop even with the recoil pad I've had put on it, but I know from experience that when you're out in the field and caught up in the excitement of the hunt, you don’t notice the recoil. You only notice it the next day, when your shoulder is black-and-blue.
I don't know how much I’ll use that shotgun, but I just love owning it. It makes the sweetest of gun sounds when you swing the barrels up to close it. I like the sound my 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol makes when I chamber a round, too, and that also is a satisfying gun to own.
Another thing I like about guns is the sense of power, and the real power, they give me. With a gun, I have more control over my own destiny-more control over potential events around me, and more personal power. That’s the attraction: the satisfaction that comes from smoothly functioning machinery, and the acquisition of power.
Douglas Kenyon owns a Chicago art gallery. He is pictured in Ontario, Canada, with his side-by-side Browning l2-gauge.
My hunting is associated with our summer home in the Lake of the Woods region of Northwestern Ontario, and, of course, one of the highlights is duck hunting in the fall. When the northern bluebills pass through they're very thick, and it is great sport.
I have a dear friend up there--a local man, Smokey Fadden, and he is the one who acquainted me with every aspect of the area over many years He has been on that particular body of water for sixty-plus years, and knows everything there is to know about it. His ability to read all those many subtle signs of nature and share them with me has entitled me to a rare, in-depth course in woodmanship that very few people have been able to experience and enjoy. I suppose my infatuation for the kinds of experiences I enjoy up there goes back to my childhood when my father and I would set out on a frosty morning pheasant hunt--a mutual quest between friends with very few words but an extremely close bond.
In addition to duck hunting in Lake of the Woods, I always enjoy a goose hunt in James Bay. It is great to share a pot of coffee and the warmth of a potbellied stove with a few fellow hunters in that predawn darkness. Then we all go our separate ways over the frozen tundra with our Cree
Indian guides. Don't ask me how, but somehow the guide gets you to the place where he wants to be, and you settle in to watch the sunrise and thousands of geese moving inland, in constant waves, to feed. l love being isolated, quiet and observant, spending time with myself and thinking. It also makes one feel close to the land. If you are sensitive and attuned to what is happening around you, your stalking will lead to a successful hunt. When you ignore the wind direction or where the sun comes up or what the geese feed on, your quest turns into an empty-handed, mindless stroll.
And, of course, it is great to be with friends who enjoying the same things, with the least important thing being who shot what and how many. There are hunters who are concerned with those statistics, but I believe that to be very bad form. Style is very important.
A good gun is a nice companion. One of my favorite guns is my side-by-side Browning 12-gauge. It fits me nice and at times becomes an unconscious extension of me that I have confidence in. Many guns don't seem to have that feel but are instead a contrary piece of hardware. When a hunter is blessed with a good gun that obeys him and a good dog that obeys, life can be quite complete. And nothing is better than fresh duck, wild rice, and a good bottle if wine back at a warm camp with a fire in the fireplace.
The hunt sharpens my senses and is the vehicle for the total experience. I think that I might feel quite silly sitting on a beaver house in the middle of a wild rice bay, waiting for the sun to come up and feeling the utter magnificence of the wild world. If I didn't have a gun in my hand l don't know what I would do.
Ralph M. Plympton is a retired financial printing executive and lifetime bird hunter living in Cambridge, New York. He turned ninety in 1984.
I started to hunt when I was about ten years old in Wellesley, Massachusetts. My grandfather gave me a little single-barreled l2-gauge, and I've been hunting ever since. I got this Browning here for fifty-eight dollars from a gun-dealer feller whose store was going out of business. I can't tell you his name, because that's an eight-hundred or nine-hundred-dollar gun, and if Browning ever found out about it, that feller would never sell another Browning.
I shot grouse mostly when I was young. It wasn't legal to hunt pheasant---or as I call them, "Chinese chickens." As I understand, the English dukes and lords went over to China to exploit the Chinese, and brought these highly privileged Chinese chickens back to put them on their estates: a pheasant egg has got it all over a chicken egg, you know, just like a chicken egg has it all over a duck egg. Massachusetts was the first state to import them into this country around 1900, and the season was closed on them until 1914.
Even when I was in business, I always took the darned time to hunt and fish, and I wasn't a bad shot. I used to hunt chucker partridges with a pistol on a reserve, and I could shoot their heads off in close.
I like to hunt better than I like to fish. You don't need a dog to fish, you see. The dog work is the main part of bird hunting, and that's what I like. I've had dogs all along, except for when I first got married and lived in an apartment.
The first dog I had was a stop hound, which is halfway between a beagle and a foxhound. I'd never heard of them until I bought one. I'd hunt rabbit and fox with it, and it would work on birds too. With a wounded bird, it would follow it, and stop baying; that's why they called it a stop hound. It would put its paws on the bird and hold it until you came up. Since then I've had about ten good dogs, all English pointers. A pointer just likes to hunt; he's not happy just to be around, like a Labrador is. I've had some bum ones, too.
You can't hunt grouse without dogs, see, and I've learned more about grouse hunting from the dogs I've had than from reading all the books I've read. Grouse hunting is quite different from quail hunting. With quail, you know where to go, but with grouse, the dog knows and you don't: he can get the air scent of a grouse, so you should just follow him. The average person figures he knows where he's going, but it's the wrong place. A person can't smell like a dog. And you don't train the dog as much as you train the owner: a dog can be fully trained, but if the owner doesn't know how to handle him and give the right commands, he's useless.
I stopped bird hunting when my legs gave out about three years ago, so I'm not going to go like a friend of mine did. He was quite a bit younger than I am--fifty-one years old, I believe--and they found him dead in the woods from a stroke. He'd shot his sixty-second bird that season.
Bob Mann is a retired photographer who drives a cab and does security work around Nashville, Tennessee. He is pictured with one of his groundhog hunting guns, a .22 Magnum rifle.
I don't like to hunt anything that's not to eat. Game animals were put on earth for man to eat, and it's a waste to kill them for no reason. Even groundhogs--we kill so many of them that we can't eat 'em all, but I make sure we give 'em away; we don't just let them lay there. Colored people eat a lot of them; they boil them and barbecue them, like they do coon and squirrel. You've got to keep groundhogs down because they're real hard on farmers—they eat up all the leafy stuff in your garden and ruin your soybeans, and then cattle are always breaking their legs in their holes--so we hear word of a farm that's covered up with them, and we go thin them out. But we don't waste them.
Groundhogs are good eating. They're like deer; they're strictly vegetarian, and they'll only eat the tenderest of plants, so they're very clean animals. You can get a lot of meat off them, too. The best time to shoot them is the spring and early summer, because during the summer they stuff themselves to prepare for hibernation, and get so roly-poly fat that you have to parboil them to get at the lean meat.
