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Gun culture in South L.A.


View Park resident and retired Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) police officer David Anthony couldn’t believe his eyes when he entered the Lock n’ Load gun and ammo store in Henderson, Nev.

But there it was right in plain view, a pristine 60mm machine gun positioned high on a shelf for sale; a weapon, he feels, that kept him and his platoon alive during his tour of duty as a 19-year-old machine gunner in 1968 in the Vietnam War.

As Anthony gazed up at the weapon, he explained to his friend, retired State Public Safety Officer David Johnson, how its firepower held the Vietcong at bay when they attacked his firebase.

During his Vietnam tour, Anthony’s daily routine, when he wasn’t engaged in a firefight in the country’s Central Highlands, was to disassemble that M60 and clean it, he explained. The storeowner, overhearing Anthony, looked at him questioningly.

“You can disassemble that M60?” he asked.

“Yes I can,” said Anthony, confidently, even though he had not handled the weapon since his days with the National Guard in 1982.

The owner took down the 25-pound weapon and placed it on the counter in front of Anthony.

“Be my guest,” he said.

Anthony immediately disassembled the M60 and then reassembled it.

“Give me $10,000 and you can take it home,” the owner said.

Anthony smiled. “Next time,” he said.

Anthony’s passion for guns began during his tour in Vietnam and continued throughout his law-enforcement career. He believes it is a result of a philosophy that has been with him since 1968—“I have to depend on myself for protection.”

Both Anthony and Johnson are believers in gun control as a result of the violence they have encountered in South Los Angeles while living and working there. But they belong to a group of African Americans that have a passion for guns. This group consists of a mix of law-abiding citizens as well as some who have had run-ins with the law. Members of this gun-packing posse run the spectrum from gangster rappers to professional athletes, military veterans, peace officers, drug dealers and gang members.

Anthony believes it’s going to be a challenge to change the country’s passion for guns—especially conservatives in gun clubs—because of the constitutional right to bear arms. He believes conservatives think guns are needed to maintain what the forefathers took from others in establishing the nation.

Former state trooper Johnson was asked if African American peace officers belonged to a subculture of individuals attracted to firing ranges and gun shows?

That may be one way of looking at it, he responded. However, you must understand that the gun culture of peace officers, regardless of race, is the same, he explained. There is no difference because of ethnicity regarding guns.

“A 21-year-old being able to legally carry a weapon is a big rush,” Johnson said. “As a young peace officer, you will go out and purchase three or four guns. However, as you get older you realize it isn’t a big deal, but you continue to frequent gun shows and gun stores and examine the newest technology, because you are looking for something that is better for you—a weapon with a greater round capacity, knock-down power. Because if you are in a shoot-out, you only have one chance. In shoot-outs, cops do not have a second chance.”

Doc [not his real name], a former gang member who customizes and restores cars, claims to have dealt in both the illegal and legal firearms trade. He started selling stolen guns in the early ’70s while still in his teens; his facial hair allowed him to pass as an adult. His first successful gun theft took place in South Gate at a gun store called Weatherbys, he said.

“In the mid-’70s, the guns I stole were usually taken from me by older members of my set. We couldn’t refer to them as OG’s [old gangsters] back then because the gang was new. However, we used names like Number One, and those were the guys that would borrow your guns and not return them. They would usually say, ‘Cuz, I had to throw that one away.’”

Doc says his last illegal gun deal was around 2004 when he almost got busted at an adult daycare in Leimert Park, but got away due to what he calls “divine intervention.”

“The Best of Times Adult Day Health Care at 4350 Eleventh Avenue had been taken over by the Russian mob, and the entire facility was bugged (by the FBI) and being monitored,” said Doc. “I would meet there outside and do transactions with this Russian guy who would sell me guns. I believe he was a friend or affiliate of the people who had forcibly taken over the daycare center. On that particular day, a young lady I knew walked outside and told me to leave. She was employed there and would see me out front, and that day she saved me.

“I later was told that during that time the Russian mobs had taken over quite a few adult daycares in South Los Angeles and were extorting money from the government by doing false patient billings, making millions.”

The FBI would not comment on the 2004 investigation. However, a former nurse employed at the business during that time did confirm Doc’s story of a investigation involving Medi-Cal fraud. She confirmed that there were listening devices in the place, and that the Russians were charging Medi-Cal fees for recreational therapy that never took place.

Doc has sold firearms to gangster rappers, professional athletes and gang-bangers, and is currently writing a book titled “Chopper.”

