The AR-15 has become the most infamous gun in America in the last few month. The rifle, originally designed for United States troops in Vietnam, has been flying off the shelves since the Newtown and Aurora shootings. In fact, the AR-15, which fans also refer to as the Black Rifle, has been flying off the shelves for years. There are now around five million AR-15s in the hands of everyday Americans.
Exactly why the Black Rifle has become so insanely popular is up for debate, but Wired’s Jon Stokes makes a strong case in an article that declares “The AR-15 Is More Than a Gun. It’s a Gadget.” Among other revelations, Stokes attributes the AR-15’s popularity in part to the gun’s hackability. Like the hot rod craze, high definition stereo trend, and the fixed gear bike phenomenon before it, the AR-15 appeals to the American desire for individuality and customizability.
- by Adam Clark Estes
In December, the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, threw the country into a deep depression, followed by a fiery debate about guns. As January brought the US six more school shootings, many “solutions” were proposed, from arming janitors to banning all guns, while companies hawking bulletproof blazers, suits, and even children’s clothes saw sales skyrocket. One of these vendors, Amendment II, has bulletproof backpacks starting at $300. I called company president Derek Williams to ask if business was still booming.
VICE: I assume from your company’s name that you really love the Second Amendment?
Derek Williams: We’re trying to develop products that save lives, but we all are concealed-weapons carriers, and we all believe firmly in the right to bear arms.
Do you feel that selling body armor somehow encourages people to buy more guns?
I can see that from outward appearances, it looks like we’re promoting the Second Amendment by selling body armor. But there is really no causal relationship between body armor and shootings other than the fact that the increase in shootings has caused people to want body armor. The reason I stress that is that we’ve had a lot of hate mail from those who say that we’re contributing to the problem of gun violence.
You sell something called “designer armor.” What does that mean?
We can bulletproof anything you’ve got: jackets, dress shirts, things like that. Prices are high—some items cost $2,500. We sell to people like celebrities; anyone who wants to look good and be protected.
Could you bulletproof a beret? Or a cravat?
Tell me about the children’s backpacks that have caused all this controversy. How did they
At trade shows I’d have people come up to me and say, “Hey, this armor is lightweight, I’d love to have a vest or a backpack for my kid so I can take him hunting,” or, “My kid was at Virginia Tech during the  shooting, I don’t want to risk anything else like that.” After the Connecticut shooting everything just exploded, and we now have a four-week backlog on orders for the backpacks.
GUNS: THE CAUSE OF, AND THE SOLUTION TO, ALL OF LIFE’S PROBLEMS
Yesterday, if you wanted to get into a nasty argument with people you’d never met, your best bet would have been to click on the #LiberalTips2AvoidRape hashtag on Twitter and spend the next halfhour “joking” about women in short dresses getting raped, or making reductive comments about how much conservatives “hate women.”
VICE’s editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro went to Florida to investigate its gun culture and byzantine firearm laws. He bought a handgun in a parking lot at 10 PM. It was 100% legal.
GUN-CRAZED AND DANGEROUS, MY AUNT DEBRA HAUNTED MY FAMILY FOR 20 YEARS
Foreground: Debra enlisted in the US Army in 1969 as a second lieutenant. In late 1971, after she had been promoted to captain, she received a letter stating she would not be retained for active duty. Photo courtesy of the National Personnel Records Center. Background: This suicide note was found near Debra’s body, along with a Bible opened to Psalm 23. Note courtesy of Janna Sorg.
It was Christmas of 1990 in my grandmother’s house. The thick, heavy curtains in the living room were drawn. My mother and I sat on the edge of a bed. In an armchair across from us sat Aunt Debra, my mother’s sister, who also lived there. In another sat my grandmother, who was in the middle stages of dementia. Around the room were several end tables and chairs. Sitting on each was a gun.
We had not planned to exchange Christmas gifts, yet Debra was handing me a .38-caliber handgun with a box of bullets, a holster, $100, and a note.
“Read it later,” she said.
At some point in the afternoon, the conversation deteriorated. Debra reached behind her and pulled a bullet from a box on a nearby bookshelf. She held it between her thumb and forefinger, looked at my mother, and said, “Janna, this has your name on it.”
My mother and I hurried down the driveway to our car, parked outside the ten-foot fence strung with razor wire that surrounded the property. As my mother turned the ignition, I glanced back and watched Debra run down the hill toward us. She was wearing a black ski mask, a camo jacket, blue jeans, and black boots. Her dark figure contrasted with the white snow, except for moments when she disappeared behind the pine trees. I stood with one foot in the car and the other in the snow. As Debra approached, I could see the vapor exhale from the mouth hole of her ski mask.
“I’ll give you this one, too,” she said, handing me a semiautomatic 9-mm with a box of bullets. She showed me how to load and unload the clip.
“Don’t blow us all to hell, Debra,” my mother yelled from the car.
“Merry Christmas,” Debra told me.
“Merry Christmas,” I replied. “Thanks for everything.”
unt Debra was notorious in the rural hamlet of Indiana where I grew up. For most of her adult life, she had threatened and attempted to kill people. My grandmother, by throwing a pan of hot grease at her head, and later by drugging her with medicine stolen from the psych wards and nursing homes where Debra worked. My mother, who Debra saw as competition for affection. My father, who, she claimed, would be felled by a hail of bullets unloaded into the side of his car. Her supervisors, who were reluctant to fire her for fear she would return to the workplace and shoot them. Her coworkers, who she had accused of “working at cross purposes” and plotting against her. The stranger on the street who looked at her the “wrong way.” The kids playing across the road she fired two shots at one day because they annoyed her. “She unnerved and frightened me, and I feared for the patients,” one of her bosses told my mother. “Her stare was pure evil.”
