What I Learned About Family and Firearms When I Inherited a Gun Store

A wall of merchandise at the Cal-Tex Gun Barn
A wall of merchandise at the Cal-Tex Gun Barn
Danny Fulgencio

Sitting in front of his computer in the back room of his gun shop, my father holds a revolver in his hand. It’s a used gun like the .45 revolver in the glass case in the other room but smaller caliber at a .38. It looks like a gun Clint Eastwood would wield in a Dirty Harry movie, the kind that has been capturing my imagination since I was a child watching John Wayne sling a long barrel revolver in True Grit.

He’d been keeping it in his gun safe for a few months now. He says he hasn’t found time to price it since business began picking up earlier this summer. Now he’s giving it to me, which is a surprise since he refuses to carry a pistol.

“They’re made to do one thing,” he says when I asked why he doesn’t carry a pistol.

“What’s that?”

“Kill people,” he replies. “I’ve got a spare bedroom full of rifles if I need to protect myself.”

The revolver is cool to the touch and reminds me of the revolver my grandfather used to kill my grandmother when my father was a teenager.

Fifty years later, my father, John, doesn’t sell many revolvers at his store Cal-Tex Gun Barn on the outskirts of Granbury. He’s selling this one on behalf of a customer. He doesn’t make much money peddling used revolvers for his customers. He says he only does it because it’s the neighborly thing to do. It also brings more customers to his store. “If I can just get them in the door,” he says.

The Gun Barn is a haven for gun lovers. Firearms fill nearly every room. Semi-automatic pistols line a couple of walls and cover a few tables in the front room of the gun shop. Bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles — some for hunting, others for sport — fill another two rooms. Shotguns are on display in the aisles, ARs stand on another wall. My father has surrounded himself with hundreds of guns and continues to grow his stock with each passing month.

It’s been nearly a decade since my father re-entered my life. He showed up at my college graduation when I received my first master’s degree in 2008. Over the years, we chatted by phone, mostly about politics — a topic I recommend most liberals avoid if they ever visit the Gun Barn — and celebrated a few holidays together. But I never imagined I’d be sitting in the back room of his shop, learning how to fill out gun transfers and conduct background checks with my own revolver. He was the gun guy. I wasn’t. I never thought about carrying a gun until I became a journalist.

A few months ago, my father called and offered me an equal share of the gun business with my younger brothers. It was a legacy I never expected. My father, who’s 63, says we don’t have to keep the guns after his death, that we can sell our share of the inventory if slinging guns isn’t the future we want.

It’s part of the reason why I’m sitting at the Gun Barn in the middle of August. I’ve been visiting for a couple of months now, learning the family business while trying to understand how my father found comfort spending most of his time surrounded by the guns he peddles.

"It's just something I enjoy," he says. "I gave up drinking and wild women. I ain't got nothing else to do." 

The exterior of the Cal-Tex Gun Barn
The exterior of the Cal-Tex Gun Barn
Danny Fulgencio

My father’s guns come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The SCCY CPX-2, 9mm, is available in dark red, bright orange, white, blue, light blue and pink. The M&P9C is black, the most common color for a semi-automatic pistol, and equipped with a laser sight. A flip of the switch, a red dot will appear wherever the gun is pointed. Both guns are small enough to carry concealed but powerful enough to end a life. 

Gun sales happen in the evening, on the weekends and whenever else he’s not working his full-time job as an electrician supervisor in Fort Worth. My father's been selling guns for a few years now, first at gun shows, then a garage. He was forced to clean out the old metal barn next to his house when word of the operation began to spread among the locals in Hood County.

My father’s customers arrive in spurts, two, three, four, never more than half a dozen at a time. Some are soccer moms, others blue collar workers. Some have law enforcement backgrounds, others professional degrees. Many grew up with guns in their households.

One 83-year-old customer says he’s been shooting guns since he was 8 years old, and still remembers his first: a Winchester .22 pump action. “As my short memory tells me, long rifles haven’t been in existence as long as short,” he says, meaning two variations of the standard .22 rimfire round. “Daddy mostly bought shorts. He liked to shoot quail.”