The following are a few more insights from Doc:

• Although he has not been involved in gun sales since 2004, Doc said he owns a musket that was given to him by a relative. He keeps the musket as a reminder of how Africans were not allowed to own modern guns in the early ’50s, only muskets that were used to prevent Africans from rebelling in regions of Africa.

• Doc considers African American gangs as being next to the bottom of the totem pole in weapons and firepower. The gangs with exceptional firepower are Russian and Armenian. He believes this is a result of those ethnicities having close ties to arm dealers. In second place are Germans and Arabs. Although these groups do not belong to a gang-banging culture, they have a passion for guns. The Germans are responsible for manufacturing two of the most iconic guns in the world—the German Luger and the Walther P-38.

• When referring to Germans, Doc made it perfectly clear he was not referring to Aryan gangs.

• Mexican gangs control the gun trade, he said, and purchase the majority of weapons due to their access to cocaine and marijuana. Local Mexican gangs are forced to send their weapons to Mexico to supply the drug cartels that are currently at war. The weapons they have on hand are basic handguns. This works for them, because they control the drug trade and are able to keep  African American gangs under control since they are the ones who supply and stock African American shot-callers with drugs.

This relationship has prevented an all-out race war between Blacks and Mexicans. At the moment, Blacks have the upper hand in owning high-powered weapons.

• No one will sell a gun right now, because it is too close to summer. During this time of the year, if you plan to purchase a gun off the street, you are going to pay twice the price. This is due to upcoming gang-related social activities such as parties and picnics. It is always inner-city gang members who believe the myth that individuals are always released from prison, youth authority and other correctional facilities, return to the hood, and want to settle beefs.

This idea that incarcerated felons are released during the summer is not correct, according to California Correctional Officer Kenneth Johnson. “This belief has been around since I was a kid in the old South Central Los Angeles, and it has become a part of inner-city gang culture. Individuals will say Big Yank is getting out this summer, and he will be swollen [big from lifting weights].

Kenneth Johnson believes the gang gun culture and the culture of gangster rappers are one and the same.

Active gang members who put in work [drive-bys] have the same response. “However, they have told me that shooting at a rival gang member has one key proponent—dehumanization,” he said. “When you shoot at a rival, you must immediately see him as a rival and not a human being.”

• Doc believes in the 1980s African American gangs were at their maximum firepower. Assault weapons were on the decline during the ‘90s, and by the 2000s Black gang firepower had decreased significantly. He smiled and said there were a few choppers (AK-47s) and Uzis in the hood but they are never brought out. One issue that law enforcement needs to work on is controlling YouTube. Los Angeles gangs are showing illegal high-capacity cartridges and drums on the screen with low riders and women. Most of those cartridges can be purchased in Vegas without I.D., because they are considered parts [of a weapon].

• Doc believes African American jock gun culture is something created by the media. When you look at Bryant Gumbel’s HBO program, “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” and you hear a White agent say that he encourages all his newly signed African American rookies to go out and buy a gun, that is media hype.

African American jocks from the inner city may have grown up around pitbulls and guns. However, they are not going out doing drive-bys or drawing down on individuals. Doc has never sold a weapon directly to a pro athlete with the exception of an Oakland Raider who would drive from El Segundo training camp to Compton to buy drugs. He has sold to security staff or moonlighting peace officers who was doing the transaction for an athlete. He believes the media-driven propaganda of athletes wanting to have street cred, or not wanting to be seen as a square, isn’t true. However, this is what you hear when there is an accidental shooting.

State Senator Curren Price was asked about his views on gun control and the fact that most individuals interviewed in the gun industry felt that if a gun-control law is passed by the federal government only law-abiding citizens will turn in their guns, if they were deemed illegal.

“First of all I feel gun violence is a mental health issue,” Curren said. “However, I understand their thoughts of not everyone lawfully turning over guns that are deemed illegal. However, we have to start somewhere, and right now all we have is gun control. I am a firm believer in the control of guns, the restraint of guns, and the federal government’s proposal for the regulation of guns.

“The Justice Department inspector general’s office released a comprehensive report last week indicating that more than 50 percent of our nation’s firearm dealers have not been inspected within five years by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The dealers that were inspected within that five-year window were unable to account for tens of thousands missing guns. That’s why we have to start somewhere. I don’t care whether it is an AK-47 or a Derringer, we have to control guns. I believe there are currently over 170,000 guns unaccounted for according to that report. We are living in a different world today, and we have to control guns and large capacity cartridges.”

History of African American gun ownership, 1600s-1968

1640—First gun law preventing any Black person from owning a gun.

1865—After the Civil War, African Americans held on to their guns and could buy guns on the open market. However, some southern states countered by using Black Codes to prevent gun ownership by African Americans.

