Young Gun

Packing Heat on Brooklyn Streets

Unlike Pataki, Shannon does not think it is easier for out-of-state residents to get guns they could not get at home. "You generally need an in-state license to buy a gun," said Shannon. "Buying with an out-of-state ID is something dealers would frown upon."

For Jones though, finding a gun dealer who was willing to accept his New York State ID in Virginia was easier than shooting fish in a barrel. "I just walked into the store and showed them my ID," he said. "No felony, no problem."

In fact, Virginia state law might have been written with out-of-state customers like Jones in mind. Virginia gun dealers pay $2 to run a felony check on in-state residents, but out-of-state license checks cost $5. Store owners pass the cost on to customers, but shrewd consumers from the North like Jones do not mind paying a slightly larger fee. He still avoids the up-to-one-year wait that he'd be subjected to in New York, as well as the $244 fee ($170 for the license and $74 for the fingerprints). By going to Virginia, he also saves money by cutting out the middleman. "A gun that might be $500 to $600 here is, like, $300 there," the happy customer explained.

Illustration by Tim Okamura

Jones can then simply walk out of the store and drive his new gun back to Brooklyn. With New York plates on his car, he slips across the state border, unnoticed, and returns home. Despite the drop in violent crime citywide over the past few years of the Giuliani administration, the number of homicides rose citywide last year, and so did shootings in the 77th Precinct.

"Guys are getting bolder on the streets," the 77th's Sergeant Charles Broughton said.

"On New Year's Eve they light up the streets like Beirut," said Lemite. "They blast off for 20 minutes straight. That's how they ring in the New Year here. They shoot from the doorways, windows, and rooftops."

For Jones, staying strapped is not just for fun; it's life insurance. Though his guns are illegal, unlike Shannon's, he shares the Georgia horse breeder's perspective on vigilante justice.

"You never know who has a gun," said Jones. "You can't take people for granted. It could be your best friend who's out to get you. You just never know," he said, scrunching his face and nodding toward his pal Burnz, standing to his right.

Like Shannon, Jones supports responsible gun ownership. "I use my gun when I feel threatened only," he said. "But if I see you with a gun, or you're known to have one, I'm not gonna wait."

The drug dealer said he's only drawn his gun three times in his life, once with violent consequences. "Yeah, I hit someone once," he said, casting his eyes to the ground.

He does not glorify his lifestyle. "If you have a gun, you're gonna end up locked up, be crippled, or dead," he said. "But I'm getting out. I'll tell you that. If I'm getting money, someone's gonna get mad, and that's when the gunplay comes into it. It's no good, but it's all about who gets who first."

"Personally, I'm tired," Jones said. He hopes to move upstate from Brooklyn to Troy, where his two children—one four, and the other five months old—live with their mother, and where he is not already known for what he does. There, he can make a fresh start. His dream is to stop selling drugs and to become a chef.

But right now, he said, the money is just too good. And staying strapped is the only way he knows he can protect himself and provide for his family.

Jones's mother, a correction officer on Rikers Island, is aware of his lifestyle, he said. "I don't want my mother to ask nobody for nothing." His nine brothers and sisters also know about their brother's work, but Jones said he keeps it outside the house and doesn't want them exposed to it.

"Twin! What'd I tell you? Get inside!" he yelled to his 16-year-old brother lumbering across the street. "What'd I say if I see you out here?" The boy turned around, pulled his puffy red coat closer to his neck, and kept walking.

"I told them, if I ever catch any of them out here doing anything I've done, I will plant my foot in their ass," the drug dealer said, turning back to his corner.

A squad car rolled by for the fourth time. Jones rocked back on his heels, bared his stomach, and smirked. His 16-shot 9mm had been nestled between his shoulder blades all along.

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