I shoot groundhogs with a .222 pistol up to 75 yards. Between there and about 200 yards, I use a little Sako .222 bolt-action rifle, and from there on out I use a .300 Winchester Magnum. Also, me and my buddy had a rifle made for groundhog, a .257 Weatherby shooting a .25-caliber, ninety-grain hollow-point bullet out of a really long bull barrel-too heavy to carry around, and too long to fit crossways into my Volkswagen. We use it from a sandbag rest on the roof of the Volkswagen with a twenty-power Weaver silhouette scope. That gun shoots accurately anywhere from 25 yards to 875 yards: all you have to do know the range, and dial it up. I've always liked to shoot my groundhogs by sitting in one spot and shooting different ranges, and that gun's just the ticket.
There's no shortage of groundhogs around here, or other game for that matter. We’ve got a good Game and Fish Department in Tennessee, and the game's been getting thicker since I moved here at the end of World War II—deer, wild boar, bear, dove, quail, turkey, rabbit—so you're a good hunter, you can live off the game. ‘Cause I’m not much of a cook, but I know quite a few people around here that do; they don't buy meat in the store at all.
The meat's a lot better, too. They keep looking for the cause of cancer, and I really believe it's all the stuff we’re eating, like the steroids and things they feed meat animals and the water we drink. It seems to me like the whole environment is going to pot, and everything else is going with it. And then on top of all that you've got the prospect of nuclear war.
Which brings us back to groundhogs. l personally wouldn't want to survive a nuclear war--I'd like to go in the first wave--but if you were a survivalist, groundhogs would become real important to you. You couldn't possibly put up enough food in advance to take care of yourself if something like that happened, and groundhogs would be just about the only game left. They live in holes, just like you would be.
Frank Delea is an auto mechanic who lives in Hillsdale, New York. He is pictured teaching his daughter, Allison, to handle a shotgun.
Growing up in this area it was super. When I was Allison's age you didn't need a license, nobody bothered you; you'd just go over the hill, and it was never a problem to go out and get a couple of partridges or pheasant. We ate everything we shot. Venison was on the table year round; if it wasn't that, it was hamburger and potatoes, and ham on Sundays. Partridge, pheasant, rabbit, squirrels-they were all treats.
It was a way of life, I guess. That's why, when we were ten or eleven and we'd take a day off from school to go hunting; you never got hollered at as long as you got a partridge or two or a couple of gray squirrels. But if you didn't shoot something, your parents had a fit.
My buddy down the road, my older brother, my younger brother--we always went together. Everybody had a gun. Shotguns, .22s, it didn't matter. Half the time you couldn't afford shells for the darn things anyway. You'd rummage around and find old buckshot or slugs or something--you'd be out shooting rabbits with buckshot. You'd aim high and hope you hit them with only one pellet. It's things like that that you remember.
But now it's real tight. When you go to hunt, the land's all posted, especially around here. You can't hunt; it's even hard to fish anymore. When you find an area you can go into, you're scared to death to go in there. In the state parks and stuff where they let you hunt--you go in there, and there's a guy behind every tree. Some of them shoot at noise, and that makes me real nervous.
I guess you can't really get mad about people posting their land, but a lot of it around here is city people who've come up and posted their land tight because they like the deer, they like to see them come out and eat underneath their apple tree in the back field. And the people don't realize that those three or four deer already ate up an acre of corn before they came to work over the apples. And the deer have become so overpopulated that now in this area they're smaller in size--about 100 or ll0 pounds dressed, where they used to be 150 or 160.
Last year I got lucky; the one I shot was, oh, 190 pounds dressed. It was over a hundred yards, and I touched it off, and he stood right there and never moved. That was with a .22-750, and they put them down as quick as anything. I said, "Look at that! I never touched the sonofabitch!" I was getting ready to put another shell in when all of a sudden he just flopped, dropped right there. I'd hit him square, and it went in and broke his whole neck bone, so it killed all the nerves to his legs, yet he stood right there.
I went down there, and him and me had some tussle for about half an hour. You ever tried to kill a deer or knock him out with a rock? Don't. You ever tried to cut a deer's throat when he's still alive. You'd better believe, you can get hurt. You get him thrashing and kicking around, and as sharp as those hooves are, they'll cut your legs wide open, or your stomach. Finally I broke his lower jaw with a rock, and that got him enough so I could cut his throat—but even then he still thrashed around for another ten minutes. That's when a pistol would have come in handy.
Thomas Williams is a novelist (Whipple's Castle, The Hair of Harold Roux), a Senior Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, and a lifetime hunter. He is pictured with his sixty-year-old Cogswell & Harrison shotgun.
Shooting these animals has become a closed subject in the last twenty years. My reaction to criticism about it can be sweetly reasonable. It can be almost apologetic. It can be based on the fact that I came from a place and a family that had guns, and l've always had guns--in fact, I bought my first .22 for two quarter bills when I was about eight years old. But I can also get fairly irate about the subject. Then I start asking people if they eat meat, and if they do eat meat, have they ever gutted a pig, and could they? Or would they rather have the Einsatzgruppen do it for them, because they're too sensitive themselves?
I know what keeps animal populations alive. Hunters, unless they're commercial hunters, are probably the best thing for animal populations. The antihunting people are not against animal populations disappearing; they're against the one idea that a human being should be so brutal as to kill an animal. But they don't mind mosquito control, that sort of thing. It's so discriminatory, that attitude, that I mainly just ignore it.
I do suffer for my attitude. Can you be a serious novelist, and be criticized by the academic critics, and have an attitude toward hunting that isn't theirs? That's a big question. I've been attacked on this subject for many, many years.
I once wrote a story called "Goose Pond." It's probably my best-known story, and I remember the first review of it. It was in The Kenyon Review, by some critic who called himself "Huckleberry Squib" or something like that, and it said something like, "If one wants to read about the shooting and skinning of the deer with primitive instruments, one might be interested in this story."
It is becoming the standard attitude in print, and that includes local papers in rural hunting states. Also, a kind of ignorance is standard. For instance, there was an article on muzzleloader shooting in the local daily where I live--and this is an area where many, many people hunt--they had one picture of a percussion lock on a gun, and they called it a flintlock. They don't care what kind it is. The gun carries with it its own moral definition, and therefore, why bother with details? That's more frightening than the mistake.
I think maybe this attitude started in the 1920s, when people like, say, Robert Benchley made a kind of fetish about being a "civilized man" because he couldn't open a can with a can opener. I see it in my students. Let somebody write a paper about how he went out in the woods with his uncle Zack and shot his first deer, and watch them freeze.
I don't think my attitude is closed at all. I've seen expressions on deers' faces which were very pointed and very intelligent, and what they were saying to me was that I was some kind of Ork, some kind of a monster. I don't blame them, because I wanted to eat them.
