An enormous bear is the first thing you see when you enter B & B Sales in North Hollywood.
It's a majestic, 1,250-pound Alaskan brown bear, expertly stuffed and displayed in a glass case worthy of the Natural History Museum. B & B Sales is the best-equipped gun shop in the Valley. You can buy any of more than 20,000 guns and other weapons there, including semiautomatic versions of the Uzi and the Galil, guns you see in American movies and against the walls of Middle Eastern cafes. A Galil will set you back $849.95. You can also pick up armored underwear or an ankle holster for 99 cents.
Ironically, the stuffed bear hadn't been gunned down. "The bear was taken with a single arrow," explained Rick, 26, who identified himself during a brief interview as the shop's retail manager.
Rick, a personable young man with more muscles, better defined, than most of us feel the need for, apparently got in trouble for talking to the press. Rick wasn't at work when I called back the next day to ask a few additional questions. Instead, someone who said he is the store's general manager inquired rather sharply as to who gave me permission to write about B & B Sales?
I explained that I had simply walked in, said who I was and what I wanted and that the staff (Rick and a couple other salesmen, actually) had chosen to cooperate. I didn't say, as I was tempted to, something snotty along the lines of "When reporters are outlawed, only outlaws will be reporters." It didn't make much sense, first of all, and, besides, it's so tiresome to talk about freedom of speech with people who only care about the right to bear arms.
But, after we both drew our rhetorical weapons and waved them at each other a couple times, the general manager settled down and was almost as cooperative as Rick.
The people who work at B & B Sales apparently share the view that guns don't kill people, people do. Well, sure, but it's so much easier to do the deed with a .44 Magnum than with a six-slice toaster. "The anti-gunners like to prey on emotions," said the general manager. "I myself was raised in a house with 12 kids and a houseful of guns, and nobody ever got shot."
Only the day before, he said, he had given private shooting lessons to a 3-year-old, teaching the toddler how to handle his .22-caliber air rifle responsibly. "Ignorance is the only thing that will hurt you," the general manager said. "An uninformed child is the one who's going to pick something up out of curiousity and hurt himself."
Actually, everyone in my family also learned to shoot, but only \o7 after \f7 they were toilet-trained and had attained the age of reason or finished third grade, whichever came first. No plinking away at cans until you could tie your own shoes.
As I talked on the phone, I began to fantasize about that precocious little rifleman. I imagined him as the survivalist equivalent of the over-extended yuppie youngster who is flogged by insecure parents from ballroom dance class to Suzuki violin lesson. I wondered if the poor pistol-packing baby was also being instructed in prophylactic parking of the family off-road vehicle.
Rick likes guns as much as the general manager does, but he didn't make me feel as if I had been transported to another planet.
He explained that pistols are the safest weapons for beginners because you can only get off one shot at a time. He warned that the shop's semiautomatic rifles should never be modified for use as automatic weapons because they aren't manufactured to the same strict specifications as the originals. "When you change that gun over, you stand the chance of wearing part of it in your face," he said.
In spite of its seductive stock, B & B has never been robbed, perhaps because the feloniously inclined are aware that its sales force is armed. According to Rick, the typical customer is a competitive shooter, not a survivalist or even a hunter. Rick likes to shoot but only at inanimate targets. "I learned when I was young, you eat what you hunt. I can go to Safeway and buy a hamburger," he said.
Rick acknowledged that some potential customers have seen "Rambo" once too often. "Do you have that little attachment that goes under an AR-15 and lobs grenades?" the staff is sometimes asked. "No, we're out of those," Rick and the others sometimes playfully reply to the request for illegal equipment. As he pointed out, automatic weapons are outlawed in California, where you must be 18 to buy a rifle, 21 to buy a handgun. Silencers are illegal everywhere in the United States.
Rick said that 25% or more of his customers are women. No other females were in the store when I visited, however, except for an attractive redhead behind the counter. A psychologist friend insists that there are gender differences regarding guns, no matter how many times you heard "Free to Be You and Me" while growing up.
"Males like to aim, and women should be thankful," he said.
I am, I am.
But the bear had been so beautiful . . . .