[This is part 2 of a 3-part series on the intersection of gun culture and motorcycle culture in America. Click here for part 1]
I’ve been riding motorcycles for 29 years. I’ve been a gun owner for 31. So it’s fair to say that guns and motorcycles came into my life at about the same time: my late teens/early 20s. While I’ve never considered myself to be a “biker” (a term loaded with cultural significance), it’s simply not possible to be a motorcycle rider in the US without being exposed to a lot of what I term “Biker Culture.” So, with a mix of trepidation and morbid curiousity, I decided to Netflix the first and second seasons of the popular FX series Sons of Anarchy . . .
For those not familiar with the program, it is a gritty, “anti-hero” dramatic serial in the tradition of The Sopranos, The Shield, and The Wire. Sons of Anarchy’s plot doesn’t involve a New Jersey crime family, a renegade cop or Baltimore’s gritty criminal underworld. It’s centered on a Northern California “Outlaw Motorcycle Club” (i.e., gang), the “Sons” of the series title (usually abbreviated “SAMCRO” for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Originals).
The gang’s loosely based on the likes of the Hell’s Angels, the Outlaws, and other real-life clubs. Ironically enough (or not), the series is set in the fictional town of “Charming.” Jackson Teller (Jax), played by Charlie Hunnam, is the protagonist. He’s the 30-year old VP of the club, son of the deceased founding president. After his father’s suspicious death, Jax’s mother Gemma (played by “Married, With Children’s” Katy Sagal) married the then-VP of the club, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), who became president.
So there’s your Hamlet-Gertrude-Claudius trio. Yes, there’s something rotten in the State of Charming.
Under the cover of running an auto repair shop, the gang runs guns. In fact, it’s fair to say that the show is more about guns than it is about motorcycles – the slings and arrows of their outrageous fortunes take the form of AK-47s and Glocks.
From the very first episode, where a rival gang torches the club’s gun warehouse, to the end of the second season, when Jax has a particularly painful fallout out with an IRA gun smuggler, guns are at the center of nearly every story arc in the series. The Sons are either selling guns, smuggling guns, trying to find a new supplier of guns, hiding guns from inquisitive eyes, or trying to find new markets for guns. The club’s main antagonist is dogged and obnoxious ATF agent June Stahl (Ally Walker.)
Every four or five episodes the gang takes time out of their busy gun-o-centric schedule to ride motorcycles. But normally motorcycling is a fairly minor plot point.
Sons of Anarchy is entertaining to watch, often well-written and nicely paced. Supposedly, the producer did a lot of research on Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMG in cop parlance). OMG! The show’s writers clearly don’t know crap about guns or gun laws in the US. Aye, there’s the rub.
It’s established early on that the gang gets most of its money by supplying fully automatic weapons to inner city gang-bangers (the “niners” carried over from the fictional universe of The Shield.) There are at least two problems with this set-up.
It’s true that some street gangs have made limited use of full autos. But most of them don’t. While handy for military combat situations that call for suppressive fire, fully automatic weapons are more or less useless for people who have to pay for their own ammunition. Even the dumbest of gang-bangers are savvy enough to realize that a semi-auto will do everything they need a gun to do without drawing the attention of the BATFE, FBI and every other federal alphabet agency.
The second problem with the “supply-machine-guns-to-inner-city-gangsters” plot: is supplying machine guns to gang-bangers really a sustainable business plan? Why do gangsters need a “steady supply” of machine guns? This isn’t Afghanistan. It’s not like the guns are going to wear out from constant use or be blown up in air strikes. Where are the “used up” guns going that they need to get new ones?
The other gun-centric aspects of the SAMCRO universe are also laughable. Just a few examples:
* A plot point requires the gang to smuggle stolen handguns up the West coast to the Canadian border. They contrive a complicated plan that involves a fake charity blood drive for the gang to smuggle the guns on their bikes while flying their outlaw “colors.” I guess it never occurred to them to simply put the guns into a duffle bag and throw them into a rented minivan driven by a clean-cut driver .
* Another plot involved Jax’s girlfriend, the comely young doctor, Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) being stalked by a psycho ex (a rogue ATF agent named Kohn). When Gemma finds out that Tara’s been packing a revolver to protect herself against the ex, Gemma hands her an automatic saying it’s “safer” for her to carry because it has “no serial numbers.” WTF? Altering or obliterating a serial number on a gun , or being in possession of a weapon so altered, is a pretty serious crime. Packing a concealed weapon without a permit is (in many jurisdictions) a misdemeanor.
* The gang goes onto an indian reservation to repossess a car (or something like that). They discover that – wonder of wonders – the indians are (gasp!) reloading ammunition. This amazing fact is presented to the club as a revelation—as if none of the pistol-packers there had ever heard of Lee, Dillon, RCBS, etc. They strike a deal with the indians to supply large quantities of ammo. Of course, considering that their primary choice of guns seems to be of the 5.56mm, 7.62x39mm and 9mm calibers, why they would buy reloaded ammo (at substantial cost) instead of just getting bulk quantities of imported ammo from overseas (and which can be purchased on the internet) is beyond me. Haven’t they heard of Lucky Gunner?
Truth be told, Sons of Anarchy takes place in some bizarre alternate universe where guns are pretty much illegal – and yet everybody carries one. I’m having a hard time trying to figure out whether the writers are anti-gun or if they’re just dumber than a box of hair when it comes to guns and gun laws.
The show is a cut above most of the other drivel on television. If you know anything at all about guns, be prepared for a lot of eye-rolling and general bemusement. When it comes to guns, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dream’t of in producer Kurt Sutter’s imagination. Ping me baby!