We watched the cowboy shows of “Gunsmoke”, “Shane”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “Rio Lobo” and “Hang Em High”. On the screen, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Steve McQueen tamed the West with their twin-barrel shotguns. Shotguns were the “calling cards” of Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickcock and Doc Holliday, . They instilled peace and permanently ended disputes.
The shotguns romanced us. We dreamed of owning those beautiful wood and nickel weapons. We admired those rough and rugged gunmen who toted them. Americans purchased shotguns by the tens of thousands year after year. Probably, some purchased them to be like those renowned heroes and tough guys.
America was also founded on the rugged, mountain man and the frontiersman. They were the breadwinners who took on nature and provided for their families using blood and guts. They were fierce and brave. Their tales of heroism in the face of hardship romanced us. They also brandished shotguns. Knowing that, our government allowed Americans to purchase them.
As times changed, the romance left. The fantasy of Manifest Destiny descended to the realities of social stagnation. Overpopulation, unemployment, racism, drugs and crime replaced the romantic hero riding into the sunset. The lawman’s “best friend” ventured to the dark side. There were no more protectors, but predators. There were no more romantic “outlaws”, but amoral criminals. The twin-barrel was sawed off. The shotgun took on a new, and more destructive meaning.
Sawed-off shotguns emerged as the weapon for bank robbers. In Seattle, “The Shootist” bandit robbed dozens of banks. He terrified customers and bank tellers by pointing the ominous muzzle in their faces. It became an instrument of fear and intimidation. But, the worst was yet to come.
In Buffalo (1980), a serial killer used blitz attacks to murder African-American men. His weapons were a .22 caliber pistol and a sawed-off shotgun which he concealed in a paper bag. He attacked unsuspecting drivers and pedestrians by shooting them in the face or from behind. It became an instrument of hate. But, the worst was yet to come.
In 1984, a disgruntled man entered a McDonald and killed 24 people. One of the weapons used was a sawed-off shotgun. Spree killings in Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas had assailants wielding sawed-off shotguns. It became an instrument of revenge for regular people on the warpath. But, the worst was yet to come.
Enforcers from drug gangs and mob families used sawed-off shotguns to kill and maim. They performed very well amidst gang “turf” wars. They did excellent work at “kneecapping” victims. Contract killers found them extremely dependable, easily disposable and readily available. They did their job. They were cheap to throw away. They were cheap to purchase with the serial numbers already removed. They became instruments for murder. But, the worst was yet to come.
Even, children began embracing the sawed-off shotgun. Young gangbangers received them as gifts after committing their first, violent crime. Students used them for “show and tell” at their schools. Others became unintended victims while playing with them at home. In the wrong hands, they became instruments to an early grave.
Sawed-off shotguns became hand-held nightmares. Knowing that, our government made it illegal to buy them.