Target-eye view. Twelve million women own guns in the United States.
  • Target-eye view. Twelve million women own guns in the United States.
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On a quiet street in suburban Escondido, in a neighborhood dominated by warehouses and light industrial factories just off Auto Park Way, the inertia of an empty provincial evening is suddenly shattered by a burst of muffled semi-automatic gunfire.

"People saw the Koreans during the L.A. riots. What’s the lesson of that? Very simple."

"People saw the Koreans during the L.A. riots. What’s the lesson of that? Very simple."

Everything in the nervous system of the casual passerby will tell him that this sound is not simulated; a sixth sense makes him know that real shells are being fired somewhere. It creates an instant unease, an acceleration of the hearts systole-diastole that comes only from an irrational intuition of danger. Except that in this case, no lone madman armed with a Kalashnikov is robbing the local McDonald's and knocking off the cowering customers as they desperately try to hide themselves under plastic tables and chairs (an image now burned into the collective American mind).

Shooters Emporium target practice. “If someone enters your house, it will take on average only 20 seconds to kill you. How long will it take for the police to get there?"

Shooters Emporium target practice. “If someone enters your house, it will take on average only 20 seconds to kill you. How long will it take for the police to get there?"

This is the Shooters Emporium ("Your family shooting center"), and the people blasting away on the other side of that plain white wall are not psychopaths or criminals, but ordinary citizens exercising their Second Amendment right to carry a weapon and defend their lives and property. As any Emporium staff member will tell you, the days of milk and honey are over and the citizenry is arming itself for war. War with itself.

The owners of Krasne’s, debunk the notion that aficionados of Soldier of Fortune account for anything but a tiny part of their regular clientele.

The owners of Krasne’s, debunk the notion that aficionados of Soldier of Fortune account for anything but a tiny part of their regular clientele.

Inside, the Emporium is a serious, homely place with the kinds of glass cases filled with revolvers and semi-automatic pistols that you would find in any gun shop — rental equipment for the customers. On the walls of the lobby, polemic posters warn clients of the insidious effects of the Hughes Bill (aimed at banning nonsporting semi-automatics), Pat Moynihan’s ammo-ban bill, and the exaggerations of the U.S. media on the delicate subject of guns.

"Do you know what the most common way of killing someone in this country is? Fists."

"Do you know what the most common way of killing someone in this country is? Fists."

Alongside quotations from Machiavelli on the “Usefulness of Fortresses,” there are detailed lists of statistics from the Department of Justice showing such things as the death rate of police officers caused by different kinds of weapons (52 gun deaths in 1990, but only 1 with an assault rifle). In the background, behind the glass cases, the racks of gun accessories, boxes of ammo, and eye shields, a dim scene can be made out behind a wall of windows: figures squinting down the sights of Sig Sauer pistols, .38 revolvers, and sleek black Berettas.

Roy Bohmfolk: "A .38 is much, much better than those small toys, .22s and so forth."

Roy Bohmfolk: "A .38 is much, much better than those small toys, .22s and so forth."

The Emporium runs weekly classes for beginners in the art of shooting, but for rapid results there is no bettering a bit of one-to-one instruction with the freelance firearms instructors who work there. The most senior of these is Roy Bohmfolk, an ex-policeman who also runs the citizens’ firearms classes provided by the San Diego Police Department and who, for $20 an hour, will show you the basic steps in armed self-defense with a handgun.

“Guns do not go off by themselves. That’s a lie."

“Guns do not go off by themselves. That’s a lie."

The newcomer to this harrowing experience will first need to be talked to, and Roy, like most people in the firearms business, has a very definite and well-organized world view to support the client’s own general feeling of increasing danger and insecurity — the very feelings that have brought him to the Escondido Shooters Emporium. Sitting in the small lecture room with its blackboard covered with cross-sections of bullets and criminal’s anatomy diagram targets, he explains why more and more people are coming into America’s shooting ranges and buying guns.

“Unfortunately, it’s very simple,” he says. “The social contract in this country is falling to pieces. Thirty years ago there was very little crime here — I can tell you, California was a fabulous place to live, and people carried guns more than they do now. There was hardly any of the random brutality we see around ourselves these days, and I’m not just being romantic. That’s a fact. People have learned to be barbarians and actually be congratulated for it. The police have let it be known that they can’t really protect people anymore. In the end, if everything falls to pieces, it’s up to the citizens themselves to police themselves.

