Firepower

Those who follow the way of the gun have their many reasons. Just ask them.

He started buying and selling guns to pay for his private collection. He filled out the forms, acquired all the appropriate federal licenses and permits. He thought it was no big deal; half of Missouri's households owned guns. But he started noticing more and more politicians who wanted to eliminate those guns.

They knew nothing about their chosen enemy.

"I was watching C-SPAN one day," Meyer recalls. "One of the senators stood up and said, 'My God, you can't use anything like this for deer hunting, there wouldn't be anything left!' He was holding an AK-47, which is not very powerful. I would much rather be shot with that AK-47 than with a standard thirty-aught-six deer-hunting gun. Most current military weapons are not designed to kill. They are designed to inflict extremely painful wounds that take a long time to heal. If you kill a soldier, you kill one man. If you wound a soldier, you tie up 10 additional people."

Jim Kennedy, creator of the Upland Wings hunters' paradise
Jennifer Silverberg
Jim Kennedy, creator of the Upland Wings hunters' paradise
The custom-designed clay range at Upland Wings. Each tower spits clay pigeons in a different flight pattern.
Jennifer Silverberg
The custom-designed clay range at Upland Wings. Each tower spits clay pigeons in a different flight pattern.

Meyer says former soldiers are his most predictable customers: They're loyal to what they carried.

"If you were in the military, you either hate or have a real fondness for that gun," he says.

It kept you alive.

Or it killed your enemy.

At a recent gun show, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia grabbed a Russian Mosin-Nagant from Meyer's table and practically spat on it. The Yugoslavian Mausers were much better, he said: "Little bitty hole going in, great big fuckin' hole coming out. And they dropped nice."

Meyer was fascinated.

Bloodstains add value to a gun.

So does virginity: When Toni gave him a gun for his birthday, he saw that it was still mummy-wrapped in the manufacturer's greased gauze, so he didn't even unwrap it. She was crushed. But he was preserving its worth.

His customers aren't all purists, though. There's a Mercedes-Benz district manager who takes a playful approach, outfitting mannequins in original uniforms and thrusting sniper rifles into their hands, filling his basement with war ghosts.

And there's an elderly Jewish insurance salesman for whom the ghosts are real.

"He's probably a liberal Democrat," says Meyer, "except that 38 members of his family were trapped in Europe in World War II. He says he'll never trust a government again. When it comes to gun ownership, they'll 'pry it out of his cold dead hand.'"

Slogans. Meyer uses them, but his mouth twists a little; he's tired of extremes. Tired of friends' kids showing him their latest blood-spattered video game because they figure he'll like it -- he likes guns.

He does like guns. He even likes shooting machine guns, because it's such an adrenaline rush.

"You have a tremendous amount of power in your hands," he says, his quiet historian's voice taking on color. "Some military rifles can shoot half a mile away with accuracy, but with an automatic, the hell with all that. You just let it go, put in a 30-round magazine and don't let off the trigger until it's empty."

He demonstrates in the air, then smiles ruefully.

"The government should never have taught me how much fun it was."

He reminisces a bit more about those years in the Army. The years he was trusted.

Then he descends the stairs and opens the door to a large shivery-cold room lined floor to ceiling with the military handguns and long guns that reconfigured the Western Hemisphere. His private collection, 1870 through the Korean War.

Walking down a narrow aisle, he picks up one of the early Mausers -- the long gun that revolutionized warfare in the late 1800s. Using a smokeless powder that didn't give away the shooter's position, it fired bullets that could kill at 1,000 yards.

Meyer rotates the gun slowly, wipes it off and replaces it. From the back wall, he takes one of the early 1903 Springfields, which sometimes exploded. Its gunsmiths gauged when to cool the metal by the colors flowing through it -- a method that worked beautifully on sunny days. On cloudy days, the receivers overheated and crystallized, turning brittle enough to crack under the pressure of a high-power round.

He turns to another wall and points out one of the last Mausers that Brazil commissioned from Germany. The Brazilian crest is engraved in silver, the loops and flourishes as fine as the chasing on a medieval chalice. Death overlaid with beauty.

Some guns are classics, eloquent as Voltaire.

Others do rugged service.

Meyer reaches for an M-1 Garand, the U.S.'s first semiautomatic long gun. He closes his hand around its stock.

"Patton called this the best battle rifle ever designed," he says. "It was a tremendous advantage over the Japanese and Germans in World War II. But it had its flaws -- held only eight rounds, in a clip that popped out when it was empty, and in close combat the enemy could see it pop."

He can see it too, in his mind's eye.

Because when he's in this room, he's part of history.


Just west of Kingshighway, in a grungy industrial strip of Manchester along the railroad tracks, a flat white concrete building absorbs 3,000 gunshots a day.

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