Book documents the ammo belt of America
By Shawn Clubb
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 2:53 PM CDT
Kyle Cassidy entered the home of Steven Fitzpatrick Smith on South Kingshighway Boulevard to find him with a .38-caliber handgun.
It's exactly what Cassidy wanted.
Smith, 34, of the Tower Grove South neighborhood, was one of more than 100 Americans who invited Cassidy into their homes to photograph them for his book - "Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes."
The book features people of various ages, races, religions and political affiliations who own one or more guns for one reason or another. Some collect them. Some hunt with them. Others own them for personal protection.
Cassidy's portrait of Smith shows him wearing a hat and sitting on his couch with his Smith & Wesson .38-caliber "Bodyguard," five- shot, snub-nosed revolver on the table before him. The purple glow of The Royale's neon sign shows through his window.
Cassidy, 40, of Philadelphia, has photographed people as diverse as politicians, dominatrixes and fashion models. He one day found himself talking to a former presidential campaign worker about the "gun vote" and decided to find out more.
"There are some people for whom guns are part of their everyday life. They belong to the NRA and gun clubs. Others have guns to go hunting every year. Some have guns that have been in the closet for ten to 20 years - some never fired," Cassidy said. "Owning a gun was possibly the only thread that holds these people together. They may not be alike in any other way."
Smith has owned a couple of businesses for which having a gun on hand seemed appropriate. He bought his first .38-caliber handgun a few years ago when he ran a boxing gym on North Broadway. He now runs The Royale restaurant at 3132 S. Kingshighway Blvd.
"Being in my business now, the place is unfortunately a target - cash, open hours. Any business is a target and mine is no exception," Smith said.
However, Smith sees the gun as a luxury. Cassidy asked each subject why they own a gun and ran the text beside their portraits.
"I always liked fireworks as a kid and these are like fireworks for adults. It's completely gluttonous on my behalf. I really like handguns, although I do find them ultimately frivolous," Smith told Cassidy. "It's like cars. I love cars. I don't need a car. I could live without a car, but I own two cars and a motorcycle because I like them. And I own three guns. I really enjoy the mechanics of them. I like firing them."
Cassidy said what Smith articulated was something many of his subjects thought.
The hardest part of putting the book together was finding people, Cassidy said. He started his search from outside the circle of gun enthusiasts. Many people were suspicious.
"I had to build up some trust. I gave people copies of their photos and told them they could do anything they wanted with them - make Christmas cards, post them to the Internet, send them to family. They would show them around to other friends who owned guns. My phone started ringing," Cassidy said. "Once I had enough dots on the map to get from one end of the country to the other, I called them and asked them to get me five friends in their towns."
In St. Louis, Cassidy was put in touch with the Zombie Squad, a local group that stresses emergency preparedness. The members knew a lot of people who owned guns, including Smith. They also gave Cassidy a place to stay while he took portraits around the area.
Smith was at first apprehensive when Cassidy contacted him.
"I was a little cockeyed about it, but after talking to him - hey, it is only a picture and it is hard to have a picture tell a lie," Smith said. "I saw the web site and figured that even though there are whack jobs with guns, there are also people a little less than that wacky."
The photos in the book show people in sparse, cluttered or dirty rooms; people with their children; people with their dogs, cats, birds or mice; and people wearing suits, kilts, or sleeveless T-shirts that show off their tattoos.
"I had no idea what I was going to get out of it. I knew people's houses were the most important thing. It's the quickest way to find out who these people were. A photograph is a limited canvas to capture their personality," Cassidy said.
While Cassidy's knowledge of guns changed drastically as he worked on the book, he doesn't expect it to change anyone else's views.
Smith said he thinks the book sends a message.
"Honestly, I think any country wanting to invade the U.S. (should) take a look at the book," he said. "We are ridiculously over-armed. I guess you could call it prepared."
Anyone wanting more information on the book should visit www.armedamerica.org.