“If someone enters your house, it will take on average only 20 seconds to kill you. How long will it take for the police to get there? Four minutes? Three minutes, 40 seconds too late. Your life now is really in your own hands, and people should realize that and stop fooling themselves. I can tell you that most policemen who have seen these crimes would never dream of living, themselves, without a gun in the house. Criminals usually do their homework about their victims, and they know, believe me, if you don’t have a weapon. It makes their task all the easier.

“And that isn’t all. I really think that there is going to be widespread disorder and violence in this country, with the possibility of martial law at some point. There’s going to be some kind of debacle, and the people who are prepared and armed are going to be the ones who are not going to get hurt. People saw the Koreans during the L.A. riots. What’s the lesson of that? Very simple. Be ready to kill the aggressor, and you’ll come out intact. Run away, bury your head in the sand, or just rely on the police, and you’re a dead man. That’s what it comes down to. People are now beginning to understand that, and that’s why they’re coming here.

“The citizenry is arming itself in open defiance of all the recent anti-gun laws because deep down they don’t believe anyone is going to protect them but themselves. And guns are a kind of equalizer. ‘All men are now equal,’ as Colonel Colt said. Take away people’s guns, and the strong and brutal become dominant. The predators come to the fore. I think of weapons in the hands of ordinary people as a way of neutralizing the predators. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way they’re going to be neutralized. By ordinary people defending themselves.”

The gun selection area is indeed filled with a socially unanalyzable crowd of housewives, Indian grocers, Iranian businessmen, amateur gun addict G.I.s, local burghers, target shooting hobbyists, and anxious young women handling the odd Ladysmith. They pore over the rows of Smith & Wessons, Rugers, and .38 specials with the intensity of schoolchildren examining rare fossils or precious mineral samples. Examined up close, the instruments of death that they have seen so often on television and movie screens lose little of their dread or wonder. Held in the hand, a standard Smith & Wesson .38 (which retails for as little as $189) has, to a novice, a reassuring but terrible weight. The Indian grocers try out the flashier semi-automatic 9mms, aiming them at each other to the consternation of the clerks, and pull the triggers gleefully, as if already able to see gratifying scenes of carnage around them. They have suddenly discovered that you feel different behind a gun. A feeling of delicious invincibility grips you and you cannot at first help handling the thing with a little swagger.

For people like Roy, however, there are certain technical and metaphysical considerations that weigh more heavily than a bit of naive bravura with a lethal weapon. “In the first place, this is not a game. Your aim is to bring the guy down as quickly as possible. That’s what you have to do to save your life, no matter how you do it. Some people buy guns in the hope that in a confrontation they can simply whip it out and wave it in the guy’s face and he’s going to run away white with fear. Wrong. A guy high on PCP isn’t going to run away, even if you point a bazooka at him. He’s going to stand there and tell you to fuck off. It happens to the police all the time.

“If you are in the situation of having to point that thing at someone, you’re going to have to actually use it, and that’s that. You’re going to have to kill him. You don’t think about killing people with your gun, but that’s what it comes down to. You’re going to kill him or bring him down quickly. So, it’s two shots in the main body mass, the upper chest cavity. Forget the head. It’s too small, and it’s ducking and weaving. You go for the chest. Even if you don’t actually hit one of the vital organs, you’ll probably hit a rib at least, and ribs splinter easily, puncturing the soft organs underneath. That way he’ll bleed massively and come down.

“Remember, most confrontations involving a gun are between people standing three to five feet away from each other. You’re going to be face to face, but you still don’t want to be aiming at anything smaller than that chest. You want a sure-fire hit immediately or you’re dead.

“Don’t assume for a minute either that this guy is on the same wavelength as yourself. He isn’t going to be thinking about how precious his or your life is to him. As far as he’s concerned, you’re bacteria. And that’s the way you should think of him. You have to be detached, completely calm, or as calm as possible. You know what the Chinese say; He who values his life most loses it first. So you just aim at the second button of his shirt, as the police do, and keep your nerve. Don’t think about him as you would of yourself. As far as I’m concerned, I believe in reincarnation. This guy’s screwed up in this life, and there’s nothing you can do about that. He’s going to screw you up, too, if he can, so you may as well put him into the next life and hope he’ll do better next time. So it’s get this piece of shit out of here, and ask the police who does carpets. It’s just business. You didn’t ask for trouble — he did. And as far as the police are concerned, say you had no choice, and stick to that story.

