As the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings approached, a weapon identical to the Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle used to murder 20 youngsters and six staff was on display at an Indiana gun show.
Next to it at the Crown Point show on Dec. 12 was a weapon identical to the DPMS AR-15 used by one of the terrorists who killed 14 at a San Bernardino holiday party.
Next to that was an AK-47 knockoff such as was used to kill a police officer and two other innocents at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado.
Nearby was a Smith & Wesson AR-15 identical to the ones used by the other terrorist in the San Bernardino killing and by the madman who killed 12 in a movie theater in Colorado.
And just past the assault rifles were handguns such as are used in the day-to-day carnage that receives only sporadic attention in between mass shootings.
Among the handguns was a .40 Glock, of the same caliber as the pistol used to target and kill 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee last month in Chicago, a little over an hour’s drive from Crown Point. The pistol was one of several now being examined by a girl of around the same age.
“Hello, young lady, did you come to buy your daddy a gun?” the dealer on the other side of the display table cheerfully joked. “I bet he’s the best dad ever. I bet he’s just going to love you for buying him a gun!”
Nobody seemed to see any great irony in the signs reading “NO Loaded Firearms in Building” and “Absolutely No Loaded Guns or Clips in Building” covering the glass doors at the entrance to this one-story red brick structure on the Lake County Fairgrounds. A uniformed cop inspected the guns of all new arrivals to ensure the weapons were unloaded.
“If you don’t have a gun, you can go through,” the cop announced.
Among the folks who had bought guns at earlier Crown Point shows in this same one-story red brick building on the Lake County Fairgrounds was a former suburban Chicago high school football star named David Lewisbey. He is said to have made a “to do” list upon arriving at college that included, “Get guns back up.”
To that end, he made repeated trips down to Crown Point and elsewhere in Indiana, which provides 19 percent of the illegal guns recovered back up in Chicago.
“He would go travel to Indiana, to these gun shows where he would load up literally a duffel bag, go from table to table paying in cash, large amounts of cash, and collect all of these firearms before returning from these gun shows right into the worst neighborhoods of Chicago, where he would sell them literally in the back alley and on the side streets,” a prosecutor later said.
In a two-day period, Lewisbey sold 43 firearms. He is believed to have sold many more before his arrest in 2012. He insisted he had only bought guns for his “personal collection” and dealt drugs, not firearms.
Lewisbey was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in federal prison. The trial record shows that he sometimes made the purchases through licensed dealers, which required him to undergo a background check. He would simply report that the weapon had been stolen if it was recovered in connection with a crime.
More often, Lewisbey took advantage of what is known as the “gun show loophole,” which allows private dealers to sell firearms without conducting background checks or filing any paperwork regarding the buyer.
Nationwide, some 5,000 gun shows are held each year. Indiana is among the 33 states that allow such loophole sales. The regular gun shows at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Crown Point were said to be “one of the prime topics” at a kind of summit of 20 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials two years ago.
In an indication of slight progress, no private dealers were in evidence at the most recent Crown Point show. The dealers were all licensed, which meant purchasers had to undergo a nearly instant background check via one of the laptops each dealer had.
“They tell me to proceed and then it’s yours,” a dealer told one prospective customer. “You just have to have an Indiana driver’s license or picture ID.”
But there was nothing in the law to prevent a private citizen from then giving the gun to another private citizen.
And among those who would be happy to keep it that way and maybe roll back restrictions altogether was a gentleman collecting petition signatures for both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
“Get gun-rights candidates on the ballot!” he exhorted.
He noted that both senators had a top NRA rating.
“A-plus,” he said.
He could offer no rating for Donald Trump, on whose behalf a woman in a pink T-shirt reading “Get on the Trump Train” was collecting signatures at the next table.
“He’s unique because he’s never held elective office,” the man said of Trump. “He’s unproven.”
Strict gun laws have proven to reduce gun violence and would almost certainly cut deaths dramatically if all states adopted them uniformly. But as long as we keep manufacturing high-capacity weapons, there is no way to guarantee they will not fall into the hands of people who should not be allowed anywhere near a firearm. California has some of the toughest restrictions in the country, but the San Bernardino killers had little trouble arming themselves with assault rifles such as were for sale at Crown Point.
“Every customer is a friend,” words on the DPMS AR-15 box read. “We wish you many years of enjoyable use of your product. Welcome to our family.”
Across the top of the box was the exhortation “Get Ready to Flip the Switch.”
A paper tag said the DPMS could be yours for $599. The tag on the Bushmaster beside it read $649. The dealer was asked the difference between the two assault rifles.
“Mainly brand,” the dealer said. “Little bit of accessory difference, but that’s about it.”
He added, “They’re both midlevel ARs.”