John Maher a Bel Air, California investment banker, goes on safari in Africa whenever he can. He is pictured in his living room with his favorite safari rifle, a pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 in .375 H&H caliber.
A lot of the mythology of the African safari is real. You do hear the game in the night. You hear the lions roar and the leopards cough.
The kind of noise lions make is indescribable. They don't sound like they do in the zoo. It's a thrill. On your first safari on the first night, they're two miles away, and in that clear air they sound like they’re in the latrine. They really do. You think they're right there, and where's the gun?" Then all of a sudden it is five or six o'clock in the morning and the native is there outside your tent politely clearing his throat to act as the local alarm clock, and he whispers "Bwana?" It's terrific l mean, that's a good way to start the day.
And hunting isn't just killing, you know. Killing's easy. I've been involved in hunts with people who did that, just stacked as many trophies around the camp as they could, flashed their tape measures around the place, and that's just a bore.
The particular attraction to me is with the "dangerous" game. The fact that you’ve done it right (the stalk and kill) and that it's a quality trophy representative of the species is a real high. You get a different feeling shooting an elephant than you do shooting a cat, because elephants are, so to speak, higher in the strata of species than the cats. They.re highly intelligent animals, and the ones you want to shoot are maybe sixty years old, so that's a really important event. That's really something with a very bittersweet quality. I’ve made a conscious decision not to shoot another elephant unless one of its tusks weighs a hundred pounds. To me, that's the ultimate trophy.
But cats, particularly lions, are different. They’re predators. They're mean animals. When you're driving back into camp, for instance, the blacks get very excited if you’ve knocked down a cat, and they get more excited about a lion than anything else. The lion is in the back of the car, and it's a big lion with a big mane, and the wind’s in your face and the car's going down the road' it's Africa, you’re a zillion miles from anywhere, nobody can get you on the phone, and these guys start singing. I mean, there’s a little bit of romance left in life, you know?
This is a romantic event, a truly romantic event. To the typical bush native, a lion represents a real potential threat to his existence, so when one is shot, it's an event, a real event, and they react. These people's emotions are so basic and so sincere and so strong. Their faces are open. And you as the perpetrator—well "perpetrator" may be the wrong word; maybe "crusader'' is better, but that's too strong the other way--you get caught up in it. And these people like to make sure the lion is dead. The kids go over and give it a little kick, throw a little sand in its face and so forth, get a little macho.
When that happens, you can be a damn cynical, sophisticated, business type and still be excited. Damn excited.
Ivan Trofimov is the son of a Russian immigrant to the United States. An engineering consultant, he lives near Dayton, Ohio.
The most interesting gun I have is this Mauser .25 pistol, 1896 Model. My father was issued one--I don’t know if this one I've got now was the one, but if it wasn’t, the one he had was its twin--along with a larger Mauser, the 9-millimeter with the case you used as a stock to make it a carbine. This .25 is the "night-pin" gun; if there’s a round in the chamber, this little pin comes out and you can feel a bump on the side of the gun. It got valuable around 1955, when they realized that there weren’t many of them around anymore.
My father was a submarine commander in the Russian Imperial Navy in 1917. He was just a kid, twenty-two, the youngest full commander they had. He was on the First Soviet Council at Kronstadt--what did he know about politics? He was out torpedoing German ships when the Czar abdicated--and he was told there to take his three submarines to Finland, then report back to do a mapping of the harbor.
Well, he knew that they didn't really want him to map the harbor, and sure enough, when he got to Finland, his bosun's mate came into his cabin and said, "Captain, you're here because you're delivering the submarines, but you're not supposed to show up again. We are assigned to do you in."
That kind of thing was happening all over the place, but the bosun said, "Skipper, you've been with us all through the war, and we're damned if we're going to do anything to you. Here's some money, here's some clothes. Hop in this boat out here."
They got him into open country and in touch with some people, and he went all the way across Russia and Siberia to Japan, then to this country. It took him a year, and he had the .25 with him all the time.
One time, he told me, he got off a train to go to the toilet in the bushes, and suddenly some Red Guards appeared, all in a shambles as they were, just ruffians. One of them had a rifle, he told me, and one had a pistol. He said, "What would you do?"
I guess I didn't know, I was a kid, so he said, "Well, you should always shoot the guy with the pistol first, because it takes time to get your hands on a rifle and swing it around. By knocking off the guy with the pistol first, you've gained maybe a second or two seconds before you have to get the guy with the rifle." But he didn't have to do it. The Red Guards fell into some other conversation, and he got back on the train.
He was pretty sure that he was well disguised, that they didn't know he was an officer. They just butchered officers. They'd take their bodies into the nearest town, and leave their coats and epaulets on. Then they’d cut off their pants and string them up by the balls. Anyone who touched the corpse would be shot.
So now the ruffians are running Russia, and what have the Russian people got to defend themselves against them? In Russia, even your knives and forks have to be blunt, or you're off to the Gulag.
Here, if the National Guard was told to take over this town, they'd think twice. It might cost them some casualties.
Mike Dalton is a champion IPSC shooter who teaches self-defense with a handgun at the International Shootists Institute in Los Angeles.
In IPSC shooting, you learn to shoot a powerful hand- gun quickly and accurately. It’s one of the few dual-purpose sports. It's sort of like swimming: in swimming you can enjoy your pool and have a lot of fun recreationally, and when you're out in the middle of the ocean and your boat sinks, you have a chance to save your life.
At ISI we teach people how to handle themselves and their weapons in a life-threatening situation. We begin by teaching them how to handle a gun in a totally safe manner, then we go on to the choice of equipment for defensive use.
For people who are interested in shooting recreationally, or who just want to go visit the range once or twice a month, we recommend a four-inch barrel .38 Special revolver, double-action variety, made by a good manufacturer like Colt or Ruger or Smith & Wesson. That type of weapon is very safe to operate and very quick to get into action, and it has a very controllable recoil. It’s a good compromise. With modern hollow-point ammunition you get respectable stopping power.
For people who want a semi-automatic handgun and are able to shoot once a week or more we recommend the .45 Colt or Randall Service models. That’s because they are better systems than the .38 once they have been tested and tuned. You need to put more time and effort into learning how to handle a .45, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s faster than a revolver, it holds more ammunition, and that big bullet works very well.
Out of the box, straight from the manufacturer, the revolver is more dependable than the semi-automatic. The reason is that generally, semi-automatics are manufactured to fire ball ammunition; usually, they are not machined to take hollow-point, soft-point, or semi-wadcutter ammunition, and they are likely to jam if you use these types if bullets--which are the kinds of bullets you should use. Once properly modified. However, the .45 is the best system in the world.