Most of them will ask questions about guns or ammo, and my father is like an encyclopedia when it comes to guns. He’s been collecting rifles since he was a child and is well-versed in their various uses. “You can kill someone with a 9mm,” he tells one customer, standing in front of the glass cases filled with used revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. He’s a tall man, heavier set than his father was, with a fuller head of gray hair. “Troopers used to carry a .357, which is a little hotter round than the .45 but still a decent one. But they make bigger calibers than the .45.

"Here’s a revolver for you to shoot,” he adds and disappears into the back room that serves as his office. He reappears with what's known in the Texas gun world as a "Big Fuckin' Revolver," or "BFR." It's a single-action revolver three times the size of the .45 in the glass case, with a barrel dwarfing the one John Wayne wielded in True Grit. Magnum Research manufactures the gun in all kinds of calibers. 

The McPhate family works and chats with customers in the Cal-Tex Gun Barn.
The McPhate family works and chats with customers in the Cal-Tex Gun Barn.
Danny Fulgencio

“You can use a .410 slug in this,” he says. “It’s just chambered for shotgun shells. The company that makes the .50 cals makes these revolvers. They make them in different calibers because there is no regulation on the round. The only thing regulated is the barrel on the rifles.”

Customers struggle to lift the revolver. It would take two hands to shoot it and probably someone supporting your back. It looks like it would bring down a rampaging elephant if you could hold it steady enough to fire the damn thing.

“You can have any length on a pistol,” my father says. “But with rifles, the government regulates the barrels because people used to make sawed off shotguns and rob banks.”

As with most of his explanations about guns in the Gun Barn, my father falls into a memory. “When we were kids, we had a few .410s we played with,” he recalls. “Then we seen that Steve McQueen movie where he had that rifle modified like a pistol. So we cut the stocks off our [short-barreled] rifles.”

Shortly thereafter, they were stopped by the police and taken to jail where they remained for five or six hours. “They finally said, ‘We’re going to let y’all go, but we’re going to keep your weapons.’ We were like, ‘You can have them.’ There was no way we were going back there.

“We were just kids, and we were scared to death,” he adds.

Like many rural Texans, my father got his first rifle when he was a child. At 10 years old, he’d use it to kill squirrels for his grandfather who, in turn, would give him bullets for each carcass he brought to him cleaned. Each year for Christmas, my father would get a new hunting rifle. He continued this Christmas tradition with his sons when he became a father. 

I’m his oldest son, but never received any rifles. I didn’t know my father growing up. I didn’t meet him until my 20s, didn’t build a relationship with him until my 30s. By then he was already selling guns out of his garage, preparing to make his move into the Gun Barn, which he originally built to house some farm equipment and used lumber. He says he only got his federal firearms license because he was tired of paying the $30 gun-transfer fee to buy the rifles he collects. It didn’t take long for word to spread that a licensed firearms dealer had set up shop on the outskirts of town.

I’ve been around handguns as long as I can remember. My mother’s father was a former lawman who worked as a pumper in the oilfield. He always carried a revolver whenever he took me with him to check oil wells in remote locations where rattlesnakes made their homes. He often traded guns with his friends and spent most of his free time “wolf hunting,” though he mostly shot coyotes. He traded their ears and tails for empty shells that he’d reload with gunpowder and pellets. He says he carried a single-action semi-automatic .45 pistol in World War II but preferred the feel of a revolver in his hand.

My mother’s father rarely discussed the violence he experienced as a soldier. He kept his Purple Heart in his gun case, next to the medals he’d taken from a few Nazis he may or may not have killed. “I’ve heard ’em go out cussin’, and I’ve heard ’em go out prayin’,” he once said of the war. “You’d see ’em go down and think, ‘Boy, I’m next! When’s mine?’ It never did come. You’d see the sun come up and wonder if you’d see it go down. You’d see it go down and wonder if you’d see it come back up. You lived just one minute to the next. I never did see if I got any Germans. All I would see is the kick in the dirt.”

