Even though Capshaw isn’t a gun owner, he occasionally gets grief for doing the kind of work he does. When he once volunteered to speak about his job to his kid’s Montessori preschool class, the teacher told him, “No, I don’t think that would be appropriate.” One of his liberal friends hectors him all the time about working for the dark side. “Unless there are deer manning the gates of heaven,” he replies, “I think I’ll be OK.”
Still, for as much work as he does with the gun industry, he has his personal no-go lines. He recently turned down a million-dollar job to supply parts for a military-style assault rifle. “When I hear about something like Newtown,” he says, “I don’t want to have to rush to find out if it was something I had a hand in making. And I don’t think that’s ever going to happen making mostly bolt-action hunting rifles.”
‘DO YOU HAVE MUCH EXPERIENCE shooting?” the soft-spoken voice asks me. It belongs to Carlos Flores.
“No,” I reply. “Not unless shooting BB guns as a kid counts.”
“That’s OK,” he says. “We can take care of that.”
Flores speaks so gently and soothingly that I could mistake him for someone who runs an ashram rather than Savage’s 100-yard test range. He fell in love with guns at age 7, when he read a history book about them that he found in his hometown library in Holyoke, and then realized that history had been made just a few miles from his house. He badgered his mother to take him to the armory. “My parents were hippies,” he says.
These days, in addition to working at Savage, the 39-year-old of Puerto Rican heritage gives advanced firearms training and is a competitive target shooter. When he travels to meets and gun shows, he says, “I’m often the only person with brown skin there.” Still, he sometimes feels less at home in his own neighborhood. He admits that he winces when people ask what he does for a living, preparing himself to hear disapproval masked in a compliment, such as “You’re such an intelligent guy. Why don’t you put that brain to work doing something else?”
Flores may be soft-spoken, but he’s hard-core in his beliefs about guns. He started training his daughter in firearms when she was 5 years old, and his son when he was just 3. To him, it’s all about proper instruction, like teaching your kids how to use scissors or a knife. As for horrors like Newtown, he repeats the gun enthusiasts’ refrain: “It’s not the gun. It’s the person.”
Yet Savage employees are not immune to the pain of gun violence, which costs an estimated 31,000 American lives each year, about 60 percent of them suicides. One employee I met on the factory floor told me why he’d never have a gun in his house: “My brother-in-law took his own life with one back in October.” Another Savage employee lost a grandson in that wrenching case from 2008 involving the 8-year-old boy who accidentally killed himself with an Uzi at a gun show in Westfield. But it’s also true that hunting accidents are down historically and that the vast majority of gun deaths involve handguns rather than rifles.
That’s why Massachusetts’s most prominent gun control advocate, John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, tells me he thinks the state was wrong to give Smith & Wesson tax breaks, since it makes assault rifles and handguns, even though he wouldn’t have a problem with them for a company like Savage. “Hunting rifles and sports rifles are not the problem,” he says. “Easily concealed handguns and military-style assault weapons capable of accepting large ammunition magazines are the problem.” Rosenthal, by the way, is a longtime skeet-shooter and owner of a shotgun.
Because space is at such a premium at the Savage factory, the 100-yard test range that Flores runs is actually a big, black tube of reinforced steel that is strung along a second-story height, directly above the workers on the factory floor.
I put on protective earmuffs and sit down beside the rifle I will be shooting. It’s a sleek Trophy Hunter center-fire rifle, .223 caliber, with an attached Nikon scope, retailing for about $550.
When I notice that it’s a righthanded rifle, I break the news that I’m a lefty.
But Flores tells me to hold my arms out, using my fingers to make a diamond around an object in the distance. “Now blink one eye, and then blink the other,” he says. “With which eye open is that object centered?”
With my left eye open, the object shifts. But with my right eye, it remains in the middle of the diamond.
“Then you’re right-eye dominant,” he says, teaching me something about myself. “So you’re going to shoot with your right eye and use your right arm.”Continued...