After we have taught our people about safety and equipment, we teach them the basics of grip and sighting and so on, then we teach them how to handle dangerous confrontation situations--when to shoot, how to use cover, how to evaluate situations so that they shoot the right person or persons, and how to stay alive. Then we teach them the legal aspects of self-defense with a handgun. Our lawyer makes all that very plain.
Another thing we teach is to avoid the situation if at all possible. For instance, if you know that somebody’s out in your living room unplugging your television set, stay in your room. You can replace your television set, but you can’t replace your life. Also, you should keep your bedroom door locked. That way, somebody's going to have to make noise to get in there. If they get in, you’ve got the gun and you know how to use it.
We don't look at this like we’re training a bunch of / John Waynes who are going to go out and clean up the world. That’s not realistic. After just a few days of instruction, no matter how good, these people are not ready to clean up the world. They’ll be doing well just to keep themselves alive. That’s what we strive for.
Jerry Preiser is a gun dealer, range owner, and lobbyist/spokesman for New York State gun owners. His favorite weapon is a customized 1911 Model A-I Colt .45 semi-automatic.
I always carry. If I'm going out on a weekend with the wife and I want to wear something a little more comfortable than the .45, I might swap into a Model 16 Smith & Wesson, a .38 five-shot little tiny revolver. I can tuck that into my waistband or something. But generally speaking, I have supreme confidence in the .45.
I have a gun with me even when I'm taking a crap. When I'm sitting on the toilet, that .45 is literally six or seven inches from my hand. So while I take it off when I go to move my bowels, that gun is still there. You have to have access to it because the one time you don't have the gun, just sure as shit, that's gonna be the time you need it--you know, "Wait here, I'll be right back, I have to go to my apartment."
This is a great personal weapon because the .45 is a heavy bullet. It's not a fast bullet. You can go to a .22 or a .223 varmint-type guns, high-velocity guns, and the shock of the hit might kill a guy, but the .45 is a slow-moving bullet, a big, fat, heavy slug, and no matter where you hit a guy, you'll stop him. This gun, you see, was developed when we were fighting the Morros in the Philippines, and those guys were so hopped-up that even if you hit them a couple of times, they'd still have enough to take you. Among sophisticated aficionados of the gun, the .45 is the ideal cartridge for stopping a guy, short of going to something outrageous like a .357 or a .44 Magnum. There are problems when you go that hot, see. Now you're going to a fat slug that's traveling fast, as opposed to a fat slug that's moving slow. It can go through you and hit that Minnie across the street, and maybe even ricochet around and do God knows what. So there's a limit to the desirable range of that cartridge; you don't want it to just keep on doing damage, and the .45 is a happy compromise. It works.
They have all kinds of sophisticated loads for this gun now. I'm shooting a silvertip. There's a high content of silver alloy in there. She's also a hollow-head; she's been beveled out, so when she hits you, it's gonna be controlled. It's gonna go in, and then she's gonna mushroom out, so in addition to that heavy shock, that knock-down punch, she's gonna open you. The arm? Off. So you don't need more than that.
The silvertip is my normal load. I could be humane and carry hardball loads, regular army issue, and I could group nicely and drill nice neat holes, but in the excitement of combat I might drill the nice neat holes and the guy might still keep coming. Still shooting at me, as it were.
I only ever pulled once. Eight or nine years ago, in a park-yourself garage. Late at night, and I'm up on the third or fourth level, and a black gentleman comes up behind me as I'm getting into my car. I drew, and I didn't have to shoot--but the safety was off, and there was a little pressure on the trigger. He was maybe two and a half pounds away from eternity.
Paul Dumont lives in a semirural area of New Hampshire. An entrepreneur and salesman, he was in the wood-burning stove business at the time of the interview.
I think everyone should know how to shoot a gun, because I think we live in a false sense of security. People shouldn't really feel as secure as they do. You take an animal in the woods--its senses are keen, and it’s aware of its enemies; it knows it has enemies. But a lot of people, especially Americans, feel safe in their houses, and they think they'll never need a gun, and besides, guns are evil. Why are humans safe? Tell me. Are you safe?
I mean, anything can happen. Th. Russians could come over here. People flip out and do crazy things. People get up in towers, and some of them are ex-Marines, and they start picking people off. Your cities run out of food for some reason or other, and people say, "Let’s hit the countryside," come driving by here, say, "Hey, there’s a place, it’s out in the country, let’s shoot the whole fuckin’ family." Nobody's gonna hear anything. You could shoot al night here, and nobody would come. What are you gonna do? Who's gonna help you?
If that happens to me and they get in the door, they ain't gonna get upstairs. I’ve got maybe five thousand rounds up there. If I run out of bullets, they’re probably gonna be out, too. If you’ve got a gun and you know how to use it, you've got at least a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. A lot of people have died because they didn’t have that fifty-fifty chance. If the other guy has a gun, it’s no goddam good at all to wave a fireside implement at him, is it?
I try to shoot once a week, and when I do, I go through four or five hundred rounds. I use different guns different times. A lot of times in the morning I don’t feel like carrying a rifle, so I’ll go out with one of my pistols. Other times, like on a Sunday, I’ll go out with four or five guns. I’d love to have a full-automatic weapon, but they’re hard to get.
I like all the guns in different ways. I like the looks of my .30-30. I like that western look. I like the .357 Smith & Wesson because you can blast it of real fast—pow-pow-pow! I like my semi-automatic .22s because you can do a lot of shooting. Probably my favorite overall is my Remington pump shotgun. You can squeeze it of real fast, but you really get a blast. I get in different moods. One day I like one gun, another day I like another. My wife’s a real good shot, too. Sometimes she’s even better than me.
A lot of my friends disapprove of guns, won’t have them in the house, but to each his own. They don’t like me having them, but they don’t give me no shit about it. Ha! People in general don’t give me much shit about anything.
I keep the guns in the bedroom, with the ammunition. I keep that .357 with six shells right next to it all the time. There's another one that’s always loaded, too. You haven’t seen that one; that’s the one I’m not showing you.
Ingrid Cooperman moved recently from New York City to rural Vermont, where most of the time she lives alone with her children. She is pictured with her l2-gauge pump shotgun.
The first gun we got was the .22, and I think that was just to be like everybody else. Everybody had some sort of gun, and we wanted to show that we weren’t city folk, we weren't summer folk, we weren't tourists, we were real people!
So the .22 just sort of sat there. That's not a real weapon anyway. It's more something you’d use for squirrels, isn't it? But that's the only one that ever gets used. Sometimes when city guys come up, Mort will take them out with it--you know, ha ha ha, country life--and they’ll shoot at soda cans or something.