My stepfather owned only a couple of .22 rifles and a shotgun when I was growing up, but never considered himself a “gunman.” He bought me a BB gun when I was younger, though he said it was from Santa. I shot everything from my neighbor’s window to my little brother, who promptly returned fire. Like his father, my stepfather worked too much to take me and my younger brother hunting. “He was the kind of guy who took vacations to bale hay,” my stepfather says of his father, though he could be also speaking of himself.

I didn’t learn about my father until I saw his last name in bold Old English lettering on my junior high diploma: “McPhate.” It sounded like a name from that old ’80s movie Highlander. All my young life I'd been signing my stepfather’s last name on my school papers. Standing among my eighth-grade peers in the mid-’80s, dressed in a white Miami Vice-styled suit, I stared at my father’s name, my name, saying it once, then twice. It felt foreign and took a couple more years to embrace.

I'd been hearing the story of my grandmother’s murder for a couple of years. It always found a way to slip into my uncle’s conversation at my aunt's house in Forest Hill, where my father stayed shortly after his mother's murder. He later met my own mother there. She’d left Oklahoma for Texas when she graduated from high school in the early ’70s. They were only married for a short time before she returned to Oklahoma, pregnant with me.

“He executed her right there in front of them kids,” my uncle would often say when I visited Fort Worth. “He pulled that trigger back. She begged for her life. Bam. Bam. Bam.” The number of shots varied with each telling, depending on how much he had to drink.

Looking back, I now understand the impression his stories made on me. I imagined my grandmother’s killer wearing a hockey mask like Jason Voorhes in Friday the 13th or knives for fingers like Freddy Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street. For me, a teenager fascinated with horror movies, the killer was more like an urban legend than my grandfather.

I spoke with my father once by phone when I was 16. It was an awkward conversation. Neither of us really knew what to say. We weren’t emotionally connected enough to discuss the tragedy affecting both of our lives. So we made small talk instead. "How you been?" "How's school?" "I hope to see you soon."

The author examines gun cases in the Cal-Tex Gun Barn.
The author examines gun cases in the Cal-Tex Gun Barn.
Danny Fulgencio

Running a background check on myself for the .38 revolver in the backroom of the gun shop made me realize guns are more regulated than I thought. I type in the gun’s serial numbers from the paperwork into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), double check the information entered is correct and hit send.

“Oh, they’re researching you; that isn’t good,” my father says and chuckles. 

The paperwork required in gun transfers, which is what the government calls the transaction between buyer and seller, pulls my father back to the Gun Barn on his days off and long after he closes the shop. Mistakes, he points out, don’t just simply lead to the revocation of his federal firearms license. They could also lead to a fine or prison. It’s a hard thought to swallow now that I’m becoming part owner of a gun shop.

He keeps all of the paperwork in file boxes underneath a gun shelf, but he’s starting to run out of space. The federal government requires gun dealers to keep track of the guns they sell. When federal agents need to trace a gun, they’ll track its serial number until they find the original seller and move forward from there to find the criminal.

My father has had a couple of run-ins with people he believed may have been criminals when he used to set up at gun shows in Fort Worth. “We had one gangster who came to the gun show one time,” he says. “He wears a lot of gold and has two big black guys with him, and they buy a lot of guns; so you know it’s drug related. He brought his wife because she would always do the paperwork. She could pass the checks, and he never got busted. That’s how gangsters do it. They’ll find someone who is 21 years old, who’s got a clean record, and they’ll use him to go buy all their guns until he gets busted. Then they find someone else.

“There was one guy who was talking to David [my brother], trying to find out where all the serial numbers were located on the gun,” my father continues. “I ask that guy, ‘Why do you want to know where all the serial numbers are on a gun?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m just curious.’ I wouldn’t sell him a gun. I took his information and called the ATF and said, ‘This guy is trying to figure out where to grind all the serial numbers off.’”

