I was excited to pick up this issue today. Definitely not the usual perspective you see in this type of publication. The article features a couple well-known Glocktalkers:
Everyone knows lots of Philadelphians are armed. But not all of them are criminals.
by Steven Wells
Meet Patrick the vampire-fanged goth entrepreneur; Joshua the humanitarian war-robot designer; Bash the dreadlocked metal guitarist with the scarred-over bullet hole in his left hand; Joel the Mt. Airy surfer dude; Diego the Argentinean 3-D artist; Kenyatta the cigar aficionado; and Chris and Cecilia—ass-kicking, trash-picking, guitar-and-sewing-machine-thrashing West Philly punk rockers.
All Philadelphia gun owners. Most of them featured in the recently published book Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes by Philadelphia photographer Kyle Cassidy.
And not a single Bible-thumping, bigoted, duck-****ing white supremacist militia son of a ***** among them.
Philadelphia is loaded with guns, both legal and illegal. Yet many of us live in a gun-free Philly. It’s possible to spend your entire life here without ever seeing a gun that’s not on a cop’s hip, and never knowingly meeting a gun owner.
There’s a Philadelphia that doesn’t know guns. A Philly that thinks gun ownership is dangerous, obscene and absurd. What kind of freak chooses to own something designed to rip holes in other human beings anyway?
But there’s another Philly.
And this isn’t the Philadelphia we read about every time there’s another homicide.
This is a third Philly. One with a loaded Glock in its waistband, and a shotgun and an assault rifle in the bedroom safe.
Stepping into the lives of Philadelphia gun owners is like entering a parallel dimension. At times it’s surreal.
In balmy Clark Park, dogs frolic in the sunshine, butterflies flutter past, bees hum and the air is filled with children’s laughter.
Bash, a soft-spoken dreadlocked thirtysomething tattoo artist and rock guitarist, is sitting on a bench, running through his personal gun lore. Like the time three guys in Atlanta—one with a handgun—made a 90-degree turn toward him with murder in their eyes, and how he ran to find cover so he could draw his own weapon, and was shot in the hand.
Armed Pennsylvanians from Armed America: Not a Bible-thumping, bigoted duck-****ing white supremacist militia member among them.
“It felt like being hit with a pebble.”
He talks about his semiautomatic rifle—a fearsome-looking Bushmaster Carbon AR-15—and his Glock. With his hand in a pistol shape, he makes a point about firepower and aesthetics. About a yard away, a little girl and her mother talk about ice cream.
Sometimes it’s fun. Standing in the Gun and Archery range at Eighth and Ellsworth, pecking away at a knife-waving paper skeleton with a fully loaded AK-47 is a blast.
And just once it got creepy. At a gun show at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory at 27th and Southampton in the Northeast, customers are politely asked to leave their cameras in their cars while owners of concealed weapons pop out magazines and take their empty weapons into the show.
Inside, men in T-shirts proudly emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag meander past stalls selling hand grenades, homophobic bumper stickers, books about cannibalism (Contingency Cannabalism: Superhardcore Survivalism’s Dirty Little Secret), gunpowder and Cold War weaponry still sticky with packing grease.
There are badges, books, armbands and beer steins covered in swastikas. A middle-aged black man asks questions about a pistol he’s thinking of buying, seemingly oblivious that the table he’s leaning over is awash in symbols of racial hatred and white supremacy.
This is how much of the rest of the world sees the U.S., how we’re portrayed in countless news specials and documentaries—as a gun-toting, military-fetishizing right-wing freak show; a modern industrialized democracy bizarrely in thrall to culturally retarded and heavily armed barbarians; a nation where schoolchildren go on shooting sprees, and inner-city kids kill other inner-city kids by the hundreds, and nothing changes because no one wants to upset a progress-blocking coalition of gun companies, craven politicians and ferociously right-wing gun nuts.
Philadelphia’s gun owners belie that stereotype.
Thirty-six-year-old Donald “Donno” Layton graces the cover of Armed America—bearded, booted and suited, and looking for all the world like an Old Testament patriarch anachronistically armed with 21st-century weaponry.
His son Uzi, wearing Superman jim-jams, stands in the foreground waving.
“I didn’t pick the name,” says Layton. “My wife Judi did after watching The Royal Tenenbaums. We looked it up, and it means ‘my strength and power.’ Then a few days after we’d decided on the name, Uzi Gal, the inventor of the Uzi submachinegun, died—right here in Philly! Crazy coincidence, eh?”
Layton’s a minister in the Worldwide Church of Christianship, a husband and father, a tattoo artist, a part-time child-minder and a tribute-band singer who always performs in a wig and a dress.
“Yeah, it confuses people,” he says. “I’m all about that.”
Layton once tattooed an oversized representation of his ***** and testicles on a female customer, who he says, “loves the cock and is not afraid to let people know.”
On the front porch of his picturesque five-story West Philly house sits a large sack of weed-killer relabeled “Viagra.”
Layton suspects it’s the work of a neighbor, but he hasn’t bothered to remove it. Inside his lovingly maintained house, an entire wall is covered in scrawled punk graffiti.
The chances of Layton ever being chosen as an official NRA spokesperson are slim.
“I like to **** with the squares,” he says.
That’s one of the reasons he chose the legendary AK-47, the punk-rockiest assault rifle ever made.
“It’s a gun people look at and recoil in horror. As a kid who grew up sporting a mohawk, running around and scaring suburban squares, I like that people see it and instantly form an opinion about me. If they don’t want to be near me, that’s great. It separates the wheat from the chaff.”
The other reason he likes the AK: It’s unjammable, idiot-proof and so popular you won’t ever run short of spares or ammo should society collapse. The same logic informed his choice of the Remington 870 shotgun: “Every police car you see has an 870 between the front and back seats.”
These, says Layton, are exactly the no-frills, no-nonsense guns you’d want if the world goes to hell and the streets fill with the deranged, the desperate and the walking dead.
“I don’t want the world to come to an end, but if there’s zombies in the street or rioters or whatever, trying to get in here, they’re going to have a hell of a time doing it.”
“I don’t really honestly expect the dead to rise,” he says. “However, in a huge state of civil unrest, there’ll be people scratching at my window, and they’re not getting in.”
Shooting the shooters: Kyle Cassidy traveled 15,000 miles to get the pictures for Armed America.
More likely, if push really came to shove, he’d be just like most gun owners in New York on 9/11 or in New Orleans during Katrina who left their guns at home and pitched in—got food and water to the injured and the elderly, and generally acted like decent human beings and good neighbors.
Because, much as he likes scaring the squares, truth is Layton’s a thoroughly nice chap.
“There are people in that book,” he says, nodding at Armed America, “I’d be scared to be in the same room with.”
There are scary people in Armed America.
Like Dan from Oregon: “The sheer joy of one-handing the Bushmaster XM18 makes you feel like Robocop when you’re shooting toilets out in the middle of nowhere.”
And baby-faced, shaven headed, and black-combat-pants-and-sleeveless-T-shirt-wearing Ochressandro from New Mexico: “I have sworn eternal enmity to the forces of socialism and control … I have read Gulag Archipelago and I will not let it happen here without a fight.”
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