In February 2018, at a school in South Florida, a 19-year-old student, Nicholas Cruz, shot 17 and injured 14 people. This story caused a big resonance in the US and once again raised the topic of free arms sales in the country. The public and survivors of the attack advocate for reforms and restrictions, and President Donald Trump offers to give teachers weapons for protection.
This story directly concerns Mel Bernstein, better known as the “Dragon Man”. For many years now, he owns one of the largest arms stores, Dragon Arms in Colorado and a personal museum, where he stores weapons, weapons and clothing from the time of World War II to the present day. Bernstein is considered a local star and a sympathetic person, but along with fame and business he has to bear the heavy burden of family tragedies. The history of the “Man-dragon” tells the publication of GQ.
Bernstein is 72 years old, but sometimes he behaves 60 years younger, blowing everything up at the shooting range and joking with customers. He never goes on leave and works late. “I wanted to create a business, work hard, earn money, grow, grow and grow. This is what happens, “says the American.
On the community page in Facebook, “Dragon Man” indicates that he specializes in the sale of military rifles, pistols, shotguns and machine guns. About himself, he likes to call the product easier – “Weapons for hunting people.” When a buyer enters the Dragon Arms store, Bernstein or his daughter Melissa are in a difficult position. They decide whether it is possible to sell the weapon to the client, butt, flamethrower or a lot of other items that the attackers used during the massacre.
Against the backdrop of shooting in Florida, the largest US arms sales companies Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods have increased the age restriction on sales from 18 to 21 years. A few years before, the holdings had stopped selling the AR-15 rifle – one of the most popular models in the country, which was often used by archers during massacres.
In the US, the number of arms stores exceeds the number of all Starbucks, McDonald’s and grocery stores combined.
In Bernstein’s store there are no restrictions – the sellers themselves decide on the appearance and behavior of the buyer, whether he should sell weapons. The “Dragon Man” himself explains it this way – he is not responsible for how people use the purchase, just as a cigarette company does not control the frequency of consumption of cigarette customers.
“Yes, I sleep well,” says the arms dealer, when asked about the risks. He does not worry that he can sell the goods to a future shooter. His business does not freeze after another tragedy in schools or on the streets: the Kalashnikov assault rifle, the Uzi pistol-machine gun, the self-loading TEC-DC9 pistol – all this and more continue to disappear daily from the shelves.
Shooting range, museum and “Cyclone B”
The Bernstein store is located in the east of Colorado Springs, but in front of it, the passers-by will probably notice the strange dump of cars. Many of the cars are riddled with bullets and appear to be burned in places, and inside and around the dummies are scattered. This is also the property of the “most armed man in America” and his personal shooting range.
A little further from the store is located the second attraction of Bernstein – a giant hangar, sealed under a military museum. Inside there are about 900 mannequins and separate rooms for every large country that fought against the US. Here is the department of British armament, this is Russian, and here is the hangar of the Third Reich: everywhere there are figures with a swastika and figures of Adolf Hitler. In the corner of the room is an ominous reminder of the Holocaust – a canister with a pesticide “Cyclone B”, which the Nazis used in gas chambers.
“I have soap from Auschwitz, made from human fat, a prison form of Jews and a bread basket from Buchenwald,” Bernstein said. He says that he collects military items as a sign of respect for people who died in battle. However, this does not explain why in the bedroom the “Dragon Man” holds several machine guns.
In 2016, Bernstein voted for the presidential election for Donald Trump and has since supported him. The arms dealer calls Barack Obama “the worst president in the history of the country” and believes that Hillary Clinton is in prison. He liked Trump’s idea of legalizing silencers in the country, although they, according to human rights activists, could prevent him from calculating an arrow during the massacres.
“Do you know what scares me? Islamic state. If they get to my reserves, they will be able to capture everything, “Bernstein said. Over the years he has seen a lot, but he always managed to avoid major problems. One day a gang of bikers came to the seller and offered a bribe if he sold them weapons without specifying contact information. The “Dragon Man” advised them to go far away.