The background form is loaded with questions to keep the 300 million guns in the U.S. out of the hands of people the federal government deems too untrustworthy to possess them. Besides wanting to know if potential gun owners "have ever renounced their citizenship or if they’re currently illegal aliens," the U.S. Department of Justice also asks if they’ve ever been "a fugitive from justice, addicted to drugs, adjudicated mentally defective (or committed to a mental institution), dishonorably discharged from the military or the subject of a restraining order for harassing, stalking or threatening their child or domestic partner." Anyone convicted in any court of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge can't own a gun, according to a Supreme Court ruling in June.

Such a law wouldn’t have saved my grandmother in the late ’60s because my grandfather probably picked up the revolver he used to kill her from a friend.

“If they say, for private individuals, to sell a gun requires a mandatory background check,” my father says, searching through his wholesaler’s gun website to find a Ruger-manufactured AR-15 for a customer, “[then] you can’t sell a gun to your cousin or your brother or your sister. You can’t sell that gun to anybody because you have to do a background check. My question is: How are they going to set up where you can do that background check? Where are you going to do it? That ought to be the question everybody is asking. That ought to be front page news: How is the government going to control, mandate, monitor and enforce universal background checks?"

As a licensed firearms dealer, my father is required to conduct background checks on his customers regardless if they’re purchasing a handgun, a hunting rifle or a military-style rifle unless they hold a carry license. It takes less than a minute, in most cases, to conduct the background check. He can either call the ATF or visit the FBI’s NICS database and enter the customer's information from the background form, including the type of gun they are purchasing, to receive one of three responses: “Proceed,” “Denied” or “Delayed.”

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Sometimes the customer must wait three days before he or she can pick up their gun. My father must also alert the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if an unlicensed customer buys more than one gun in the same five-day period. It’s stricter than a gun show where a person can buy a gun from a private seller without a background check, he says.

“If you walk into the gun show with a gun, and a felon walks up to you and wants to buy it; and you sell it to him, and he walks outside and gets caught with that gun, law enforcement can’t do nothing to you,” my father says. “You’re not required to do a background check. That’s where liberals keep saying the loophole is, which it is a loophole.”

A flag with the word “Mountain” and two swords crossed underneath hangs on one of the walls in the Gun Barn. It displays the various gun dealer tags my father has collected over the years from the dozens of gun shows he used to attend to sell firearms. He quit setting up display tables at gun shows a couple of years ago because he could make more money selling guns out of the Gun Barn.

He was also fed up with some of guys who’d been setting up tables next to him for five or six years and selling guns without a federal firearms license, something he’s forced to renew yearly at a couple of hundred dollars. It’s a license my dad’s younger brother should have obtained as a gun show gun dealer.

“If you sell guns for a profit, you have to have a FFL,” my father says. “How can they set up at gun shows for five or six years and not say that they’re in the business of selling guns, that they’re selling private stock? There’s no way. So everybody at the gun shows is breaking the law. That was your uncle’s point. And the federal government don’t do nothing about it.”

The ATF arrested my uncle in 2011 for selling a gun at a gun show without a federal firearms license. He’d sent my aunt to pick up the gun from the pawnshop, but instead of taking the gun home where it would become part of his private stock, he told her to bring it to the gun show where he placed it on the table for sale. An ATF agent walked in behind her and bought the gun. He was later arrested. Federal agents discovered he had legally purchased more than 250 guns from various pawnshops as well as my father’s Gun Barn. They photographed him selling semi-automatic rifles with large-capacity magazines at a Jack in the Box in Grand Prairie and found several of his guns south of the border in Mexico. 

"I did not intentionally know these guns were going to Mexico," my uncle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in June 2011. 

My uncle spent five years in a federal prison in Colorado. A convicted felon, he’s no longer able to buy or carry a firearm. He’s also no longer able to visit my father since the Gun Barn is located right next to my father’s house. It’s a strange twist of fate that he would serve time, but my grandfather would remain free.