“My advice is, if you find yourself alone in the house with an assailant, take the phone off the hook, make sure the police are recording what’s happening, say what you’re supposed to say — warn him that you’ve got a gun and that you’ll shoot if he comes any closer — and leave it at that. No court is going to press criminal charges if you have an unambiguous recording. On the other hand, you have to remember that the criminal’s relatives are going to sue you civilly, and to deal with that is going to cost you at least $25,000. That’s why if you are attacked on the street, you should shoot and walk. It isn’t worth getting involved. Our legal system is so screwed up that even if you’re defending your own life you could end up bankrupt as a result.

“Also, you have to remember that when you carry a gun, you automatically lose the right of confrontation. If a guy insults you as you’re walking down the street and you’re carrying a gun, you have to let it go at that. The courts are incredibly hostile if you’re armed. In effect, you lose some of your rights. You just cannot get into fights.”

Having digested this alarming advice, you proceed to the shooting ranges armed with a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum, a pair of ear-mufflers, and a box of Winchester Western Silvertip 147 grain bullets, the standard SDPD-issue shells. Better, it is said, to tell a court that you fired the same type of bullet used by the police. If you buy magnum bullets, the court, again, will almost certainly be hostile.

“Now,” Roy goes on relentlessly, “you’re going to be wondering why we’re using a .38 revolver and not something else. Well, in the first place, a .38 is much, much better than those small toys, .22s and so forth. It’s safer, more effective. A Smith 8c Wesson is your best bet. Extremely well made, good steel, and with a high resale value. And a long barrel is probably better than a snub, because when the sights are aligned over a greater space, the gun is easier to aim. As for it being a revolver, a semi-automatic might be the best handgun there is, but a revolver is much simpler to load and operate. If you don’t treat a semi-auto properly, it’ll desert you when you need it most. So we say to most people — if you’re interested in self-defense and are not a trained shooter, learn to shoot and buy a .38 revolver and leave it at that. It’ll save your life in virtually any conceivable circumstance and will cost you less than most other options. It’s far and away the most useful gun available for the ordinary person.”

Even this standard weapon, however, will feel peculiar to the novice. As the paper target is clipped to its moveable wires and whisked away to the middle distance of the range, the black center turns into a slightly blurred shape between the two indentations of the gun’s sights. Your finger moves into place around the trigger, and the two hands wrapped around the butt begin, very slightly, to tremble.

“Guns do not go off by themselves,” Roy will murmur behind your ear. “That’s a lie. See how resistant it is? You have to work the trigger purposefully. It’s an effort of concentration.” Even when you have decided to pull the trigger and blast a hole through that black circle, your finger will seem to be moving in slow motion, the world around you will lose its sharpness, and you will find yourself alone with a sudden, deafening detonation that sends a tremor along the length of your arm and in turn reaches deep into your spinal column.

The feeling is curiously satisfying. The paper target comes back with five misses, but the last one has gone through the bullseye. Roy turns to you in surprise and says, “Why, that’s very good. Do you live in a violent neighborhood?”

It is common belief among American activists that gun shops only exist in poor neighborhoods and are therefore part of a plot to decrease the numbers of the disadvantaged. In fact, gun shops exist everywhere, and their clientele is not made up exclusively, or even predominandy, of people living in low-rent areas. Everyone is buying guns, and the more money you have, the bigger the gun you end up with.

The largest gun shop in downtown San Diego is Krasne’s on Sixth Avenue at Market Street. Like most gun stores, it is a plain affair from the outside, refusing to flaunt its business too flagrantly, though its location next to a flourishing Army and Navy surplus store gives the game away somewhat. The relationship between these two enterprises is not exactly clear, though the racks of gun magazines in Krasne’s do include Soldier of Fortune, a publication of the Omega Group (logo: a beret and crossed daggers), which caters to that part of the male population that craves to be stranded in a post-apocalypse landscape with a loincloth, a Cold Steel ER-1 knife, and a Remington 870 fitted with a Laser Product integral fore-end flashlight.

