I’m certainly glad I live in a free country, a country where I can walk into a gun store and buy a semi-automatic rifle if I feel like it, without anyone hassling me.
This occurred to me the other day when I visited Taylor & Vadney Sporting Goods at Five Corners in Rotterdam, with the large “Cash for Guns” sign facing its parking lot.
I was browsing the selection of handguns — Colt .45s, Smith & Wesson 9 mms and whatnot — when I noticed a young fellow checking out at the cash register. I approached him and learned he was buying the civilian version of the military M-16, known as an AR-15, which is the same weapon that the now-famous shooter used in Aurora, Colo., recently to mow down unsuspecting people in a movie theater, killing 12 and wounding dozens.
The military M-16 is fully automatic, meaning if you squeeze the trigger and hold it, the rifle spews out bullets till the bullets are gone, like a machine gun. With the AR-15 you have to squeeze the trigger again for each bullet — but you don’t have to do anything else. You can keep firing as fast as you can keep squeezing.
It’s a beast of weapon, with a range of half a mile, putting one in mind of Rambo chasing Communists through a Southeast Asian jungle.
I asked the young fellow at the cash register what he wanted it for, and in limited English, difficult to understand, he said something like “defense.” I pressed, and he said he lived in a “bad area.”
“Hamilton Hill,” which is the poorest and most violent part of Schenectady.
He appeared nervous, and that’s all I could get out of him. He paid his $1,296, with tax, and walked out the door with a black molded-plastic case containing his purchase.
The owner of the store, Pat Popolizio, told me all that was necessary to consummate the sale was for the customer to fill out Form 4473 provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and for him, the owner, to telephone the FBI and verify that the customer was not a “prohibited person” with a criminal record or a court-adjudicated mental illness. The whole process, beginning to end, took 20 to 30 minutes.
This customer, a Mr. Lee, was cleared without problem and was soon on his way, ready to defend himself.
You couldn’t do it in Mexico, I know that, and you couldn’t do it in much of the world, but you can do it in the U.S. of A., with our glorious freedoms.
True, at Taylor & Vadney or any other gun store in New York you cannot buy a 30-round clip for your AR-15, much less a 100-round drum of the sort employed by the shooter in Colorado. The maximum allowed by state law is 10 bullets at a time, so that is somewhat of a restriction. You can buy the larger clips and drums on the Internet, as the Colorado shooter bought his, but they cannot be shipped to New York or five other states that prohibit them.
You can also, more conveniently, pop over to Vermont or New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”) and buy them there, since those states allow them.
The federal Assault Weapons Ban used to prohibit high-capacity magazines, but the law expired in 2004, and there has been little political interest in renewing it.
But anyway, here we had a nervous-looking (to me) young fellow, who spoke hardly any English, walking out with a high-power semi-automatic rifle legally capable of firing 10 bullets very fast and easily equipped to fire 100 bullets very fast, and freedom-lover that I am, I still couldn’t help asking the store-owner if he wasn’t worried that the fellow could be the next movie-theater shooter.
“No,” he said. “He’s been in here before. He seems OK.”
Form 4473 might not give a skeptic a lot of assurance. It earnestly inquires if the applicant takes drugs, is a fugitive from justice, is an illegal immigrant, has been committed to a mental institution or has been subject to an order of protection in a domestic matter, in addition to inquiring about felony convictions. I don’t know how much checking into the answers can be done in 20 to 30 minutes (which includes the time it takes to fill out the form), but it can’t be a whole lot.
A sign inside Taylor & Vadney says “Defend Freedom,” and Popolizio, when I first asked him, told me that is one of the reasons to purchase such a weapon. So we can see that freedom is a wonderful thing.
Carl Strock is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.