4 Things You Learn Behind The Counter Of A Gun Store
The U.S. has so much gun violence it seems easier to just leave all the flags at half-mast. Of course, after every shooting, we have another national discussion on guns that goes nowhere. Perhaps because we're all partisan jerks who'd rather people keep dying than admit those other partisan jerks might be a little bit right. Taking a tiny baby step toward understanding, we figured we'd start at the source: We spoke to two former gun-sellers, Jerome in California and Jacob in Texas, to get a better handle on the American gun trade. No writers were harmed in the making of this article. Physically, at least. We don't know about their emotional well being and, frankly, we don't care.
Paranoia Sells Guns
People buy guns for all sorts of reasons -- sports, protection, vengeance -- but at Jerome's store, nothing sold like paranoia.
"Whatever firearm is used in a mass shooting usually ends up this year's top seller out of fear of that gun getting banned," Jerome says. "When a guy shot House Rep. Gabrielle Giffords using a Glock 19, suddenly Glocks were sold out nationwide. Or when that dead-eyed bastard shot 20 kids at Sandy Hook using an AR-15, everyone suddenly wanted AR-15s."
"Buy five, get one free!"
The fear of a ban is a guaranteed sales booster. "There are even rumors that arms manufacturers are backing Democrats since another Democratic president would mean a rise in paranoia-driven sales," Jerome says. That's almost certainly nonsense, but the effect on sales is real.
Jacob witnessed it firsthand: "I watched the prices on regular long arms leap up by about 20 percent after Obama won. Gun stores were selling at a 300 percent markup all of a sudden, because we had a Democratic president. Ammo also became scarce. I remember buying 550 rounds of ammo for $13 one year, and almost double that during election year. Even now there is a shortage of ammo."
Looks like gold, and soon to be priced like it.
That's a hassle for people who just want to murder some cans in cold-blood and happen to do so during a Democratic presidency, but the paranoid types are more than willing to pay the price, presumably because currency will be useless in the Hillarmageddon. In other words, the Obama administration has effectively added a "paranoia tax" to firearms sales. And in case this wasn't obvious already ...
You Meet A Lot Of Crazies At The Gun Store
Owning a gun is a tremendous responsibility, and, much like people who want kids only so they can name them after Game Of Thrones characters, there are some folks that should just never tackle it.
"We had a customer who was talking about work," Jerome says. "Specifically about how he loved to tase people. He called it 'taking them for a ride.' So I ask this maniac what he does for a living. My co-worker looks at me and says, 'Can't you tell? He's a cop.'"
"I like all guns."
Jacob has equally worrisome anecdotes: "I had a customer straight-up show me pictures of his hooker. I'm pretty liberal, and it's two consenting adults, but showing pictures to the guy who works in the sporting goods department? Oh, and he also murdered cats," he adds, digging up the buried lede. "He hated cats. He'd leave out cans of tuna with broken glass and antifreeze mixed in for them. ... He killed a lot, he said."
When he wasn't talking about destroying pussy, he was telling Jacob about his bunker full of weapons and survival gear. Jacob says he still checks the news for any mention of his name, which he fully expects to be followed by "was eventually gunned down by the police."
Although that depends on which cop he meets ...
Jerome also encounters plenty of conspiracy theorists, including the objectively worst kind: Sandy Hook truthers.
Con: They probably shouldn't be allowed near a gun shop. Pro: They're spending less time in front of a computer.
"This older guy [asked] to see an HK45. It's like a $1,000 gun, and he asks all the right questions, and I run him through all the details," Jerome says. "Then, out of the fucking blue, the guy asks how many walls the government helicopters can see through. What followed was an hour and a half of every crazy government conspiracy question ever asked."
You also have to deal with regular old idiocy from prospective new gun owners who have never handled a firearm outside of a video game, Jerome says. "A big rule in the gun world is to never point a gun at someone, loaded or unloaded. We deal with a lot of people who are new to guns; hence, I have had so many guns pointed in my face that if I were ever robbed I would probably try to sell him his own gun out of habit."
