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'Bonnie and Clyde' Revisited


Later, on the way to the Atlanta Journal newspaper office, the streets were vacant and there was no place to get even a glass of water. On one street, two blocks away from the newspaper office, a sign over a store said "Sporting Guns," and I walked down to it, expecting it to be the only shop open in all of Atlanta. It wasn't open, but it wasn't a very good gun shop, either. There were only a couple of big .45's on cardboard display signs in the windows. The rest of the store seemed bare. But they are a terrific piece of goods, these .45's. You can go out today and go for your lungs buying a new Cadillac and in three years you have a piece of junk. There is no built-in obsolescence in a .45. The model was made in 1895 and hasn't changed and you can leave one of these guns in the family for 150 years and it'll still be good enough to blow the brains out of somebody in the family tree.

King was buried in May. In June, on Tuesday morning, June 4, 1968, the rush hour in Los Angeles was moving through a dull, muggy day which was keeping the smog close to the ground. Bert Prelutsky of West magazine drove us along a freeway, against the traffic, out to Orange County, an area that has a million people, Disneyland, the Anaheim Stadium, Knotts Berry Farm and, in Garden Grove, the headquarters for George Wallace. At Fullerton, the highway was alive with the sound of Southern California. Motorcycles racing while waiting for the light to change. In the background, plastic flags strung around auto lots flapped loudly in the exhaust fumes blowing against them. The highway was lined with take-out food shops, soft-water laundries, dry-cleaning stores and stainless-steel-and-saran-wrap supermarkets. A one-story red cinderblock building sat in the middle of this jumble. The sign painted on it said "Warner's Gun Shop."

A red-haired woman sat at a desk behind the counter that took up half the store. The other half was filled with gun racks. The woman was drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. She said her name was Nita Bomgaars and she was from Arkansas, originally. "My husband, he was eventually from Iowa," she said.

"My husband comes here after work and he spends time here weekends," she said. "He keeps his regular job. He's a millwright. That's like a machinist. We just built this place two years ago. When you open a small business, you can't expect to make right away."

"Is a gun shop a good small business'" she was asked.

"Oh, it could be a very good one here, some day. You know, he can quit the regular job and we can just run this business here. It could be a good business right now, except we can't get what we want."

"What do you want?" she was asked.

"Smith and Wessons. We just can't get them. Had so many people in here ordering .45 Highway Patrolman model and we could only get two of them. Nine millimeter shells. I couldn't get them either."

"Why the shortage of Smith and Wessons?"

"You see, they're doing so much government work and after that police work, that any time they have left over for retail production, it goes to old customers. When you're just starting like we are, you can't get them."

The glass showcases under the counter were filled with Berettas. There was a Ruger Single Six. "Only one of them I have," she pointed out.

The literature on top of the counter consisted of Shooter's Bible. 1968 Edition, a book as thick as a Sears Roebuck catalogue: World's Guns and DuPont Presents The Handloaders Guide to Powders.

We walked around the back of the store, where rifles stood upright in racks, the wood gleaming the same way baseball bats do in a sporting goods store. She had enough rifles to outfit a line company.

As we were leaving, the woman said, "Yes, Smith and Wessons, that's what you need to make it in this business today. We just can't get them. Get a lot of off-brands. I'd like to carry used Smith and Wessons, but I can't get them either. You know how it is, not many people are trading their guns in these days."

Back in Los Angeles, at 11:30 at night, in suite 511 of the Ambassador Hotel, Bobby Kennedy sat on the floor against the wall under the windows and smoked a cigar. He was talking about coming into New York on Thursday or Friday and going on television to pick a fight with the New York Times. He had been burning for a shot like this for months. He said the Times was anti-Catholic and he was going to challenge them on it. "Their idea of a good story is. 'More nuns leave convents than ever before'," he said. Somebody said that a sure way to make page one of the Times was to present a story about a priest being caught in bed with a girl. Kennedy got up and walked over to his wife Ethel to repeat it. He came back and sat down and twirled the cigar and looked up when he saw activity by the door.

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