The owners of Krasne’s, however, debunk the notion that aficionados of Soldier of Fortune account for anything but a tiny part of their regular clientele. The typical customer is far more likely to be a La Jolla housewife frightened by a rape-crime mini-series or a shopkeeper alarmed by television coverage of the L.A. riots than a mercenary soldier.

The helpful and cheerful handgun self-defense expert presiding over the locked cases of Rossi .22s, Browning 9mms, and .357 Rugers obligingly opines that guns, in fact, are not the real problem in American society anyway. “The people who buy guns here are not criminals, because in California there’s a 15-day waiting period during which the police do a background check from the state files in Sacramento on the person who’s made an application to buy a gun. A criminal isn’t going to go through that. It’s a myth that lunatics walk into gun stores, pick out a nice assault rifle, and go out and blast people to smithereens — just like that.

“In any case, I can tell you that Americans are more violent without guns than with them. Do you know what the most common way of killing someone in this country is? Fists. Followed by baseball bats. Out of25,000 homicides a year, less than half are caused by guns. And almost none by assault rifles, which are practically the only guns that are banned. Guns are easy to get illegally, they trade them over the border all the time. And since to all intents and purposes there is no international border there anyway, the illegal gun trade is uncontrolled and uncontrollable.

“In other words, the criminals will always have guns. The question is, will you and I have them as well. According to legislation that is increasingly gaining ground in state after state across this country, criminals will be armed to the teeth and we, the people, will not. That is intolerable. The media are waging a war against guns, and the/re doing it with myths, with hysteria, and with ignorance.

“For example, we get articles in the Union-Tribune about so-called Pitbull .38s being the most popular lethal handgun, as if the Pitbull were a specially dangerous brand-name gun. But a Pitbull is just a .38 or .44 that is more than four years old. It’s not a specific gun at all. The word actually means nothing at all but, you know, it sounds like a nasty dog that bites kids, and so it sticks. Ban pit bull terriers, ban Pitbull handguns. Same thing.

“Same with assault rifles. What is an assault rifle? In California they banned assault rifles because of political outcry over the Stockton massacre. But all they did was ban foreign assault rifles. Colt makes an assault rifle every bit as deadly as the Kalashnikov used in that attack (Colt) promised the government they would make certain changes...they took the big sights off the end of the barrel, changed little bits and pieces...and it’s still legal. It’s sitting right there on the wall. You can buy that, but not a Kalashnikov. You can still buy a Chinese Nomica, which is the Chinese Kalashnikov. There is absolutely no difference at all between legal and illegal assault rifles.

“And what’s more, most rifles can be fitted with large magazines and made into effective semi-automatic assault weapons. Look, we have the magazines on the wall over there. You can’t buy an assault rifle with a large magazine, but you could buy a rifle, buy the magazine at the same time, stick the two together, and walk out of this shop perfectly legally with an assault rifle. That’s the stupidity of political legislation that panders to panic and hysteria instead of knowing what it’s doing and making decisions that mean something.

“Besides, as far as even full automatics like Tec-9s and Uzis are concerned, they’re hardly ever used. Forget all this Boyz ’n the Hood crap about gangs blazing away with Uzis. Believe me, they’re hardly ever used. They’re incredibly expensive, they can be easily traced, and they’re no more effective, when all’s said and done, than a simple, cheap .38. A .38 kills you just as quickly at the usual distance of six feet. And it costs a fraction of what a machine gun costs. If you’re going to ban guns, you should ban the .38 revolver, which is the gun that kills most people. But that would really get people mad. You can ban assault rifles because a far smaller number of people is ever actually going to buy and depend on them. Fewer voters are going to get pissed off, but it still looks as if you’re doing something about crime.

“The reality is that crime keeps increasing, and there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever between gun laws and low crime. Which city in the U.S. has the lowest per capita murder rate? Probably Tuscon — 6 per 100,000. Which has the highest? Washington, D.C. and New York City. Which cities have the toughest gun laws? New York City and Washington. In Tuscon, of course, you are allowed to carry a gun at all times. Draw your own conclusions. I live in North Park and I hear gunfire all night long. It’s like a chicken shoot as far as ordinary victims are concerned. A guy with a gun isn’t going to hesitate to move against someone who’s unarmed. If you were a criminal, would you?”