“Your uncle’s defense was everybody else does it,” my father says. “Well, you can’t use that. Everybody runs a stop sign but you get caught running it, you still ran the stop sign.”

My father doesn’t know what my grandfather’s defense was. 

The McPhate name is emblazoned on a metal fence on the entrance to the property.
The McPhate name is emblazoned on a metal fence on the entrance to the property.
Danny Fulgencio

I met my grandfather a few months before he died of cancer at a VA hospital in Kerrville in the mid ’90s. Confined to a wheelchair with an oxygen mask draped around his neck, he was a giant of a man but sickly and old. Like me, he was a guitar player, a former oilfield worker and an opinionated asshole who spun a few words in local newspapers whenever the mood struck him.

He still had one of my grandmother’s pictures framed in his living room of his single-wide mobile home on the outskirts of Brownwood. It was sitting on a coffee table. I tried not to look at it.

My grandmother, who was in her early 20s when the photo was taken, looked haunted, as if she wanted to escape the photograph but the awkwardness of leaving kept her in place. I wondered if she felt the same way looking down the barrel of my grandfather’s revolver.

A couple years before I met him, I called my grandfather from a friend's house. I just wanted to hear his voice. I wanted to know what he sounded like. Did he sound like a crazed maniac or a soft-spoken serial murderer? But his voice sounded familiar, as if I'd heard it a million times before, like the grandfather he could have been if he hadn’t pulled the trigger.

My grandfather’s wheelchair creaked as he followed me toward the sofa. I took in the room: more pictures of old people I didn't recognize hanging on the walls, an old tube television playing a Clint Eastwood Western next to me, a few issues of National Geographic and the Enquirer displayed on another coffee table in front of me. His wife poured a few glasses of tea in the kitchen, but I wasn't thirsty.

Seated in his wheelchair, my grandfather looked tired yet happy to see me, as if he’d been longing for this moment for some time now. His blue sleep pants and white T-shirt were old and worn, his fingertips stained from years of tobacco use. He breathed in labored gasps as his wife set a glass of tea in front of me. He ignored her and slouched forward, gazing at me with familiar blue eyes. “I've been working on a family tree,” he said, removing his mask. “But I didn't have all your family's information.”

Motioning me to follow, my grandfather moved his wheelchair into an adjacent room where a Macintosh from the early ’80s sat on a desk. Several more pictures of family whom I didn't recognize lined the walls, although I did notice one of my father with several of my siblings whom I'd yet to meet hanging above my grandfather’s old computer.

Typing information about my family into his old computer felt wrong. I'd never felt like I belonged to the McPhate family. Now pages upon pages of information about the McPhate family history were just a keystroke away. Names that held little meaning flashed before my eyes as I scrolled through the document. McPhate, MacFate, McFate, McPhee, all bloodlines related to me. Blue collar workers, a few doctors, one or two theologians, even an ancestor who fought with Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Scottish Independence, but honor, loyalty, valor were not words I associated with my family.

It took longer than I expected to enter the information. An hour or so passed before I finished. I walked into the cluttered living room to let my grandfather know I finally completed his task. But he was hunched over, gulping air from his oxygen mask. I sat down next to him and looked at my grandmother’s picture.

“I didn't mean to do it,” he said and took another shot from his oxygen mask. “It was an accident. I was aiming at him, not her. She shouldn’t have grabbed the gun.”

Silence seemed to be the only appropriate response. What was I supposed to say? His reasoning didn’t fit the narrative I’d been hearing for most of my life.

They had fallen in love in the oilfield but grew apart over the years. She had left him to find happiness, and he kept her from seeing the kids. She showed up one night to pick up her youngest daughter with her new lover in tow. My grandfather stormed outside with his gun in hand and met her on the front lawn. My father rushed outside to stop his father. But he wasn’t fast enough to stop the pull of the trigger.

“I didn't mean to do it,” my grandfather said again.

I never knew why my grandfather didn’t serve any prison time for murdering my grandmother. Family lore claimed he’d cashed in his family’s money to buy his way out of trouble. Or maybe it was a “crime of passion,” a legal term for people who murder someone in the heat of the moment. But his stressing it was an accident was the only answer I would receive from him.

