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[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!

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  1. Love this show. You’re right about the gun stuff. Unfortunately not many shows get it right. My anal retentiveness about this kind of thing really irks the Missus Finn. I pretty much complain about anythign we watch.

    Only thought I’ve ever had about SOA is that odds are they have felony convictions, ergo guns become much more taboo as well as any of them trying to reload themselves while under the constant eye of the BATFE.

    Of course that can all be contradicted by the point that (SPOILER ALERT)!!!!!!!!!!!!
    In the second season most of them get arrested while carrying guns on a little expedition to the neo-Nazi church with no apparent weapons charges being levied against them, despite the felon status of some members.

    • Fun show as most people know nothing about Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It is set in California so pretty much all guns are illegal there, right? (LOL!) It isn’t that the gangs use those full automatic firearms, they are high end collectors (like us) and need 5 of everything out there. They worry and fret about Homeland Security when explosives are used (they might smell terrorists) but warehouses of military grade weapons – no problem! OMC’s are more into drugs and money laundering but the first is a topic almost taboo for Television and would make SON’s bad guys and the money laudering would be boring. BRING IN THE GUNS OF ANARCHY! If they went to Canada they would have been stopped at the border as OMC are as unwelcome as the Taliban are here. The Mountys really have a hate for Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs as several wars have been fought up there between rival Clubs. Silly, inconsistant points to move a shows plot along but… it is guns and motorcycles so I still like it.

  2. Though it’s true they seemingly know nothing about actual gun laws I think it’s innocent ignorance on the writers’ part. I can’t recall any gun control advocacy, for instance, and the ATF is portrayed less than sympathetically in several episodes.

    Fun show overall, I reccomend it.

    • I can’t recall any gun control advocacy, for instance, and the ATF is portrayed less than sympathetically in several episodes.

      Very true.

    • Less than sympathetically? Hell, they’re the villians of the piece. Whether it’s Stahl’s smugness or Kohn’s psycho stalking behavior, the BATFE is pretty much never portrayed in a positive light (I guess because they’re the only cops in the whole series who aren’t on the take.)

  3. You’ve got to ignore some smaller things to enjoy an awesome show, altogether not a huge sacrifice. Hope they come back for another season.

  4. I agree that it’s a great show, but these guys all need more range time because they can’t hit the side of a barn during gun battles.

  5. This show is above average compared to most of TV. But gun-wise, SOA needs help. The writers are box-of-rocks dumb when it comes to firearms laws and use. It’s tough to suspend disbelief at times.

    AMC’s The Walking Dead is even worse. For the group of characters surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, guns are cartoon-like appendages, part of their dress and personality. No one thinks to standardize weapons or upgrade. Actually, no one thinks in general (including the writers). This is more video game than story (that allegedly matters). I stopped watching…

    The strengths of The Sopranos and The Wire were their generally realistic portrayal of violence and firearms use.

  6. I guess I’ll be the lone dissenter.
    Yuck. Crappy acting/overacting, on par with David Caruso. Rediculously unrealistic situations/portrayals of riding/shooting/living. Travel to Ireland and get into gunfights with military? Puleeeze! Not one character with redeeming qualities to root for. All low-lifes. Nothing there to like, IMHO. Obviously, YMMV.

  7. I thought I’d like it, but somehow it didn’t “hook” me the way Sopranos and the Shield did.

  8. I’m w/ Ken and Aaron on this one. I gave it a couple chances…but it was painful. And back up please….did you put The Wire on the same page w/ any of this, INCLUDING The Sopranos??? Blaspheme!

    Probably get blown up for this…but Justified isn’t half bad. At least Raylan’s a shooter.

    • Now that’s a well written/acted show. I loved the short foot-chase with Art running after the other old timer trying to get to his getaway plane while pulling his oxygen tank.

    • Jake: You’re right, “The Wire” is in a class all by itself. Possibly one of the best crime/cop shows ever on television. Ever.

  9. Even shows that seem to have a clue about guns do stupid things, including the “universal” clicking noise that guns on TV seem to make whenever they are raised to the firing position. If they are lowered and then re-raised, they make that weird noise again. What is that?

  10. Saw this and had to reply. At first, I was kinda agreeing with you, I noticed a few parts myself that raised an eyebrow. I overlook them though, because I totally love the show.
    But then as I kept reading, I start seeing your insight go off the arch.

    “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 .”
    Uhhh…They’re a 1%er MC. That’s not how they do things. Period.

    “…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.”
    …Really? You can’t figure out why a MC who years back was convicted of gun smuggling charges wouldn’t want to buy ammo from a store or from the internet, leaving a tidy trail back to them? Did your momma drop you on your head? This is how that would turn out: ATF Agent: “Hey, check it out, SAMCRO has been buying an a$$load of ammo…I wonder what for?”

    All in all, your article is half true, and half not understanding how outlaws work. Haters be damned, I could care less.

    • With the county sheriff in their pocket, a freakin emergency room doctor as the VP’s old lady, half the businesses in town paying tribute to SAMCRO, I’m pretty sure they could find someone to use their credit card online to buy ammo. Heck, they could pay someone with a clean record to do that.

  11. So, I’m pretty late to this, but it sounds like the Sons of Anarchy could be described as a special kind of outlaw motorcycle gang, specifically an outlaw motorcycle/firearm gang. Yes, an OMFG.

  12. I love Sons of Anarchy, but you nailed it right. Even as a minor shooter with only a little experience, the plot holes surrounding treatment of weapons in this show are painful. The show’s creator has no known experience with firearms and cuts corners in the show (remember when the Mayans are shooting Ak-47s, except there’s no flashes or ejecting shells and they’re making the recoils themselves?)

    • Having been in movies that have gun shootouts, I can say this…it is either too dangerous to even use blanks in guns, or in the case of SOA, where there are LOTS of extras shooting guns, they cannot organize enough “experts” to shoot guns with blanks over and over and over for each take. The amount of blanks used and the number of actors that are trained in gun use and well above that of “extra” make this prohibitive. For each second of gun shootout scene, there are dozens of takes. Imagine how many blanks you would need, and the number of trained actors to shoot these blanks. Easier to simply hand plastic fake guns to lowly extras, and tell them to fake shoot like they did as children playing cops and robbers, and add the noise and flash in post with foley sounding and CGI flashes.

      I will admit, during filming, it looks so stupid, as the director yells action, and all these idiots just start bouncing their guns up and down pretending they have a kickback. If only they could get the extras to yell “bang bang pew pew pew”, it would be hysterical. Otherwise, it is a silent shootout, with the noise and flashes added much later.

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