Would you sell a gun to this man?
With the topic of gun control in the news (if not in our legislatures) we decided to look at what The Progressive has published on guns in the past. Back in 1984, intrepid journalist Bill Lueders wrote about going undercover on a gun-buying spree. The question is -- how much has changed?!!
I leaned over the counter, close enough for the salesman to smell the alcohol on my breath. On the left side of my armygreen pants was a button that proclaimed, SMASH THE STATE. The button on my jacket was even more to the point: Go REDS/SMASH STATE. With trembling hands I adjusted my Chairman Mao cap.
I was buying a gun a .25 caliber automatic no bigger than a package of cigarettes. My hands were trembling because I had taken dangerous amounts of legal stimulants. But the man behind the counter didn't know that. And he didn't know whether I was a convicted felon or had just escaped from a mental institution. What's more, the man behind the counter didn't care.
Two years ago, as a reporter for an iconoclastic underground publication called The Crazy Shepherd, I went on a gun-buying spree in the Milwaukee area. On the morning of October 25, 1982, I crawled out of bed (with a stinging hangover, after a meager five hours of what passed for sleep) and proceeded to down three Vivarin tablets-a total of 600 milligrams of caffeine alkaloid, the equivalent of at least fifteen cups of coffee-along with three cans of Pabst, all on an empty stomach.
Then I put on my revolutionary outfit, grabbed two more cans of Pabst (to keep the stench of early-in-the-day consumption fresh on my breath), and went looking for a weapon. As identification, I took along the Wisconsin State ID card (above) I had grimaced for years earlier on a post-adolescent lark.
I visited five gun shops in all, picking out the least expensive short-barreled pistol I could find at each, and exiting on the pretense of retrieving my forgotten checkbook after the sale had been written up. Nowhere was I asked why I wanted a cheap, easily concealable, inaccurate-except-at close-range handgun, nor was one ever refused me, despite my intoxicated condition, goofy ID, and aberrant behavior.
At Country Outfitters on North 124th Street, I acted jittery and drunk, dropping my car keys twice and expressing dismay when informed of the Wisconsin law requiring a forty-eight-hour "cooling off 'period before I could pick up my purchase a .38 Special revolver nicknamed "The Undercover."
The clerk told me that when I came to claim the gun I would have to fill out a Federal form that asked about such things as whether I was a convicted felon, mentally deranged, or a fugitive from justice. Would the form be given to law-enforcement officials to check if my answers were true? No, came the reply, it would not. "Ever refuse to sell a gun to someone?" I asked. "Only if they answer 'Yes' to one of the questions," he said. What would prevent someone from simply lying on the form? "That's a Federal offense," I was told.
After selecting a .22 caliber snubnose at Dean's Sport and Cycle on Villard Avenue, I inquired uneasily whether a check would be made into my background during the forty-eight-hour waiting period. No, the merchant assured me, there is no such procedure, although it was possible a crosscheck of names might be done at some later date. "The only people who get tripped up," he added, "are people who are on probation or something, but, of course, by then the gun is long gone."
No more Mr. Nice Guy, I resolved over a beer on my way to Spheeris Sporting Goods on North Capital Drive. There, upon locating the cheapest snubnose in stock, I let loose with a depraved laugh. When the salesman got around to me, I pointed to the weapon of my choice and said gruffly, "I want that."
As the clerk wrote up the purchase, I belched beer breath in his face, left monstrous teeth marks in the cap of the pen he lent me, and let saliva dribble out of one comer of my mouth. The clerk was busy and the sale was written up in no time flat. The red star on my cap winked "Thanks" as I left again for my checkbook.
All this happened two years ago, and before retelling the tale here, I had to make sure the results of my peculiar investigation were still valid. And so on August 22, 1984, I went back to Milwaukee on another gun-buying binge.
This time, I wore a Marine Corps camouflage cap. My T-shirt pictured a grinning, beret-capped skull, and emblazoned in stark yellow and red letters was the motto, KILL 'EM ALL / AND LET GOD SORT 'EM OUT. I hadn't bathed in a week. I smelled bad and my hair was matted in disgusting clumps. Embarrassed, I slipped on a pair of shades.
I popped eight No-Doz pills (800 milligrams caffeine), washing them down with a six-pack of Pabst-again, on an empty stomach. Then I went to Flintrop Arms Corporation on West National Avenue and slurred, "I'm been thinking about buying a gun." I chose a .22 caliber pistol that sold for $79.95. The salesman set me up with hollow-point bullets, explaining that they "expand better," as compared to round points, which "just make a clean hole."
The gun, which he said was known as a "belly-buster," was accurate at about twenty feet. The hollow points, which were banned by the Geneva Convention as too insidious for war, had a range of one mile. Feeling increasingly lousy, I went to Shooters Shop, Inc., on South 84th Street. After choosing a cheap, short-barreled revolver, I was told, to my feigned surprise, about the two-day "cooling off ' period. I couldn't wait that long, I said, and opted instead for a used twelve-gauge High Standard shotgun.
As the salesman copied the information from my ID card, I filled out the Federal form. I answered "Yes" to the questions asking whether I was under indictment for a crime, a convicted felon, a fugitive from justice, and an "unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, or a depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug," only to change my mind to "No." An older clerk saw what I had done and made me fill out another form, this time without the conspicuous crossouts.
My purchase weighed in at just under $150.00, including two boxes of Hunterbrand shells. In a moment, I would be the proud owner of a twelve-gauge shotgun, one of the weapons James Huberty had used to annihilate twenty-one lives at a McDonalds the month before. All I had to do was go outside and retrieve the cash I said was in the glove compartment of my
I went outside and threw up.