Osama's Gun

How to not build bin Ladens AK-47 without even trying

Me: "Maybe I should just build it legal."

Ray: "Just build it. Don't be a fuckin' pussy."

Me: "Why do I even need a gun?"

Seemed like a good idea at the time. Photo by Russ Roca
Seemed like a good idea at the time. Photo by Russ Roca

Ray: "What do you think? This thing's not going to get better, especially with the Israelis and Lebanese going at it."

Me: "Uh, aren't they halfway around the world?"

Ray: "You don't think there's Israelis and Lebanese here?"

Me: "Fuck! Well, what about what happened at Columbine? Don't you think if I had a gun, some asshole would take it away from me and shoot me with it?"

Ray: "It's not the gun's fault. Or the kid's fault. What if he went and got a sword and ran around with that? He wouldn't have killed as many people, but still. You ban guns and they'll get swords. Ban swords and they'll get knives. You ban knives and they'll get sticks. You ban sticks, people will throw rocks.

Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

Me: "What about all the illegal guns—like those kids had, like the ones in the North Hollywood shootout? Doesn't that bother you? Doesn't that make you want a gun law?"

Ray: "The gun law's stupid. All it does is take [guns away from] people that actually want to have a gun and do the legal thing with it and [they] can't have 'em. And criminals can have 'em. They'll always have 'em, so there's no point in banning them. Pull the ban. It doesn't do anything. There's other states that have full machine gun laws. It seems the places with the most guns have the least amount of problems."

This is not unlike what the National Rifle Association lawyer man had to say—without the xenophobia.

"It's always been about cosmetic features, and allegations that those features somehow make a gun more sinister," says Long Beach lawyer Chuck Michel, a gun law critic and NRA member. "But those features never had anything to do with what comes out of the barrel or how fast it comes out of the barrel. It's all ridiculous, because criminals don't care. The murder law doesn't stop them. Why would the assault weapon law stop them? The history of the assault weapon law in the past 15 years is marked more by good people becoming accidental felons than by felons going to prison."

By now, my own natural paranoia had me convinced I'd be one of the former if I went ahead with building Osama's gun. I live near an Army Reserve post, and whenever a low-flying helicopter rattled my windows—three or four times a day—I felt like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas,trying to outrun the Feds in Ray-Ban Baloramas and a Coupe de Ville. All that was missing was the coke, which I'd replaced with Vicodin.

Being—yes—a pussy at heart, I caved in and started figuring how I'd build a legalAK-47. I'd already spent $220 on my lower receiver; I was already locked into the most expensive story of my career (yes, I know what that says about my career), but I really didn't want to go to jail. If some guy I'd never met in my life who worked for the attorney general's office said that it was possible, I'd believe him in a heartbeat.

"Is it possible to take [an AK-47 lower] receiver and build a firearm out of it that is not illegal? Yes, it's physically possible," Carruthers told me. "It's basically a rifle without a pistol grip." A semiautomatic rifle (one trigger pull/one bullet fired) with no evil features, a long barrel and a very small magazine—and a hundred or so other parts, all of which I still needed: the stock, the barrel, the bolt, the bolt cover, the piston, the piston spring, the trigger assembly—wasn't a trigger one piece? No, it wasn't. The average assault rifle is supposedly so simple a soldier could tear it down in the rain—and put it back together under enemy AK fire from Charlie—but I had no idea how to do that, or what an AK "parts kit" (basically, all the rest of the parts except the rivets that hold it together) looked like. I just knew I needed one—a legal one—so I dug up my friend Eddie and we went to the Crossroads of the West gun show at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds.

*   *   *

It's always springtime for Hitler at the gun show, where nearly all things Nazi are sold, excepting mein Fuhrer's head in a jar of formaldehyde: personal documents from dead Germans with the eagle and swastika featured prominently; cloth helmets for Nazi fighter pilots; Nazi uniforms, banners, insignias. There's also 10 of everything you'd see at the gun store, plus rare weaponry you'll never find anywhere else. I did not know this, but you can also buy really good beer at the gun show—Widmer Hefeweizen draft, sold by a big tubby guy who spills it as he pulls—and then drink it as you contemplate the spoils of wars. Some men bring their wives, and for those wives the As Seen on TV store had a booth showcasing its miracle pasta cooker. Elsewhere was cheap jewelry and overpriced T-shirts and bumper stickers with witty sayings ("The Marines: When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed Overnight") but mostly there were weapons and their support systems—manuals, speed loaders, ammo boxes, gun slings, gun cases, cleaning kits, and genuine military ordnance like the packets of quick-clotting agent that could save your life if you're gut-shot and bleeding out: $20 each. As we wandered through a John Wayne movie of Colt six-shooters, body armor, assault weapons, army-issue .45 automatics, disabled machine guns and Vietnam-era pilot's helmets, I wondered if anyone else was thinking of the last days of the Weimar Republic. It seemed incredibly surreal and decadent that we could be browsing through some of the best ordnance from the last 200 years of wars when the guys in Iraq were probably still waiting for the armor for their Humvees.

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