1870s—Small-caliber pistols were available on the open market. Selling for as little as 50 cents, handgun ownership was easily obtainable by African Americans.

1866—Congress passed the nation’s first civil rights bill, known as the Freedman’s Bureau Act, which allowed African Americans the right to own weapons.

1907—To circumvent the sales of small-caliber pistols, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas used special laws to prevent African Americans from owning them. Some states only allowed the selling of the more expensive military model handguns. Special taxes were also enacted, which increased the overall purchase price. With handgun licensing requirements and handgun registration laws, few African Americans could afford to pay the high cost to purchase handguns.

1957—Robert F. Williams became the first African American civil rights leader to advocate armed resistance to racial oppression and violence. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King owned an arsenal of firearms, but refused to conduct armed protests. During the summer of 1957, a Klan motorcade was sent to attack a house that was owned by a Black physician. They found themselves on the receiving end of a volley of rifle fire from a group of Black veterans and National Rifle Association members led by civil rights activist Williams. Using military-surplus rifles from behind sandbag fortifications, the small band of freedom fighters drove off the larger force of Klansmen with no casualties reported on either side.

1960s—The disarming of handgun-owning African Americans ended with the Civil Rights Movement, and Blacks were allowed gun ownership.

May 2, 1967—Thirty armed Black Panther members entered the California Legislature carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns and .45-caliber pistols to protest the prospect of outlawing the right of private citizens to bear arms. This display was witnessed by Gov. Ronald Reagan, who months later signed the Mulford Act that prohibited carrying firearms on one’s person, vehicle, and in any public place.

1968—Gun Control Ban on the so-called “Saturday Night Special,” a handgun that was manufactured in high volume and sold at low cost. This gun became synonymous with robberies and homicides in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. The term originated from an Ohio writer who said he wish he could party like the “n*” did on Saturday night.

History of gun proliferation in South Los Angeles

1966-1972—African American Vietnam veterans sympathetic to the Black Panther Party supply them with arms. The weapons-supply pipeline is believed to have involved weapons from Camp Pendleton and burglarized federal armories. The Panther arsenal consisted of an assortment of machine guns, rifles, handguns, explosives, grenade launchers, and boxed ammunition, according to a 1992 book written by former Panther Elaine Browne. In addition to purchasing military weapons, Black Panthers were trained in the disassembly, cleaning and reassembly of weapons by government-trained individuals. Geronimo Pratt, a Vietnam veteran, was a weapons specialist for the party.

1973—In August 1975, FBI agents arrested four men in connection with the burglary of the weapons vault at the National Guard armory in Compton, Calif. The haul was described as enough weapons and ammunition to outfit a full Army company (200 soldiers at that time), according to a report compiled by the Rand Corp. in April 1980 by R.N. Reinstedt and Judith Westbury, titled “Major Crimes to Potential Threats to Nuclear Facilities and Programs.”

1984-1990—During the South Central Los Angeles crack epidemic, gang-banging and drug-dealing merged. This allowed gang members to have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a time when an AK-47 was being sold for $200 at Western Surplus, then located at 8505 S. Western Ave., according to Eight Tray gang member Monster Kody. According to the former chief counsel of the United States Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, Jack Blum, overseas suppliers saw Blacks as people they could use to sell their drugs. Officials in the U.S. looked the other way while drug money and Iran Contra destroyed a community. Gang members were allegedly able to purchase assault weapons in mass numbers from drug profits.

1985—Railroad freight car filled with a shipment of Derringers was looted while possibly awaiting a switcher, a smaller diesel locomotive for the purpose of picking up the load. The small pistols were engraved with the name of the manufacturer which was located in Dominguez (near Compton). The freight car was parked on Alameda Street, east of Jordan High School. Legend has cited it as “a boxcar filled with assault weapons” as opposed to Derringers. A witness involved and community activist believe the freight car was purposely abandoned there to proliferate weapons in the ghetto.

1992—Western Surplus Store was looted during the 1992 Riot. Eight Tray Crip’s forced everyone out of store and removed all inventory.

1994—President Bill Clinton bans assault weapons. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on Sept. 13, 2004. Presently assault weapon bans are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but are controlled by local states.

2011—A secured commercial building on 14th and San Pedro streets was burglarized  and perpetrators  took 15 MP-5 submachine guns and 12 large-caliber handguns. The LAPD said the handguns were modified to shoot blanks. (According to a former peace officer, all weapons can be restored to fire live rounds by replacing parts.)

2013—The Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives and FBI are currently investigating and attempting to recover large amount of stolen guns. The thefts may be gang-related and taken from out-of-state gun dealers.