“It was an accident,” my grandfather repeated more firmly with tears in his eyes. “You believe me, don't you?”

I turned away from my grandmother's picture and looked at him one final time. “Yeah, Grandpa, I believe you.” 

Roosters hang out on the property.
Roosters hang out on the property.
Danny Fulgencio

My father put a sign on the Gun Barn alerting customers to call his cell, and we had begun building another round of fold-over pens for his roosters when I finally finished my story. He didn’t say much at first. He simply stood there, clasping the brackets with pliers as roosters crowed and the sun slowly set. “Well, I don’t know what to say about all that,” he says. 

He’d called me shortly after my grandfather died in late November ’95 and asked if I planned to attend his funeral. I told him no. I had already said goodbye. At the time, he didn’t know I knew about my grandmother’s murder, and I didn’t know how to tell him. A few weeks ago, I found out my brothers thought she had died in a car wreck. When I asked my father why he kept the truth from them, he said her murder wasn’t a topic of conversation around their dinner table.

It also wasn’t the topic of conversation for building rooster pens, but somehow we managed.

My father says shortly before his mother’s murder on Jan. 5, 1968, he sneaked into his father’s room, opened the nightstand where he kept the .45 revolver and removed the bullets. He had heard his father and mother arguing on the phone, and he was afraid that his father would kill her.

A few days before her death, his father came into his room and took the bullets from him.

On the evening of her death, his mother had shown up to drop off his infant sister, but his father had met her outside with a .45 revolver in a paper sack. My father told his brothers and sisters to stay put and rushed outside to stop him. But reason never mixes well with rage. His father killed his mother in front of him, then turned the gun on her lover. He missed, though, and a chase ensued.

By the time my father caught up to him, my grandfather was pistol-whipping the young man in an alleyway. This time my father was able to stop him before he committed another murder. He was arrested, then arraigned on a murder charge in early March. His bond was set at $10,000. My grandmother’s family picked up one of my father’s sisters and took her out of Texas. Six months after my grandmother's murder, my grandfather picked up the rest of his kids, including my father, from a children's home in Fort Worth, and took them as far away from Texas as possible. They ended up in Arizona.

My father worked as an electrician through the summer and saved up enough money to return to Texas. “I wasn’t staying with him,” he says a couple of times during the course of our conversation. He got a job in construction working with my mother's brother-in-law. He was 16 or 17 at the time and wanted to go back to school, but needed a local address, so my uncle offered him a place to stay. He met my mother a couple of years later at my aunt’s house in Fort Worth. They married shortly thereafter, but a disagreement over his lover sent her back to Oklahoma.

“If I had been less of an asshole, you would have been born a Texan,” he says.

The Tarrant County District Clerk Records Department was only able to track down a small packet of court documents related to my grandmother’s murder. In The State of Texas vs. John Boyce McPhate, former Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry wrote, “The only eyewitness to the murder gave a false address and cannot be located.” The murder case against my grandfather was dismissed in March 1973.

“That ol’ boy took off and fled the state,” my father says of my grandmother’s lover, the only other witness to her murder. “That’s why they couldn’t find him.”

My father was never asked to testify against his father. He figures they felt he was too young at 13 years old to take the stand. Once he escaped my grandfather’s household, he never looked back or mentioned his mother’s murder again. He saw his father a few times over the years, but they never discussed what had transpired on their front lawn in early 1968. 

“Did you ever seek therapy?”

“Why would I do that?” he asks.

“Because it was your mother. Surely you were close to her.”

“Look, I just don’t think about it,” he says. “It was never the topic of conversation. Everyone dies, and everyone has something bad that happens. You just deal with it and move on.”

But I never understood how you move on when your mother never received justice.

