Like it or leave it, Americans love their guns.
“The first time I remember firing any type of firearm was with friends of my family,” said Jeff Bregman. “My parents were there we went out to the desert and I shot a little .22 rifle and a .38 revolver.”
Bregman’s passion for firearms has since grown now owning American Gun Works, a gun store in Glendale.
Just like many gun shops across the nation, Bregman’s business has seen a dramatic increase in business. With the looming COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest throughout the entire country, Americans of every color and creed have flocked to their local gun stores hoping to get their hands on a firearm.
In March, Americans purchased almost 2 million guns, the most since January 2013 after fears of strict gun control following the reelection of President Barack Obama and Sandy Hook mass shooting.
The trend continued throughout the year with over 2 million first-time gun owners in the first half of the year, according to the National Rifle Association NRA. Within the first seven months of 2020, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has conducted 22,819,271 background checks nationally. In California, there have been 898,350 checks. If the trend continues throughout the year it will eclipse the total for the entirety of 2019 where the FBI conducted 28,369,750 nationally and 1,240,632 in California.
While there are many reasons for purchasing firearms for self-defense, many just like Bregman simply have a passion for them.
A marvelous machine
Bregman’s passion for firearms strengthened during his time in the Army where he was exposed to weapons far larger than the .22 caliber rifle and .38 special he shot with his family years ago.
“When I turned 18, I joined the Army and got to play around with some of the really big stuff,” he said. “There is an overwhelming sense of controlling the power involved. But for me, once I started getting older, it was all about the technology. I loved how things worked and every gun works a little bit differently.”
After the Army, Bregman dabbled in several different careers finally settling on gunsmithing after attending school.
“I just got fascinated again with the mechanical aspects of it, the simplicity yet complexity of how everything works,” he said. “When I look at a new gun, I look at it [and ask] how did they make it happen?”
This curiosity led Bregman to purchase his first firearms a Mossberg shotgun, Heckler and Koch USP 45 handgun, and a rifle that reminded him of cowboy shows from his youth, a Winchester 1886 lever action.
His collection has since grown to over 100 firearms, ranging from the very first handgun to an old Winchester shotgun he rebuilt himself.
The feeling of empowerment
While Laura Butler has been surrounded by guns her entire life, it took her a while to purchase her own, however, she always knew how to use one just in case.
“For many, many years, I always lived in a house that had a firearm and I knew where it was and if I needed to use it, I could,” she said.
The first firearm Butler purchased was a .38 special snub nose, a revolver. Now, Butler owns several guns herself feels empowered that she knows how to shoot. With a gun in her hands, and the skills needed to properly use it she feels that she has the power to protect herself just in case something goes bump in the night.
“It’s very empowering. It’s extremely empowering,” Butler, who is the office manager at American Gun Works said. “I talk to my women customers and tell them, go to a range, learn to do this correctly and you’ll see what I mean. It’s very empowering… I look at it as a tool and I know how to use it.”
Mark Romano is somewhat a renaissance man. He was a professor for almost two decades, a professional musician and a competitive cowboy-gun shooter.
His passion for shooting and firearms began similar to Bregman. Romano grew up on the Central California coast where his father, a World War II bomber pilot taught him and his nine siblings how to shoot.
“Everybody got a bicycle when they reached a certain again,” he said. “Everyone got to drive a vehicle when they reached a certain age. And everyone got to shoot a rifle at a certain age. I want to say that you took your first shot when you were 6… I was excited because it was a rite of passage.”
Romano said he learned how to shoot on his father’s service pistol. He would then use those skills to help his father keep the predators away from their family’s livestock. Romano cherished this time he spent with his father, viewing it as one of the activities he could bond over.
“As one of nine children, I would take any moment that could find with my father,” he said.
As Romano grew and gun skills progressed, he became a competitive shooter, winning a world championship for cowboy action shooting in February 2003. Just as he bonded with his father keeping predators away from their livestock, he bonded with fellow competitors during a long career.
“Some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever had in my life are doing firearms competitions,” he said. “I have shot a little bit of everything and it’s just fun. The people are absolutely the best… You go for the shooting, but you end up staying for the people.”
To educate others
Jonathan Solomon started competing in shooting matches when he was 6 years old only a year after his grandfather, an Air Force veteran took him to the range for the first time using a bolt action .22 caliber rifle.
“My grandfather’s thing was if you could walk and talk, you could shoot and I could walk and talk,” he said.
As the owner of one of the only Black-owned gun stores on the West Coast, Solomon tries to educate every one of his customers on how to properly and safely handle their new tools.
“We don’t just sell you a gun, we make sure you are on track to be a responsible gun owner,” he said. “All of us take it very seriously.”
As an additional service, Solomon offers training courses for his customers to help ensure that everyone that buys a firearm from him becomes a responsible gun owner. He hopes to lessen the financial burden of attending classes after his customers have spent hundreds of dollars on a new gun.
“We offer that service cheaper than anyone else,” he said. “We want to make it affordable for everybody. Not just our community, not just the Asian community and not just the white community—everybody is welcome.