After we try out a few of the models, in particular the popular American-made Brycos and Davis P-32s, he points out that all kinds of people are now equipping themselves with guns. “It’s everyone. I have people in wheelchairs in here, little old ladies, a lot of elderly people, in fact, because they’re the people who are most scared — some military people, shop owners, family men on the edge of dubious neighborhoods who want to protect their families. Completely normal people. Even people who’ve never dreamt of owning a weapon before. The police are tacitly encouraging it. They can’t protect you most of the time. They just pick up the pieces afterwards. And people are going for the economical knock-down no-fuss revolver. You see, a little .22 won’t go through bone. The bullet won’t penetrate the skull, it’ll skirt around it. That’s not good enough. It just doesn’t kill effectively. You need a .38 to really put someone on the floor. A .38 special — which is just a name for any .38 with a snub barrel — has an 80 percent knockdown power. You’re safe with that. And you can get a good one for about $190. Millions of people are going out now and buying these things, and especially after the riots. The Koreans are still around because they had the guts to show those assholes what happens to them when they mess with armed citizens instead of cowering, terrified victims waiting for the nonexistent squad cars to turn up. The ones who used weapons kept-their shops, their life savings, their homes; the ones who didn’t lost everything. That’s a harsh lesson, and I can tell you that people sat up and took notice. The next time there’s a riot, there are going to be a lot of dead rioters around afterwards.”

This seems to be a universal opinion among gun store owners in Southern California. There is consensus, also, that the arming of the people by itself is inevitable and that the anti-weapon legislation slowly bringing the right to bear arms under control is doomed to failure. Gun stores are now not just places where frightened small-business owners can buy shotguns, they are also showcases for a grass-roots rebellion against the assumptions of centralized government — namely, that a standing militia can protect the population and that the latter must surrender its Second Amendment privilege to defend itself with its own weapons. And so this 18th Century debate, abolished as an anachronism elsewhere, is actually being revived in the United States. And in California, where the conflagration envisioned by the gun lobby seems to be coming to pass, the impetus to self-arming seems irresistible.

One of the largest gun stores in San Diego County is the Discount Gun Mart in Mira Mesa. The customers here seem to be the local storeowners, immigrant entrepreneurs, retirees, off-duty local military, and the odd gnarled hunter. Here, too, store clerks are eager to point out that there is no archetypal client. An Iranian family is trying out a succession of 9mm semi-autos at one end of the counter, the grandfather first weighing a S399 Taurus happily in his hand, pulling the trigger again and again with appreciative grunts, then handing it to his son, who in turn passes it on to his own ten-year-old boy to get a final verdict. At the other end, a young woman in an Yves St. Laurent summer suit knowledgeably fingers and dismantles a Glock 19, an elegant, strange little German gun said to be one of the most lethal on the market. It might be difficult to imagine her wielding one of the Mossberg pump-action shotguns ranged on the wall before her, but according to the salesmen, there is nothing better for home defense than a good old Mossberg. Just that sound, clunk click, is enough to scare the shit out of anybody,” they say with a grimace.

The store is a cornucopia of gun literature and has a surprising weapons video library with lyrical titles like Calling All Coyotes, Metallic Reloading, and Hunting the Four Periods of the Rut. There is also a section of this literature devoted to the thorny question of women and guns. Paxton Quigley’s Armed and Female, a women’s guide to the use of firearms in self-defense, is displayed prominendy beside the magazine Women and Guns. In the picture on the cover of the July issue, a longhaired brunette in a polka-dot dress sits by a lace-covered dressing table. She’s wearing white stockings, and the dress is lifted to reveal a snug little garter-holster. She has a silver semi-auto Walther .22 pistol in one hand.

Armed and Female's dust jacket sets the tone: “Look at the women walking down any American street. One out of eight of them has a gun in her purse, her holster, her car, or her night table.” Twelve million women own guns in the United States — and in Women and Guns, the modern woman can find out all she needs to know about the latest SIC 228 with Aimpoint laser sights, that Galco thigh holster featured on the cover, or the kind of small-frame, featherweight guns often intended for the women’s market, guns like the Beretta 21A EL and the 950 BS, or the Smith & Wesson Ladysmith, all with their sloped, altered barrels and gold-inlay rivets and silver grips. The Ladysmith, or 3913 LS, is the only handgun specifically known as a “female’s gun,” but in all of these models the assumption is that the gold and silver inlay and the sloped barrel make the gun more psychologically appealing to women, though no one can exactly say why. Lorcin even makes a tiny L-25 with a pink pearl grip that looks perfect for inclusion in a portable makeup kit. And the Walther TPH, measuring just five inches, is designed to fit into the smallest adult hand possible — the hands of women.