John McPhate speaks on the phone with a customer in the Gun Barn.
John McPhate speaks on the phone with a customer in the Gun Barn.
Danny Fulgencio

After the Gun Barn closes late in the evening, my father sits in the back room, finishing paperwork from the day. It’s been tough for him to keep up with the paperwork. He hired my younger brother Derek to help him, but he’s not the most reliable person when it comes to the paperwork.

“This transfer needs to go into this file,” my father says, putting the background form into a folder. “Let’s see, he put the bill of sale with the gun, but where is the receipt? Why didn’t he make a receipt out for the gun? How the hell did he sit down there and sell a gun and not make out a receipt?”

“Do you have to give them a receipt?”

“No, we don’t have to give him one,” he answers. “But I need a receipt.”

He gets up and lumbers into the other room, mumbling underneath his breath, “I need the receipt. I don’t know where the receipt is. He probably didn’t make one out for the guy. I mean, here’s the gun …”

My father and I didn’t spend long discussing his mother’s death, only long enough to establish that he doesn’t like talking about it. Also, he makes clear that he doesn’t have a problem selling people pistols because he’s a big believer in a person’s Second Amendment Right to bear arms.

Like other gun advocates, he says it’s not the gun, but the person pulling the trigger. Yet he can’t deny the fact that he doesn't care for pistols because of what happened to his mother. When I took the .38 revolver outside behind the Gun Barn to shoot it, my father refused to fire off a few shots. I offered again when I shot a .45 semi-automatic, but he declined with a shake of his head.

I don’t blame him. Shooting the .45 felt like more power than one man can control. It was definitely more power than I could control with my disabled right arm. Holding it steady was impossible, and using two hands felt ridiculous. I preferred shooting the .38 revolver. It had less of a kick when I pulled the trigger and was much easier to control.

Over the past several months, I’ve learned more than I could have imagined about guns and the gun business. For example, I learned that in New York, AR-15s can’t be sold with a threaded barrel or adjustable stock.

“That threaded barrel is made for a grenade launcher?” a customer asked.

“Yeah, that’s what it’s for,” my father replied. “They also make one that will shoot flares and fireworks.”

“All right, so I can buy something that I can put a flare or a firework on,” he said. “That sounds like a good deal.”

I didn’t particularly care for hanging out in the Gun Barn. I’m not really a gunman. But it was also the most time I’ve ever spent with my father. I enjoyed building rooster pens in his backyard. Our conversations would delve into his past for a moment or two and quickly change to politics and the dangers of a Clinton presidency.

As he corrects the mistakes my younger brother made on the background forms, I think about the Gun Barn and what I would do with my portion of the inventory when my father dies. I’ve never cared one way or the other if people carry guns. I’m not sure how you can tell people to forget their culture by taking their guns away. It’s a culture that started long before our country was a country. 

My father says carrying a gun should be a personal choice because the government already regulates firearms enough in this country, though he wouldn’t mind if politicians closed the gun-show loophole. People would be then forced to sell their used guns with a licensed firearms dealer like my father.

“They’ve got gun control now if they would just enforce it,” he says. “But they don’t. They are understaffed.”

Seeing him bound to the Gun Barn like my grandfather to his wheelchair, I can’t argue with his logic, but it’s also a chain I don’t particularly want wrapped around my neck when he dies.

Saying goodbye to my father is always awkward. We don’t know if we should hug or simply shake hands. I place the loaded revolver in my glove box and give him what seems more like a pat on the back than a hug.

On my way home, I thought about the Gun Barn, my grandmother’s murder and other gun-related events throughout my life. The most traumatic one involved my cousin, who was more like a brother. A mind lost to meth, he kidnapped an old man at gunpoint in West Texas and forced him to drive him to Oklahoma. They never made it to the state line. My cousin was arrested and later hanged himself in jail. The smell of his funeral still haunts me.

I considered taking the revolver to my mother’s house in Oklahoma, but every state has different gun laws, and knowing my luck, I’d end up dead on the side of the road. “A hippie with a gun,” would be the last words I hear before death finally welcomes me home.

Instead, I drive home to Denton, unload the revolver and lock it up in an old file box where it still remains.


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