My first night in Louisville, Jim showed me his guns. The born-and-bred Kentucky boy stores them in a hulking safe with a keypad lock, hidden inside a walk-in closet. Over 5 feet tall and almost 4 feet wide, it easily holds Jim’s collection of pistols, rifles and handguns, with room to spare. Lining the back of the door is a leather organizer with more guns snugly tucked in its pockets.
One by one, Jim pulled out gun after gun, explaining the provenance of each one. There was his grandfather’s Browning SA .22, an antique handgun of gray polished metal. I could tell by the way he handled it that it was heavy. His grandpa “kept it on his nightstand,” Jim said, and called it a “squirrel shooter.” There was the precision Anschutz target rifle of the finest craftsmanship. And the semiautomatic AR-15, bought prior to the 1994 federal assault-weapon ban (which expired a decade later). Jim’s AR-15 looked like a cheap plastic toy, but he assured me his gun was far superior to the ones made now.
In the gun-friendly culture prevalent in Kentucky, Jim’s multigenerational collection of guns isn’t unusual. What makes him stand out in the community, however, is his stance on gun control. (In fact, his views on background checks and waiting periods — he’s for them — are so contentious that he asked me not to use his real name so he wouldn’t be recognized at the gun ranges where he is a regular.)
During a phone conversation with him this January, with the shadow of the Sandy Hook shooting massacre in the background, he told me that the variety of guns and gun accessories readily available in his state should frighten me. Within a 20-minute drive of his house, he said, he could legally purchase everything he needed to convert an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, or SAR (which, each time the trigger is pulled, fires once, ejects the empty casing and immediately loads another round), into a fully automatic weapon capable of shooting 100 rounds a pop. All Jim needed was a device known as a bump fire stock, available for purchase online and at gun retailers, gun shows and ranges for $350 to $500.
“I betcha didn’t know [you could do that],” Jim said. He was right. I didn’t. That’s how I found myself in Louisville, Ky., handling Jim’s AR-15 — the weapon I would modify with a bump fire.
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