Gun Dealers Can Refuse A Sale For Any Reason
It's a bit worrisome to think of guys who believe in magic government helicopters running around with loaded firearms, but responsible merchants can thankfully act on those red flags. The Second Amendment lets Americans own guns, but just like any business, the gun store can refuse service for any reason they like. The Orlando nightclub shooter bought his gun legally, but when he tried to buy ammo at another store, they turned him away -- he was giving the employee a serious case of the creeps.
"He kept staring at it and saying, 'My precious.'"
Jacob was taught to "turn down a gun sale for any reason you possibly can," he says. "Not only can I deny a sale, nobody is allowed to overturn my denial. I had managers try to talk me into selling guns I denied, which is absolutely against the law, and I'd respond by telling them I was completely willing to contact the ATF tip line if they continued. The clerk has the ability to deny your sale at any time. I've denied sales because the guy wouldn't listen to instructions and had to fill out the form two to three times. I've even denied sales because they let their kids run wild through my department and I felt like finding a reason."
Letting your kids rampage unattended through any public space is a good indicator of parental irresponsibility; letting them do so through the firearms department is weapons-grade lunacy.
Pictured: Arguments for gun and birth control.
So a responsible clerk can keep a gun out of the hands of a crazy person -- that's great. Not so great: An irresponsible clerk can go right ahead and sell a ton of guns to a posse of obvious maniacs. Because ...
It's Still Absurdly Easy To Buy A Gun
If you want a gun, all you have to do is show up with a pulse and not get a visible erection when the clerk talks about stopping power. "It's ridiculously easy to buy a gun under federal law," Jacob says. "The shortlist of things that allow you to buy a gun are: Be the actual buyer of the gun, so no wives buying guns for husbands, etc. Be a citizen or a resident alien. Be of sound mind. Don't be on drugs. Don't be a felon. Don't have any record of domestic violence. That's about 90 percent of people who haven't been to jail."
"Nah, it's cool; the statute of limitations expired ..."
Well, that knocks out all of our staff, but normal folks probably consider that easy.
And, of course, like any rules ever written, they aren't always followed. Jacob adds: "A Texas woman with a history of mental illness was allowed to buy the gun she used to kill herself. The background check system, as it exists, allowed a woman who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression to buy a shotgun. This was after she was removed from another Walmart for assault."
Look, if you're gonna start banning every person who's gotten into a fistfight at Walmart, we're gonna be here awhile.
That sounds like a total failure of the entire background check system to us. How do background checks even work? "During a background check," Jacob says, "a clerk will usually call the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which apparently doesn't understand how acronyms work] hotline with a name. It provides us with one of three answers: Proceed, Denied, or Delayed. 'Delayed' means there is no answer at this time, but by law, the retailer can decide whether to sell the gun or not after three days. It's worth noting that [the Charleston shooter] was on 'Delayed' status and was allowed to purchase a gun after the three-day waiting period. That background check eventually came back 'Denied.'"
So background checks aren't perfect, rules get ignored, and both can be bypassed entirely by buying from a private owner instead of a store. In short: There's nothing stopping a violent lunatic from just skipping right to Craigslist, as anyone who's ever used the site for anything has already discovered.
"If you bought a gun from me, personally, that'd be all you needed to do to own a gun, completely legally. Private sale is still the absolute BIGGEST loophole to the background check system. ... A private citizen isn't liable for crimes committed as a result of the buyer misrepresenting themselves."
Private sales are mostly fine. They're usually transactions between friends and relatives. Nobody wants to outlaw, say, a father passing his old rifle down to his son. But then you think about the militia types, the paranoid conspiracy theorists, and the cat murderers -- really, anybody with a rat-tail -- all of whom shouldn't be trusted with so much as a Super Soaker. So how do we keep guns away from crazies without banning private sales? Good question; here's what the experts say:
Jerome still specializes in making weapons for self-defense. Jacob has quit his job selling guns and now works as a marketing guy, where there is far less paperwork. He would not recommend employment at Walmart. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.
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For more insider perspectives, check out I Was A Cop In A Country With No Guns: 6 Startling Truths and 6 Horrifying Realities Of Dealing With Sandy Hook 'Truthers'.
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