But what I regard as the weapons, the shotgun and the automatic pistol, came when I had my leg in a splint, and I had to take care of the kids, and Mort was in the city, and suddenly this guy started showing up—"Crazy Larry." He's sort of nuts, and he would trespass very freely and say sort of alarming things. The police were strange about it. On the one hand they seem benevolently amused by it and say, "Oh, that's just Crazy Larry," but then they'd say he'd just got out of prison for attempted arson and he beats up his family. The one time I called them for help, they called back in an hour for directions.
So I was thinking, what could I do if something turned ugly? I couldn't run--my leg was in a splint. I couldn’t yell for help--nobody would hear me. If I called the police, the same thing would happen again.
So in a fit of paranoia I went off to Bob’s Gun Shop and bought the shotgun and the automatic. Then we got very frightened that we had these dangerous things lying about. So we sort of separated the ammunition from the guns. I don't even know where the ammunition for the .22 is. I think the buckshot for the shotgun is over in the little house somewhere. The pistol's the only one which is accessible at all, and that with some difficulty.
I don't know how to load the shotgun. As far as I know, it's never been fired. But that may be one of the most dangerous things, to have guns about and not know how to use them. It seems sort of silly. It seems that either I should get rid of them entirely, or really learn how to know what
I'm doing and even teach the kids to know what they’re doing.
The local people think we're crazy to live here as we do. All the women down in the village say, "I could never live like that. I'd be terrified, especially if my husband wasn’t there all the time." They've lived here all their lives, and we're newcomers, so maybe they know something we don't.
Louise Blair helps her husband run the Sagebrush Inn near Taos, New Mexico. It was he who bought her the .38 Special revolver she holds in the photograph.
I was a schoolteacher before I met my husband, who owned the inn. He's a very artistic person, who likes to work with natural elements like adobe, but he also has respect for danger, and he taught me to respect it too. I had never had anything to do with guns before I met him, but now, when he's not here, my gun is practically my best friend. It goes with me from room to room.
We live in an extremely remote, large house on a mud road. It's a bad road, but it's a shortcut, so a lot of people use it, and they're always getting stuck in the middle of the night. They come here then. We've had everything from Mexicans who are hiding from the Border Patrol to movie stars who have bottomed out their Cadillacs. When the doorbell rings, I answer it with the gun in my hand.
I've had to ask people not to come in the door, and I've had to show them the gun. Usually, that happens when they're really drunk, and it happens maybe four or five times a year. People under the influence of drugs or alcohol do not have much judgment, so just telling them to go away often doesn't work. Showing them the gun works, though; I've never had an incident which escalated beyond my showing the gun.
I'd only shoot it if somebody were actually lunging at me or breaking in through the big windows we have; then, I wouldn't hesitate. It's not like I could call the police and have them show up right away, and I don't think women can handle knives effectively, and I'm not a judo expert and often when my husband isn't here, he takes the dog with him. I can scream really loudly, but what good would that do me? It's not as if there were neighbors who could hear me screaming, or even shooting: we have no neighbors. My husband has rifles in the house, but I can't shoot them, so that leaves the pistol.
I've shot it maybe three or four times in my whole life. And it's really loud. The first time I shot it, I shook so hard that I nearly dropped it--but now that I haven't heard that loud sound in so many years, it's just like, "Oh yeah--pick it up and carry it with me." It's automatic. It's a pretty gun, too; it's nicely plated and it has pearl handles and everything. It's my buddy.
I must add that I am not at all interested in using a gun under any circumstances for hunting or injuring an animal unless it were attacking me, like a rabid skunk. I'm not a "gun person" at all. But if you live in the boonies, you just have to have a gun and be ready to use it. Otherwise, don't live in the boonies.
Thomas McCaffrey owns an antique jewelry store in Chicago. He keeps five handguns concealed around his store. One of them is the .380 Llama pistol on his desk.
I've always had long guns, but I bought my first handgun when my wife was held up in the store. It dawned on me that people were just wandering around the streets with guns, and we were sitting here like the little ducks in the machines at the amusement park. We'd go round and round, and they'd take potshots at us. So I thought I'd reverse that psychology a bit. We may be little ducks going around, but we're armed ducks that'll shoot back.
I'm not out to start a gunfight in the store. It's just that in certain businesses, you give them the $500 in the till, and let it go. You don't have to worry about it. But in the jewelry business, I might have $150,000 or $200,000 or more in other people's jewelry here, and then I have an inventory of over a quarter of a million dollars, so I've got a lot to lose.
You know when you're going to be held up. At least six times a year, we are positively in the process of being held up. We know what's going down. Two men will come into the store, then another man will come in, then maybe another, and then one man will go outside, and there may be a car parked there. These people are just roaming around the store, looking at the camera, looking into the back room, and they always want to know "How much is this watch? How much is this one? -"-looking for the most expensive stuff. So we know what's going down.
We have remote radio holdup buttons and stationary holdup buttons, and we have the camera, and we get a four- or five-minute response from the police, so we have a certain way of running the store and putting these thing into operation when something's coming down, and if it gets really heavy, I usually just take one of my pistols and stick it right down the front of my pants where they can see it, and I stand in the doorway at the back of the store with my hand on the pistol, and I just look at 'em.
One time when we were being set up, my wife actually saw this one guy's gun in his shoulder holster when he was leaning over one of the display cases. I'd been out somewhere, and when I came in the atmosphere was electric, people's eyes were bugging out, and it was really hot. My wife was waiting on this guy--there were five of them in the store--and she excused herself and went in the back and called the cops, then came out again.
I'd gone into the back room and got my pistol out, and I was behind the door where I thought they couldn't see me, just waiting for this guy to draw his gun, but they must have seen me through the crack in the door, because all of a sudden they just fled. They were out of the store in, oh maybe three and a half seconds.
I was going to nail the guy on the spot. Just nail him—I wasn't going to ask him to put down his weapon. That would just have led to gunfire. If he'd drawn the gun, I would have shot him.
"Wildman" Dent Myers owns a Civil War memorabilia store in Kennesaw, Georgia. He wears two revolvers' a .44 Special Charter Arms Bulldog and a '357 Colt Lawman III, on his belt.
Some guns from the War Between the States, like the LeMatt pistol, are extremely rare. Confederate weapons in particular are hard to find, because a lot of them were confiscated and destroyed after the war, and also because people seem to have a natural bent for collecting the weapons of so-called "conquered" groups.
Under the circumstances, Confederate guns were pretty high quality. We had no manufacturing facilities at all in this area (all the factories were up North), so during the four years of the war we had to set up the manufacturing of screws and bolts and castings and forgings--everything we needed. We did pretty good: in four years, we accomplished what had taken the United States two hundred years. Then of course wet bought a lot of weapons in Europe: the LeMatts from France. The Whitworths from England and so on. Those Whitworths were no slouch. They had telescopic sights and hexagonal barrels, and they registered kills at eighteen hundred yards. We made some good Yankee officers with those guns.