But if a woman doesn’t want to hold that gun in her pocket, she can simply choose some of the gun-concealing fashion accessories that are becoming more and more common. Carry that pistol with your lipstick in a Love Leathers gun purse (“Feel feminine, natural looking while keeping your firearm out of sight!”) or in a Guardian holsterbag (with bulletproof portfolio) and you’ll walk the streets with sublime confidence.

The man in charge at Discount points out, very calmly and with a kind of dreadful deliberateness, that the rise in gun ownership among both men and women, and among ail communities, is bound to continue, "it’s like this. The police have let it be known, and especially in the wake of the LA. riots, that they can no longer protect citizens in all circumstances or even most of the time. There are about 130,000 police officers serving in this country at any one time. In 1950 there were three cops for each reported violent felony in cities with populations over 50,000. Today that ratio is reversed: three felonies per cop. Bad news, folks; 150,000 cops will not protect a quarter of a billion Americans. Forget it.

“I heard of the owners of a gun store in L.A., Western Surplus, phoning the police during the violence, telling them that they needed help, and the police just saying forget it, they’d have to deal with it themselves. What happened then was that gangs handed out the weapons military-style, with each member calling out his unit number. They stole over a thousand guns, which are going to be circulating for years. The owners didn’t defend their property, and so they lost everything. The same thing was clearly demonstrated in Koreatown. Time magazine said the Koreans were vigilantes defending their stores, but that’s not what a vigilante is. A vigilante works outside the law, and the Koreans were not working outside the law. You have the right to defend your property with arms; the Second Amendment clearly says so. The Koreans were lawful and right to do what they did.

“The police say it’s their duty to defend the people collectively and not individually. The police can only protect people if the majority of people respect them and co-operate with them. But what we saw in the riots was not criminals as such, but ordinary people deciding to get something for free and behaving destructively. A community can’t be policed by force. It has to consent to be policed. Now, I’m afraid that ordinary people need weapons. The riots showed something else as well, namely that high-capacity semiautomatics are the only way to really defend your property in those kinds of circumstances. When most people come in here to buy a weapon, I say to them, buy a shotgun, a Mossberg — mean business.”

Besides the necessity of gunning down the occasional rioter, though, are there good reasons for ordinary folks stocking up on weapons like the Mossberg? “Sure there are. A shotgun’s bird shot, or light ammo, isn’t likely to go through a wall and hit an innocent, whereas a handgun bullet, even a standard type, might do just that. For people in condominiums, they have to think about that. Besides, you’re going to be shooting someone at very close range. Accuracy isn’t really a factor. A shotgun will just bring someone down, and that’s that. No fancy aiming needed. And for $469 you can have a shotgun, either a cheaper Mossberg Maverick or a Remington 249, with a laser sight — believe me, when a criminal sees that little red dot on his chest, he thinks twice! A lot of ships’ captains come in for those and for Mac 90 assault rifles to protect themselves against pirates in the (Caribbean. It’s the lawful trying to protect themselves against the homicidally unlawful.”

Judging by the crowds of matter-of-fact clients at Discount poring over the Mausers, Weatherby rifles, $500 Browning 9mms, and .357 Magnums, the climate of fear has succeeded in driving even people normally hostile to weapon ownership into the arms of weapons retailers. The National Rifle Association is expanding across the country at the rate of 50,000 new members a month. And as citizens think of themselves as their own police, they also gravitate toward police weaponry. On El Cajon Boulevard near 41st Street, the California Police Equipment store bears this out.

The shop is crammed with police equipment, and the ex-cop behind the counter doesn’t find anything surprising in the fact that San Diegans, at least, come to a store like this to arm themselves. “Basically,” he explains, “people don’t know much about guns. They’re just, you know, uneasy. The fact that the police use much of the stuff I have in here might reassure them a little. If you use police specifications in your ammo and weaponry, it’s a sure thing that a court will be sympathetic. Anyway, the police know the good stuff. Take the Ruger P89 handgun, the one issued to the SDPD. Now, it’s not the most expensive handgun you can buy. The Sig Sauer is that — about $600. But the Ruger is half the price, more the kind of money that people want to pay for a gun. And it’s a good, dependable gun. Why else would the police trust their lives with it? So people will often go for the Ruger for that reason — and why not?

