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Tax-Free Guns with a Side of Barbecue

5 years ago
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Fort Mill, S.C. – "I'm living the American dream," said Jack Sheppard. "I've got the No. 1 product in America." That would be guns, and the 42-year-old Sheppard, owner of Aim Right Guns & Ammo, is an expert. At his shop on Main Street in this small South Carolina town just over the state line from Charlotte, N.C., business was brisk. It was a Black Friday bonanza.
For the second year, the 48 hours starting at 12:01 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving marked what's called "Second Amendment Weekend," at least by the Republican state legislator who sponsored the bill. To Rep. Mike Pitts, that, more than the possible economic stimulus, is what's important. Handguns, rifles and shotguns were tax exempt, ammunition, holsters and toy handguns were not.

There are all sorts of clauses and explanations in the ruling, which states in a footnote: "If a part or attachment to a handgun, rifle or shotgun (e.g., sight) is pre-packaged with a handgun, rifle or shotgun, then that is one transaction to purchase a handgun, rifle or shotgun and the sale of the pre-packaged unit would be exempt, provided the transaction meets all the requirements of the exemption as set forth in the law."

"It's a wonderful thing," said Sheppard, whose business was three times the usual. "A lot of firearms are made in America. We're promoting growth in our economy."

Glocks are his most popular product, he figured. As for his overall firearms sales, demand breaks down 60/40 when it comes to whether the purchase is for personal protection vs. hunting. Or, as the bumper-sticker on display said: "Guns Save Lives – 2.5 Million Defensive Uses Each Year."

This weekend there was the added incentive of free barbecue sandwiches for customers – a mix of old and young, mostly men, but some women, too.

"I served seven butts," he said on Friday afternoon, with one day and seven more butts to go.

The day included a raffle for a local children's charity ($2 a ticket, three for $5) with the prize being a 12-gauge Mossberg 500 pump-action tactical shotgun, plus a just-in-case survival kit that included a first-aid kit and C-rations.

Sheppard
a member of the NRA, the Central Carolinas Shooting Club, Carolina Tactical Shooters and Charlotte Rifle and Pistol Club teaches concealed carry classes and is a licensed armed security instructor. At the shop, he does his own gun repair.

It's not just the deals and the food that drew customers. A T-shirt on the wall with a likeness of the president proclaimed Barack Obama: "Gun Salesman of the Decade." It's not anything he's done. (In fact, the president signed a bill that allows licensed gun owners to carry loaded weapons into national parks and wildlife refuges.) It's a fear of what he might do.

"Obama's placed people in office who are very anti-gun," said Sheppard, ticking off Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder. Sheppard is a fan of Sarah Palin and wishes she would run for president. "She's not for sale," he said.

Sheppard has heard that buried deep within the pages of the health-care reform bill are words declaring gun owners a "health risk." Though the PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter has judged the rumor false, saying, "there is nothing in the bill itself to indicate that is contemplated," it's still floating around.

Fears like these drew some weekend shoppers, including a 61-year-old Fort Mill man who has never owned a weapon.

"I don't know if I want to bring a gun into the home," said the man, who didn't want to give his name. Then he talked about a scary future, based on "prophecy," a time when "lawlessness becomes relevant."

"The United States is a very fragile country," he said. "We're spoiled brats; if things get rough, we're not going to do well." While he added, "I still believe prayer is more important," he was holding onto a .38 revolver when he said it.

Sandy Jones, who with her husband owns five guns, was a lot more relaxed as she browsed. Jones, a Fort Mill information technology specialist for a health-care facility in Charlotte, belongs to a shooting club and takes part in competitions. She thinks all gun owners should take lessons.

Practices at her club set up real-life scenarios, "like someone's coming at you," she said. "It's just fun." Though President Obama hasn't taken anyone's guns or ammunition away, "everybody's afraid he's going to," Jones said. "You might as well get it now."

Pitts is trying to make his "Second Amendment Weekend" a permanent annual event, and while Louisiana and other states are following his lead, the move isn't popular everywhere.

In the New York Daily News, columnist Michael Daly wrote: "Firearms traffickers are not expected to pass the savings on to New York criminals, but what is called 'the extrava-gun-za' and 'Second Amendment Weekend' is sure to help South Carolina stay among the top five states that provide 85 percent of the illegal handguns recovered in New York City."

"Even without a tax holiday, South Carolina gun shops sold a half-million handguns in a 10-year period. The state's population is only 4.5 million," Daly noted.

That didn't concern Sheppard, who roamed the shop on Friday, Glock on his hip. (That's OK because, he said, "I'm in my castle," and South Carolina's "Castle Doctrine" extends the right to carry in your home and business.)

"Step right on up, bring your wallets," he joked to some of the more reticent customers.

He paused to offer me a spot in his concealed carry class. I would be a perfect candidate, he said, because, at my size and weight, I'm "one of the prime targets in Charlotte."

"You may be a fighter," he said, "but you don't look like one."

I told him I'd think about it.

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