We were the only ones that had ‘em. The English Queen and Parliament were on our side because of our cotton, so there was a lot of trading, but England was officially on the Yankee side because of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That book sold more copies in England than it did here, and the common workers related to the poor old downtrodden niglets.
When I was little, I wasn’t even aware that there had been a War Between the States. I was raised back up in the sticks, and my folks were sharecroppers about three grades lower than the niglets, so I didn't know nothin’. I only found out about the war around 1950, when I started digging stuff up. This area is rich in history, see. It’s where they captured "The General"—the train, that is—ant at one time about a hundred thousand Yankees jumped down the ridge and met about sixty-eight thousand of us and lost a bunch of stuff. I dug some of it up, and then I started reading the histories and got hooked. Now l kinda consider this store my school. I learn more every day from the people who come in here. I even had the King of Afghanistan in here one time; he made me a major in the Afghanistan army.
I don't wear my guns all the time: I take ‘em off when I bathe and go to bed. Mainly they're a deterrent; I never take them out of their holsters except to clean ‘em or use them, and I only used one once. A guy in a Dempsey Dumpster tried to run over me and my dog, and by automatic reaction (l didn't do it on purpose), I pulled and blew his windshield out, busted his drive train, all that kind of stuff. I went and told the sheriff' and nothing came of it.
When I was a kid my family was so low on the scale that niglets wouldn’t let us play with them. Now I have nothing against ‘em except when somebody arbitrarily forces them into my company. I'm not a violent person by nature--don't believe in violence—but I do believe in my city, my state, my country and the Confederacy not necessarily in that order.
Tommy Reesnover acts as a bodyguard for Nashville Tennessean reporter Jerry Thompson (rear). His presence results from threats made against Thompson by the Ku Klux Klan following his undercover infiltration and expose of that organization.
Tommy: I keep my gun here with me in the store, but Jerry doesn't like me to carry it when I’m around him, so I don't. Besides, it's a lot of trouble. We went to Canada one time, and you don't carry no short pistols in Canada; that sort of thing, and airplanes. It's just a hassle, a real hassle.
Jerry and I go back a long way, and I like to call myself his "traveling companion." Not "bodyguard". Jerry can take care of himself just as well as I can take care of myself. I knew he wasn't gonna run and I knew I wasn't gonna run, so I made a deal with him: I'd take the first one. At least, that's what I told him . . .
But the main thing about being a bodyguard is instinct. Like when we were in Pittsburgh and those Nazis walked in, I knew they were trouble. We handled it well, Jerry in his way and I in mine, and they didn’t prevent him from talking. I didn't need no gun for that.
Jerry: I really don't like to be around guns, and I especially don't like to be around Tommy and guns. I really don't want him to carry a gun when he’s with me.
You want to know why? All right: I’ll tell you a little anecdote about Tommy and guns.
As Tommy told you, we go back a long way, so I can’t remember exactly when this happened, but one night we've been in this after hours bar across from the newspaper office, and as we're leaving at about 2 a.m.--me alone in my car and Tommy and a bail bondsman and another friend behind me--these two fellers see me coming out of the alley, alone in the car, and they're going to murder!
Of course, I know that I have three hosses behind me to back me up, so I just get out to make my stand. Before this one guy on the other side of the car can get around, Tommy sees what's going on, and he’s there. These guys are in a fight.
I've caught my man in the car door, so I’m trying to pummel him a little when I see Tommy hit his guy upside the head with this little pistil he's got. Right then I see this big streak of fire, and I just know it's gone right through the guy's damned head. I run right around the car—You all right, buddy? You hurt?"--but fortunately, the round has gone over his head and ricocheted off the building.
Those guys left in one hell of a hurry, and that was that. It wasn't until two weeks later, when I met the bail bondsman on the street--we lost him that night--that we found out that Tommy's bullet had taken off the ball of his earlobe after it ricocheted off the building.
He said. "I’ll never go with you crazy sons of bitches ever again, anywhere!" He hasn't, either.
That's when I started to worry about Tommy and guns. Another time, he shot three holes in a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign in a bar, all the way down the length of this long narrow, crowded bar--talk about a crowded stairwell.
Those people left in a hurry! --and I think that’s when he started to worry about him and guns.
Tommy: Well, in the first instance, the gun I hit that feller with was a .25 automatic, and those things are always going off accidentally. It wasn't my fault. I was carrying it because of "case of concealment." In the second case, well that was just a damn good feeling.
C. F. Monroe, a retired painting contractor, was encountered at a gun show in Gaylord, Michigan, where he was selling part of his extensive gun collection.
Why am I selling these guns? I'm selling them 'cause I'm seventy-six, don't look forward to a whole lot of years, and Michigan is a bad place to have anything of great value right now.
We live in the country, and I have two well-trained police dogs. I had one before that, but they poisoned it. Had to have it destroyed. So, I don't like to shoot people, though I did shoot one. He got twenty-seven Number Sixes in his back and rear end.
He was a well-known window-peeker in a little town called Peary, Michigan. They caught him in Peary, so he started riding a bicycle out in the country. 'Course I didn't know him from a bowl of apples, but he was on the porch and he tried the door. I was sitting there watching television with the lights out, see, late at night, but I seen his silhouette against these lights on a tower about a half a mile from the house--saw him when he moved and covered up the lights.
I got up and whispered to the wife, "Don't get excited if you hear me shooting, 'cause I'm going to scare the hell out of somebody, or capture him if he gets in the house." But what he done is just tried the outside door, is all.
So I went down the stairs--my guns are all in the basement, see--and picked up a Browning automatic and put two shells in. He could see the basement stairs, so I was yawning as I went down, like I was going to bed or something, but when I came up he saw the gun, and he started running. I was barefoot, and I chased him across a gravel drive, hollered "Stop!" and shot once over his head. Next time I pulled down on him-- "You're just a nice good range"--and took him right off his feet, probably more from shock than anything else. He was pretty well stung He ran off in the weeds.
I called the Sheriff's Department and they come, of course, their lights aflashin' and their sirens blowin' for two miles coming in, driving like hell, and they run right past our place and had to back up. Meantime, the fella got up and ran across a crack-grass field. You can track him in it, of course, 'cause he cracks it right down, see.
Anyway, this old fella had to go have the shot pulled out of him, so they turned him in to the State Police. But then they didn't prosecute me, so nothing happened to me. You shoot a man in the road, you're liable to get prosecuted. You don't know if he's coming for gasoline, or if he's a drunk walking home, or what he's doing, see. Anyway, that was that.