He was asked what might be a top-level assault rifle.
“Far as your budget would allow you to spend,” he said. “LWRC, Daniel Defense, you could spend two, three grand on an AR.”
The LWRC and Daniel Defense assault rifles are indeed in that price range. Mass shooters favor the mid-level ARs, which also includes Smith & Wesson, going at the show for $639.99.
“Very important: Instruction book inside to ensure safe use,” read a small notice on this box.
Beyond that table was one that displayed hunting rifles and shotguns, all of which would satisfy the right to bear arms as contemplated by the Founding Fathers and were more than adequate for self-defense.
Maybe call these long guns DRs, for defense rifle.
But they lack the military hoo-hah that apparently makes ARs—the A seeming to stand for arousal as well as assault—popular with boys who never quite grow up. DRs also lack the capacity for mass carnage that make ARs the favorite of terrorists and murderous madmen.
The deadliness of ARs definitely appeals to gangbangers and other street criminals. The problem for them is that the weapons are difficult to conceal. Thugs generally prefer handguns such as the Glock .40.
The dealer at Crown Point gave Glocks high marks for durability. He cited a YouTube video of “the Glock torture test,” in which the guns are dragged behind a four-wheel vehicle and buried in dirt.
“They spray them off with a hose, load them up, and fire a thousand rounds,” the dealer said. “Glocks are pretty much indestructible.”
Also for sale at the show were extended magazines that allow a gangbanger to let loose as if with a shrunk-down AR-15.
“The more shells the merrier,” a Chicago gang member told The Daily Beast the other day.
Among the legitimate citizens who have felt compelled to arm themselves is Felix Gonzalez, a 42-year-old real estate lawyer from Chicago who came to the Crown Point show with his two sons, 10-year-old Diego and 9-year-old Nico.
As a second calling, Gonzalez teaches gun safety to like-minded citizens, particularly to those who legally carry concealed firearms. He left the show having purchased two giant plastic bags of .45 caliber and 9 mm bullets, 500 of each, for a total of 1,000. His younger son pronounced himself less than thrilled by the visit to a gun show, his first.
“Boring,” Diego said. “Because there’s nothing to do. All we were doing was watch you buy ammo.”
The father paused and shared his feelings about legal gun ownership with The Daily Beast. His foremost reason for carrying a handgun is to protect his family. He said “God help” anyone who tried to hurt his sons and declared himself ever ready to defend their lives with his own.
“Because I love you,” he told them.
The father added, “The enemy will not win if he comes against us.”
Diego said, “You don’t know that for sure.”
The father said, “I am at peace. I don’t worry about dying.”
The two bags of bullets to be used for self-defense training were loaded into the back of the family minivan. Father and sons then set off for Chicago, where a boy the same age as Nico had been targeted when three gang members in a black SUV saw him on the swings in a park after school back on Nov. 2.
Tyshawn Lee was the son of a reputed member of the New Money gang, which has been in a protracted war with the Bang Bang Gang (BBG). One of a trio of BBG members exited the black SUV, sauntered into the park, and picked up a basketball that Tyshawn had set down when he clambered onto the swing.
The BBG member spoke to Tyshawn and apparently persuaded him to cross the street into an alley behind the boy’s grandmother’s house, where there was a basketball hoop. A second BBG member followed. At least one of the gang members then produced a .40 caliber pistol and executed the boy.
The BBG member who remained in the SUV is said to have informed on the other two. One, Corey “Tez Poe” Morgan—whose brother had been killed and his mother wounded by New Money members in October—was arrested and charged with murder. Kevin “Ace” Edwards remained a fugitive at last report.
On the foggy morning the gun show opened down in Crown Point, the swing in Dawes Park hung empty save for the memory of the murdered boy who had been coaxed from there to his death by gun. Somebody had affixed a pair of wooden signs to a tree.
One sign read, “Rest in Heaven Tyshawn Lee,” the other, “Mothers against Street Shooting.” At the base was a cross fashioned with sticks and a ribbon tied in a bow.
The Chicago police had pledged to crush both BBG and the New Money gang, but there were more than enough pistols handy from gun shows and gun shops, and the gangs remained ready to use them. New Money members followed a member of another gang called Bloody 8 home and seriously wounded him. BBG shot and killed a reputed New Money member named Willie Clifton late last week. Clifton, the 21-year-old father of a baby girl, is said to have been waiting in an alley for his girlfriend with bags of laundry when he was ambushed.
One might have thought that yet another killing by a gang accused of deliberately targeting a 9-year-old would have sparked a public outcry. But the murder passed with little notice, and the killings promise to go on and on and on.
The next Crown Point gun show is on the weekend of Jan. 23 in a New Year that challenges us all to end the madness.