“Of course, policemen don’t have to use standard-issue weapons. I have a lot of cops come in here to buy Sigs. It sort of feels more expensive; it’s a beautifiil gun, probably the best there is. But you see, a gun is an intensely personal thing. It sits in the hand in a unique way and is different for each individual. For example, pick up the Glock. Looks weird, doesn’t it? A bit untrustworthy? Well, the Glock is an incredible weapon — absolutely one of the best ever made. But it still looks weird because it is weird — an innovation. A lot of people can’t deal with that.

“Now try the Ruger. Well, I’ve already recommended the Ruger, but it does feel a little cheap because of the grip, doesn’t it? Now try the Beretta 92-F. It’s used by the U.S. military, so it’s good, but it doesn’t feel as good as the Sig. Why? The docks too light, maybe; the Ruger’s too rattling. I don’t know. Every gun has a size, weight, structure, grip design, balance, and even color that complements some individuals and not others. It’s psychological. When you know the Sig at $619 is the most expensive, you think it’s the best. Or maybe you think it’s German, so it’s good. Who knows?”

At this point, a girl of 20 or so in jeans and T-shirt comes quietly into the store and walks straight to the ammo cases. She takes off her sunglasses, squints at the rows of boxes, and asks, “Do you have any Winchester Supreme Black Talon 9mm Luger 147 grain?”

“Deep penetrator?”

This sounds like some esoteric pornography until the assistant calmly replies, though equally incomprehensibly, “No, not yet. I’m afraid. We do have some Hornady XTP and some PMC/Eldorado Cartridge Starfire, though. Would you like to see?”

She looks a little disappointed. “Well, I think I’ll wait. I’ll take a case of 147 jacketed hollow-points, though. And maybe a box of Bull 158 grain semi-wadcutters.”

They are talking bullets. “We tell most people that they should use police-issue ammo, which is the subsonic 147 grain hollow-point. It’s heavier than standard. So whereas most 9mm bullets travel at 1200 to 1300 feet a second, this one goes at about 1000. This makes for maximum expansion; it flattens out inside the victim’s body and doesn’t come out the other side. It also kills more effectively. It was specifically designed for law enforcement.

“Now, though, they’re designing high-tech shells like the Black Falcon, which that girl asked for, which the FBI have tested with their firearms training unit. These things function like a buzz saw within their target. In a few years, we’ll have much better ammo around — much more lethal, even in smaller guns.

“Now you may find all this somewhat grisly and our attitude somewhat cold and matter of fact. But owning a gun can mean the difference between your life or your death. I was a cop for over 20 years, and I’ll tell you, based on the things I’ve seen, that I would never, never live here without a weapon in my house. Never. The police pick up the pieces, usually, and that’s all. When that guy comes into your home high on meth, you’d better shoot him — nothing else is going to do.

“There are about 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S. every year, of which about 40 percent, 13,000, are homicides. About 4 percent, or 1400, are accidental, and 2800 are people killing intruders or criminals who were attacking them. In other words, people do successfully protect themselves with guns. Firearms accidents have decreased 62 percent over the last four decades, and your child is five times more likely to drown than to be accidentally killed with a gun. In fact, gun accidents are ranked only eighth in accidental deaths. In short, you’re safer with a gun than without one.”

As we ponder this uncomfortable possibility, yet another almost identical girl in Ray-Bans and stone-washed denim shorts enters the store, casts a knowing eye over the high-capacity magazines hanging in their plastic sachets on the wall, and steps up confidently to the counter. She takes off her Ray-Bans and looks the assistant softly in the eye, flicking her hair. “Tell me,” she says quietly, narrowing her eyebrows and puckering her uncolored lips, “do you have any Remington .45 Colt 250 grain lead semi-wadcutters? You do? Three of them, please. Oh, and a box of 185 grain Samsons. My boyfriend loves them.”

The California branch of the National Rifle Association has long campaigned to relax what it regards as California’s relatively stringent gun laws. Its local representative, Fred Romero, is quick to point out that the recent riots have played into the NRA’s hands by graphically demonstrating that its long-standing arguments are essentially true. Namely, that crime is rampant, the criminal justice system is close to collapse, and that the police are more or less helpless.