This rumor got around about me shooting this guy. It didn't come out for about a year who it was I shot, but they knew I shot somebody. The Sheriff's Department are great noisemakers, see. But shortly after that, these people start driving by, looking at all the houses. We live on a three mile road, and every house on the road has been broken into, except mine. All the mailboxes have been kicked over, except mine. I mean all of them, except mine.
Virginia Velazquez owns and operates two adjoining stores in the East New York div of Brooklyn. She received a National Rifle Association cash award for foiling an attempted robbery in February 1983.
About three weeks ago, two men came in here. One of them had two guns, and he pointed them at my watchmaker. My watchmaker said, "Oh my God, it's a holdup!" and he started running through into the other store. I started running, too, but something came into my head, and I got my gun, and I ran through the other store and out onto the street and back to the front door of the jewelry store.
One man was taking the jewelry, and the other was holding the guns. The man with the guns turned around and pointed them at me. He tried to shoot, but the gun he tried to shoot was old, and it didn't work. No bullet came out. I figured my life came before his life, so I started shooting. I shot five times and hit him twice in the head. Maybe I hit the other guy in the chest; I don't know. The first guy fell down, then got up and ran down the street, bleeding, with his guns. The Housing Police found him, and came here and said, "You had any trouble here?"
I said, "Yes. Why?" They said they had a guy hurt, and they brought him here, and I told them he was the one.
They told me later that one bullet grazed his head, and the other one went in and came out again. He had a very strong head. When they took the X rays, they found out that he still had some shotgun pellets in his head from a holdup he'd done before. He was twenty-six years old, and he was on parole when he came to hold me up. They didn't catch the other guy.
I was held up before. Jesus Christ, I don't remember, but it was about four or five times. One time, a guy came in with a shotgun. When I saw it was a shotgun, I ran.
I've had the gun about a year and a half. Before that, we didn't have a license. My husband has a big gun, but he's not here when they do the holdups, so he got me the little gun. He taught me how to hold it, but I never shot it before I shot the guy. Now I'm going to the pistol range twice a week. I want to learn how to shoot well. It's nice. I enjoy it. It's good to learn, especially in this neighborhood. I like everybody, but when somebody tries to kill me . . .
We've been here fourteen years, but it wasn't always bad. It started to get bad about six or eight years ago. Maybe it's going to get better. They're fixing up buildings and building new ones. My husband and I are going to retire to Puerto Rico in five or six years, and build a mall in our hometown. It will cost about $250,000. It will be very nice.
When I got the award, I was very happy. I was proud. But I never tried to kill anybody. I tried to scare them and defend my life. God decides who is killed.
George Kast has been a private investigator in New York City for twenty years. He carries a two-inch-barrel .38 Special revolver. He has removed the grips from the gun’s handle in order to make it less conspicuous in his pocket.
I always wanted to do this job. I guess I saw The Maltese Falcon when I was a kid, and just decided I wanted to be a private investigator more than anything. I’ve worked for an insurance company for twenty years, but I also do outside work for various attorneys, mainly tracking down witnesses and getting them into court. Every case is slightly different, and I like meeting all kinds of people and conning them into coming in to trial.
You don't get a pistol carry permit with the job; you have to get that separately. I got mine when I thought I would have some accounts that would want an armed guard. As a matter of fact, the first job I thought I’d need it for was a job protecting some visitors who were coming to the city.
The thing didn't materialize. One of the people got killed, as it turned out, so I was glad I didn’t get the job.
I usually carry the gun when I’m out working, and I don't mind having it in the house, either. What I like about it is that it is sort of an equalizer. I don’t think I’d be much of a match for some big tough guy without it.
It's comforting to know the thing is around. I was with a friend one night, and some guy came along the street and bumped into him, and they exchanged a few words. The guy pulled a knife on him and announced that he was going to stick him. So I felt very happy to have the thing at the time, because I took it out and pointed it at him and told him he'd better not. He folded up his knife and walked away. And going into a rough neighborhood with surly people around who mutter at you, it's more reassuring to have something there. It’s more or less saying, "Well, I’m as big a guy as you are."
I carried it most zealously when I was looking for the guys who murdered my aunt a couple of years ago. She was done in by some animals up in the Bronx. She was an old lady who remained there, one of the two old ladies who stayed on the block. There was a rash of "push-in" robberies: these idiots like to push in the door on old people who are returning from shopping or something. These guys thought that was a great way to spend time. They beat her up and left her there all night, and she died in the hospital. There was a witness to it, so what I did was ride around the neighborhood with the witness, looking for them. Apprehending them with the weapon would have been a lot easier than simply asking them if they wouldn’t mind coming along with me.
The cops got them in the end. There were about ninety crimes attributed to them. They caught one guy on a roof. I told them, "Why didn’t you just push him off? Why bother with this fuckin’ beast?"
I've got a friend I listen to who’s found a new three-dollar bullet that I carry in the gun. I use it because it’ll destroy what it hits. I think if you're going to shoot somebody, you don't just want to scare them.
Detective George Simon has had thirty years of experience in the NYPD ballistics lab, the largest and busiest in the United States.
Here in the city you can't buy handguns or handgun ammunition legally, so what we get most here at the lab are shotguns and .22s; they can buy that ammo, so they cut the shotguns down and use the .22s in pistols. We get quite a lot of black powder guns, too, and BB guns by the hundred. Military guns, too--.45s and 9-millimeters galore—‘cause you have people in the service who swipe the ammunition. Even shotgun and .22 ammunition comes from the military. You get a guy from the military who gets a box of ammo--he can sell it for ten dollars here and take his girlfriend out. Of all the stuff we get, though, the black powder guns are the worst. They blow up. I don’t like 'em and I hate taking pieces of gun out of my skull; it bothers me.
We are able to make matches--to prove that a certain bullet was fired from a certain gun--in 75 to 80 percent of our cases, but we do have limits. Shotguns are hard to match, for instance, because their barrels have no rifling and they are multiple pellets; unless we have the empty shell case or we can match the wad from the shell to the gun--which we can only do when somebody’s sawed off the barrel and left marks which show up on the wad—we don't have much to work with. Bullets that are very badly deformed don't give us much to work with, either, and then you get problems with guns that have been in sea air or been misused or cleaned with a stainless steel brush since the crime The interior surface of the barrel and the breech face and all may have changed.
A lot of it comes down to experience. Me, for instance. I'd been looking at bullets almost thirty years when I got the Son of Sam case, so I knew exactly what kind of gun they should be looking for by the third shooting. I’d seen those markings on .44 Special bullets before. I said, "You’re looking for a Bulldog."