In 2001, the store, presumably, stopped by the “Texas Seven” – a group of rapists and murderers who escaped from prison in Texas. They, according to Bernstein, were asked to share weapons for the raids, but he refused. Not only from principle, but also based on past experience. According to the American, in 1999 he was visited by an unknown blonde and one of the pupils of Columbian School in Colorado. A month later, together with his comrade, he shot and killed 13 classmates and committed suicide.
At the FBI interrogation, Bernstein said that he refused to serve dubious clients and gave agents a record of talking with them. Later, a policeman from the local department told the media that the experts did not recognize on the film any of the suspects.
They came with a lot of money. This stupid hairstyle, silly raincoats. It was the end of the day and I almost threw them out of the store. They wanted the MP-5 and the M-60 machine gun. The woman did not know that for this it was necessary to wait eight months. Imagine if I sold it to them?
I could not believe that they had the courage to do something like that. Coolly shoot at teachers and children. In fact, all teachers should be armed.
The weapon question
In November 2015, 57-year-old resident of Colorado Springs Robert Diar opened fireat the Family Planning Center. Three people died, 9 were injured. In December of the same year, two terrorists from the Islamic state began to shoot people from rifles AR-15 in San Bernardino. Killed 14 people, 21 injured. In February 2016, the Uber driver in Kalamazoo got out of the car and shot six random people.
All these cases unites one – discussing them, Americans involuntarily recall the experience of the Australian authorities. After the massacre in Port Arthur in 1996, the government repurchased and melted more than 600,000 weapons, and then gradually reduced the number of armed citizens. After about 10 years, the number of mass shootings fell to almost zero.
Probably, to some fans of this story, Bernstein’s work seems harmful and even dangerous. But despite his activities, he is friendly and sociable. His 29-year-old daughter, Melissa, is at odds with her father and does not support Trump, but continues to work in the weapons shop. The girl claims that she is very strict about the customers.
“Sometimes people who want to buy Kalashnikov assault rifles come. It is immediately evident that they buy them for the cartel and take them to Mexico, “says Melissa. Sometimes employees of the “Dragon Weapon” record suspicious customers on a hidden recorder or remember the number of the machine to later report to the police.
Bernshtein has his own way of honoring the memory of those who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack: he goes into his field and shoots hundreds of machine guns, and then blows up several cars in a landfill. At least, it allows to distract from the bad thoughts that began to visit the seller after a personal tragedy.
In 2012, Bernstein’s business grew rapidly, but the more about it the media wrote, the stronger the American wanted to remain in the spotlight. His second wife, Terry, tried to distract her husband so that he would spend more time with his family, but this did not lead to anything. Then the “Man-dragon” was offered his show on television: according to the idea, the whole family would participate in it, including the eldest daughter of Melanie. Terry did not like the idea, but she gave in.
For the show’s screen saver, the Dragon family had to go together through smoke smoke with weapons. When the recording started, one of the pyrotechnic devices turned out to be defective and “shot” a smoke bomb towards the heroes. Prosvistev next to Bernstein, the projectile went right through through his wife. Terri died instantly.
“Dragon Man” has always been the face of the company, but the business was managed by the spouse. When she was gone, things went downhill. The company was saved only by the fact that the sale of weapons remained one of the most profitable occupations in the United States. Trying to overcome the depression, Bernstein again married his first wife, but soon divorced. Then his father and son died from cancer from a previous marriage.
When the work day ends, the elderly American talks to the mannequins in the hangar, watches a TV program about the story: he mainly likes the Second World War and the Vietnam campaign. After the death of his wife, Bernstein almost completely interrupted communication with relatives, except for the youngest daughter Melissa.
The American decided that after his death all the weapons, a hangar with tanks, a military museum and the company will get his daughter. Unlike his father, Melissa is far from militarism and wants to find a compromise between supporters and opponents of arms reform. She supports the idea that to obtain a license to carry a person must undergo mandatory psychological testing.
I do not have time to search for names on social networks or to googled customer information. I have been working in arms sales for many years and most buyers are smart, law-abiding citizens. We do not need to ban weapons, but we need to give the FBI access to the history of a person’s mental state. I know that it’s like invading privacy, but if you want change, it’s them.