“It’s clear in the first place that gun control doesn’t work. The media — which is totally hostile to us — has distorted this issue again and again. They compare the U.S. to Europe, pointing out that low-crime Europe has gun control and high-crime America does not. But actually there is no difference at all in the [low] murder rate in, say, Switzerland, where laws are lax, and Britain, where they are severe. That’s not the point. Europe has among the lowest crime rates in the world for cultural reasons, not because people aren’t allowed to own guns. Actually, gun deaths in Britain have doubled over the last ten years, while in the U.S. they’ve stabilized.

“All right, Britain’s murder rate per annum for a population of about 60 million (about 160) is the same as San Diego’s — but don’t assume that gun control is the reason. America is a different world, anyway. In this country, different things apply. Here, gun controls only harm the innocent. Our society is full of armed predators — and only armed citizens can really defend themselves.

“Professor Gary Kleck at Florida State University, one of the nation’s top criminologists, has shown that there are a staggering 600,000 successful acts of handgun self-defense every year in the U.S. Prevention of crime with weapons occurs about one million times year. Thousands of people defend themselves and their families with guns every year, and we almost never hear about it. We hear about Patrick Purdy and Joseph Wesbecker and their attacks on the school in Stockton and the Standard Gravure Corporation with assault rifles, but rarely about an incident like at Shoney’s restaurant in Anniston, Alabama, where a customer shot dead two robbers who were threatening to kill innocent people. In that case, the customer, Thomas Glenn Terry, was legally armed with a .45 semi-automatic pistol, and that saved not only his own life but that of other people in that restaurant too. No hostages, no victims, and therefore no media coverage either. But these kinds of things happen all the time.

"I point an accusing finger at the media in the country for many kinds of assumptions that people have been led to believe are unquestionable. Many people, though, have been alienated by an increasing distrust of media coverage of these issues and are turning to bodies like the NRA for reassurance. Media culture, after all, is directed by an ideology that is basically liberal and that selects its agenda very carefully and selectively. Facts are edited, twisted, distorted left, right, and center. Major issues are just ignored. So people are being told to feel and think one thing, being made to feel guilty if they aren't politically correct and then actually behaving utterly differently.

“The media in this country is incredibly powerful. Without it, there would have been no riots in L.A., at least not the same kind of riots. And the American public is lazy. It doesn’t want to think anything through. It just wants to feel nice about itself and not offend anyone. There is no debating power left in this country because we’re used to being fed snippets of info and nothing else. And so the gun issue isn’t properly debated. It’s left to smoulder in the background. We have here in California more gun laws than any state in the Union, and we also have more crime! That’s absurd — or at least you’d think people would think about it being absurd.

“Now we’ve had in the last few weeks people calling us up, telling us how much they’ve always hated us, and then, you know, after an awkward pause, asking us how to buy a gun and where to get training. After the moral devastation of the LAPD, you can be damned sure that the police are not going to stick their necks out for anybody from now on. They’ll say it’s not worth it, folks. You have a homicidal thug on your doorstep high on drugs? You deal with him. It’s simply too risky for them to get into confrontations now. Something is going to explode sooner or later, and the police are going to be standing on the sidelines.

“The riots we saw were a little bubble compared to what’s coming. The writing is on the wall. There’s a social catastrophe coming, and some of us are preparing ourselves for it. A massive wave of criminality is coming, and the defenseless are going to go down like sheep. After all, a society isn’t just a rag-bag of so-called ‘communities’ or private impulses; it’s a system of law that needs respect, if not downright fear. Retribution and punishment are indispensable.

“Do you think barbarism is impossible? It’s just under the surface. We have people growing up now in a total void — no checks, controls, or balances, just predators in a void, predators with no conscience, nothing, just an anti-ethic of brutality, self-indulgence, and mass-produced resentment. Well, if you want a childish rebellion against order because you think you have something better up your sleeves...fine, go ahead. You’ll find out what the alternative really looks like, and it isn’t pleasant.

“We tell people that if the worse comes to the worst, you can band together and defend yourselves — in this case with guns. That’s what the Founding Fathers wrote into the Second Amendment, and that’s what they intended Americans to do — protect themselves without a centralized militia to dominate them. ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms.’ We are the people, and that’s our right, just as it’s our right not to have our houses subjected to ‘unreasonable searches.’ It really is as simple as that.”

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