Everybody said I was crazy, but I hit it right on the head. I said, "No, that's a Charter Arms Bulldog, .44 Special." The rifling on the bullets was a right six twist, and it was peculiar, and I knew that that was because of the way Charter Arms makes barrels for that gun. They bore the barrels in twenty-four-inch lengths, and when they bore them, one end is clamped and the other is free. It vibrates, and as the cutter gets toward the end it starts to make a different impression. That was the little peculiarity about some Bulldogs, and it was on every bullet he used, like a mark.
That was a hard case. The gun wasn’t in good shape, so the matches were hard. There were a lot of bullets, too. I’d be digging them out of things, out here at four o’clock in the morning. We don't go out of the office on cases--Crime Scene does that these days--but they got me out of bed for that one. I tell you, I'm glad they got him when they did; that day, they were sending me down tests on fifteen hundred Charter Arms Bulldogs collected from New York State.
That was something. He said the devil sent him, in the form of a dog. I went up to his apartment. The only things in it were a hi-fi, a mattress on the floor, and the chair the hi-fi was on. That was it. And he had a hole in the wall--"Put Sam's messages in here" written there. Nobody reached in the wall; we could hear a scurrying going back and forth in there.
Ben Jones is a machinist and gunsmith, an IPSC competition shooter, and a professional soldier whose past affiliations include the U.S. Army Rangers and the French Foreign Legion.
Given the choice of any weapons for my personal use in combat, I would start with the .45 Colt Government Model for my pistol. That's because of the gun’s effectiveness as a man-stopper and its ability to function under severe conditions of dirt and weather. I’m not going to tell you that a 9-millimeter won't get the job done--there have been millions of people all over the world dispatched with one--but I personally have been shot thirteen times with a 9-millimeter, and it didn't do me in; as a matter of fact, my adversary didn't live through it. He used a submachine gun from no more than ten feet away, but he just never hit any vital organs. I killed him with a knife. Now I’d hate like hell to think about getting shot thirteen times with a .45.
Professional soldiers, given a choice, will choose a .45 almost invariably provided that there's adequate ammunition, which there usually is in any area of the world where the United States is or has been a presence. Sometimes that isn't the case, though, and you have to use something else; I've used plenty of 9-millimeters in my time. You also have to keep in mind that whatever weapon you use, you have to be able to get spare parts for it. You can’t carry a broken weapon around for two or three months, hoping to find parts for it. That's why in Central America, my choice of a submachine gun would probably be a German MP-40 or MP-38, the old "Schmeisser." There are plenty of ‘em around in that part of the world, and they’re still good weapons.
For a rifle, I would choose the Belgian F.N.-FAL in .308. Of all the military arms there are in the world today--and there are some pretty good arms lying around--this particular weapon is the Cadillac. It's real accurate, it’s as near mechanically perfect as you can get, it will take the abuse that an old M-l Garand will take, it’ll function under almost any conditions and with ammunition that would hang up in any other kind of automatic weapon, and it has extreme range and fine handling qualities. Those Belgians are an ingenious bunch, and the F.N.-FAL is one of the most sought-after weapons in the world, by any group.
You don't see too many of them in the hands of "rebels" because they're so expensive. The government forces usually get them under military aid programs, and of course the rebels will go to great lengths to capture one of them. They won't buy them, though: you have to remember that these people don't have any money—they’re patriots fighting just for survival--and they’re a lot more interested in supplying large numbers of weapons than just getting a few great ones. They can get six or seven or even ten Soviet or Chinese AKs for the price of an F.N., and those are effective weapons. The anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan are using Chinese AKs supplied through an arrangement between us and the Chinese Government, and they’re doing a fantastic job with them.
Personally, I'm not restricted in my choice of weapons when I go down to Central America. Arsenals are available to me, so I choose the F.N. and a compensated, worked-over .45 like the one I use in IPSC shooting at home. That's no "trick gun": I wouldn’t shoot a weapon in the game that I wouldn't put my life on in combat.
Paris Theodore is a weapons designer formerly employed by the U.S. Government on classified and covert weapons projects. He is pictured in his Manhattan office working on his self-designed "guttersnipe" pistol sight. In the background is a target for his QUELL system of combat hand-gun shooting.
Hollywood has been responsible for most errant ideas about combat and what actually happens in a shootout. Television and the movies mislead and misinform us regarding combat, and like so many six-year-olds sitting before our, TV sets (for that, indeed, is what we were)' we absorbed that information like sponges. For the man who will never be engaged in combat, no problem: what he does not know will not hurt him--but many of us went on to become police officers, agents, and even training officers' and we carried those Hollywood lessons with us. For those of us who chose that path, there is a danger: when "it" really happens and the adversary does not follow the script, we become confused. This is because we have been brainwashed to a degree any KGB political officer would gloat over.
From the movies, we have learned to expect that when someone is shot in the arm, he reacts immediately by grabbing it with his free hand, wincing, and maybe uttering an "Unh!" When he is shot in the chest, a spot of blood appears and he is thrown backward, usually with arms flailing, to land motionless and silent.
The truth of the matter is that no bullet from a sidearm, no matter what the caliber, will bowl a man over. The "stopping power" or striking force of the bullet can have no more impact than the recoil of the gun: otherwise' the man pulling the trigger would be bowled over, because as every high school senior knows, every action is accompanied by a reaction of equal force in the opposite direction. The striking force of a modern .44 Magnum throwing a 240-grain ball at a muzzle velocity of 1,470 feet per second—almost twice that of a 19II .45 Colt semi-automatic would strike a stationary two hundred-pound man at arm's length with one twentieth the force of another man walking into him.
Also, one must remember that bullet wounds from a handgun are self-sealing and very rarely begin to show blood until moments after the crucial confrontation. And with very few exceptions, a bullet entering the body causes no immediate pain and cannot be felt entering.
A member of the old NYPD Stakeout Unit once told us' "If they hit the ground with their legs crossed, they're dead. No further shooting of that felon is required. Go on to the next one." As fate would have it, this has proven to be an excellent rule-of-thumb. Crime scene unit personnel and shooters seem to concur on this point in hindsight. Nobody has ever seen a man who fell cross-legged stand again. The feeling is that a man who lands like that has been neutralized on his feet.
One must never make the mistake of taking a cue from either the opponent's facial expressions or words--which historically have been used deceptively--and one cannot believe in "knock-down power'" The closest thing to it in combat is a "cadaver reaction" or a nervous spasm, both of which happen when the brain fires a confused barrage of synapses simultaneously when the opponent is shot (or possibly even when he thinks he is about to be shot). That can make a person scream, twitch, jump, or defecate, but it has no bearing on the number of foot-pounds of energy just delivered by a bullet.
I conceived of the QUELL system of combat handgun shooting to address these realities.
All text and images ©1984 Patrick Carr and George W. Gardner.