Mike Weisser has owned guns since childhood, joining the NRA at the age of eleven. He runs a gun business, as a retailer, wholesaler, importer and firearms trainer. He has a Ph.D. in economic history, and a column in the Huffington Post called Mike The Gun Guy. In the words of Weisser, “I like guns, I’m a gun nut.”
Wearing a law enforcement/NRA polo shirt, The Gun Guy himself joined hosts Jim Braude and Jared Bowen on Boston Public Radio to discuss his feelings of disillusionment with the NRA, and how the climate of gun culture has changed in the last 60 years.
Jared: Guns have been in your life forever, what makes you Mike the Gun Guy? How is it part of your personal culture?
Weisser: I was raised in the fifities, I was actually born in Washington D.C. near the end of WWII. In the fifties, I was a typical kid, I had toy guns, toy soldiers, toy trains. My mother threw out the trains, —that’s why original Y&L’s are worth so much— I don’t know what happened to the other toy, but I was able to keep up with the guns. The earliest home movie of my, when I was about five years old, is me sitting there twirling my little plastic Roy Rogers revolver. Every kid grew up that way in the fifties, it was not something that was unusual.
Jim: You’ve been a gun dealer for a pretty long time, yes?
Weisser: I’ve been a dealer, I’ve also been a wholesaler, an importer and a manufacturer. I’ve been in and out of the gun business, actually, since 1965, when I went down to North Carolina to help my great uncle Ben manufacture what was at that time referred to as a little ‘Saturday Night’ special revolver.
Jim: Tell us about the NRA, not in its current incarnation, the NRA though most of the years that you have been a member. What has the NRA’s agenda been? What does it do for its members?
Weisser: Well, first of all, let me get to that latter point. I will say this about the organization, and I mean it, the care and feeding of that they do with their membership is remarkable, it really is. People keep saying, ‘how come NRA people are so vociferous, so willing to jump up?’ Well, I’ve got news for you. I’m a member of the Audubon, I’m a member of three or four other conservation and outdoor organizations, and none of them send me the degree or literature and emails and everything else that the NRA does, and by the way they charge more for the dues than the NRA charges. The NRA is very skillful in making people feel that because you own a gun, you are special, you are different from people who don’t, and therefore you really need to be with other gun owners. The problem, again, with other advocacy organizations is because they appeal to everybody, you’re not made to feel that special. Who is going to argue with a tree? Nobody. Everybody gets behind the idea of environmentalism, or conservation, but with the gun thing, you are made to feel that you are special, you have made a decision that other people aren’t making. That tends to generate a tremendous amount of loyalty. When I joined the organization, I joined it when I was 11 years old, in 1955, because I was a member of a shooting club that practiced at my brother’s junior high school in the basement of McFarland Junior High School in Washington, D.C. They had a shooting range, it was not unusual. At that time, the NRA fundamentally represented gun owners who were sportsmen and hunters, because that’s why people owned guns. What began to happen in the 1980s and much more hunters began to disappear, because it’s the type of hobby that just kind of no longer worked.
Jim: The urbanization of America.
Weisser: Not only urbanization, but every seven, eight, nine year-old… he’s not twirling a gun, he’s got a droid. He’s got a video game where he can do shooting on a video game, but it’s very different. What happened is, they had to shift their focus and as a friend of mine said to me, instead of representing the people who get the Outdoor Life magazine, they’re representing the Outdoor Life magazine and the survivor list. They went really focused on this whole issue of using guns for self-defense, a little bit because of the fact that long guns, other than assault rifles, weren’t selling. Actually assault rifles weren’t really being made until the mid-nineties. And also because it was a quick and easy way to respond to what they saw as a growing concern on the part of a certain segment of the population, fear of crime, fear of… just not wanting to trust the government to protect them.
Jim: That was born of both Rodney King and subsequently, the white truck driver that was pulled out of the cab of his truck… was that the genesis?
Weisser: I remember sitting in front of my TV set, the night that I saw a live video from a helicopter in Los Angeles of a white guy, I don’t know if he was in a truck or a car, but he stopped at an intersection in downtown LA during the Rodney King riots, he was yanked out of the vehicle by three black kids, who beat him up very badly, and I can tell you that there wasn’t a gun shop in America, the next day, that had any guns to sell. What was behind that was not so much the violence itself, but the fact that it was immediate. You never said… there were riots in urban cities, after the King assassination in 1968, but you didn’t see it live. It wasn’t immediate. It wasn’t something that suburbanites, who by the way, by the eighties, had moved to the suburbs to get away from the inner city—
Jared: Because of coverage like that, how far down that road did you go, in terms of believing all that the NRA was espousing?
Weisser: I never believed it, for one simple reason. A lot of the work that I do is with law enforcement, and re-certifying law enforcement organizations, and I can tell you that the ability of someone to simply walk into a gun shop… the idea that someone could walk into a gun shop, buy a gun, buy some ammunition, stick it in his pocket or stick it wherever, and go out… and even with a few hundreds rounds at the range, have the faintest idea how to use that gun in a positive, protective, way, is totally absurd. It’s bizarre.
To hear Mike Weisser’s full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.