Yet for most of her adult life, Debra never killed anyone.
My grandmother was 40 years old when she had Debra—her first child after trying to get pregnant for 22 years. My mother was born just over a year later. She had always felt that her older sister wasn’t quite right. “When I said my prayers at night, I asked God to take some of my happiness and give it to her,” she told me. As a child, Debra hallucinated. She would sit in a chair and enter a trance. “You could get in her face and scream,” said my mother. “She’d never come out of it.”
In 1969, Debra enlisted in the US Army at the height of the Vietnam War. There she won marksmanship awards and was trained in the fundamentals of counterinsurgency, psychological operations, unconventional warfare, survival, escape, and evasion.
Four years later, having risen to the rank of captain, Debra received a letter from the Army saying she would no longer be retained on active duty. She was tossed out along with a friend—another woman. She moved back home.
Are Anti-Gun Murder Squads Killing Pro-Gun Campaigners? Of Course Not, but That Hasn’t Stopped These Conspiracy Theorists
On January 3, the producer of popular gun-loving YouTube channel “FPS Russia” was found dead in Georgia at his business. Keith Ratliff, 32, was discovered with a single bullet in the back of his head. Scattered around him were various weapons, some of which he’d modified himself. Some early articles also suggested Ratliff had been tied to a chair at some point before he was murdered and then found on a rural road, but those reports now seem to be false.
So far, the motive behind this execution is unclear. The police recently ruled out a burglary gone wrong, due to the fact that nothing was stolen from the scene, but—of course—with Ratliff’s line of work, there are now a few far-flung theories sending gun forums into a frenzy, and whispers that this was an arms deal that turned sour.
An example of the insane weapons and dodgy Russian accents on FPS Russia.
As the producer and business partner at FPS Russia, Ratliff reportedly provided the channel’s host (the guy with the corny fake Russian accent) with most of the rare, powerful weapons and explosives they demonstrate to their 500 million viewers. Getting hold of weapons like the Golden Desert Eagle, an AA-12 automatic shotgun, and a 40mm machine gun is something Ratliff prided himself on. Kitty Wandel, a manager at FPS Russia, commented on this a few days ago, saying: “Keith Ratliff has been with the FPS Russia channel for quite some time now, helping us […] to find almost impossible weapons to use in videos.” Ratliff managed to get most of these “almost impossible weapons” using his Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Now, if we look at various videos on the FPS Russia channel—the firing of an explosive crossbow; theassembly of a DRD Paratus-18, which is an assassin-type “suitcase machine gun;” and even the unloading of a rocket launcher—it’s fair to presume that Ratliff obtained these weapons with his “type 10” FFL connections. This type 10 license allows the owner to “manufacture firearms, ammunition, ammunition components, destructive devices, ammunition for destructive devices, and armor piercing ammunition.” It also permits the owner to deal in all the aforementioned items. The money to be made with one of these licenses is incredible if you have the right kind of connections—someone with a type 11 license, for example.
David W Dyson.
I spoke to David W Dyson, firearms consultant and barrister, about the type 11 FFL and FPS Russia’s extensive arsenal of weapons. He told me:
“Regarding the way in which FPS Russia got hold of the weapons, we know that someone with a type 11 FFL could import them.”
The type 11 allows the import of almost any weapon in the US. With these two connections combined, you can effectively set yourself up as an arms dealer who can import a weapon once and then reproduce or modify it to sell on a large scale. Modifying and designing guns was one of Ratliff’s specialities.
“If someone with a type 11 FFL imported the items [FPS Russia’s guns], and if Ratliff had a type 10 FFL, he could simply buy them from the importer,” says Dyson. “Any supplier trading with the US could be a potential source of the weapons. There seems to be quite a few guns that could have originated in the former Soviet Union, but I think a lot could be US produced.”
There is no specific evidence that Keith Ratliff or FPS Russia are involved in any kind of arms dealing—something I did try to contact them about—but considering the way Keith was killed and his very public connection to guns, it’s a clear possibility that can’t be ignored.
Ratliff was also unhappy about the amount of paperwork you have to get through to own a military assault weapon in America. Speaking on a YouTube video titled “Obama Vows to Ban All Magazine Fed Weapons,” he rants on about how it should be illegal for some people to have guns and not others.
Meet Syria’s 11-Year-Old Killing Machine
Mohammed Afar is 11 years old. The modified AK-47 assault rifle he carries stretches to nearly two-thirds his height.
Over top of his faded yellow jacket a Free Syrian Army vest holds three extra clips, each full with live ammunition, and a walkie-talkie. An FSA badge sits on one side and a rendering of the Islamic Shahada, in Arabic calligraphy, on the other.
He says he does not miss school or want to stay at home with his mother and two sisters.
“I want to stay as a fighter until Bashar is killed,” he says, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The fighters surrounding him, all claiming to be from Liwa al-Tawhid, pass him a sniper rifle and offer to take him to a frontline, so he can demonstrate his shooting.
“He is a great shot,” says his father, Mohammed Saleh Afar. “He is my little lion.”
Over the course of its grinding 21-month insurgency, Syria’s children have endured numerous abuses.
Caught-up in shelling, airstrikes, and sniping, they have additionally been subject to arbitrary arrest, torture and rape, as reported by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria in August; which, additionally, noted “with concern reports that children under 18 are fighting and performing auxiliary roles for anti-Government armed groups.”
Both the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children carry provisions that call for not using combatants under the age of 15, while the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute makes it a war crime.
All Around Losing host Harry Cheadle normally evades conflict by running away or nervously laughing, but now it’s time to face his fears and become a man. First, he endures a physically draining work out with a Krav Maga expert who teaches Harry how to punch dudes with balls the size of beets. Then Harry heads to a gun range where an NRA-certified Israeli teaches him about shotguns.