Alex Constantine - October 13, 2007
"... Justin [Moon] was born in Seoul, Korea, on July 17, 1970. Justin came to the U.S. in 1973 and has lived in the United States ever since. [He]graduated from Harvard University Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in economics. Justin proudly states 'I proudly participate and support my church and my community. This is, after all, a free country. I cherish my First Amendment rights as well as my Second Amendment rights.' It is difficult to disagree with that. ... "
Money, Guns and God
by Christopher S. Stewart
Inside the apocalyptic—and profitable—gun empire of Justin Moon, the C.E.O. who may someday lead the Unification Church.
On a blustery night in December 1999, Danny Guzman left his house in Worcester, Massachusetts, and headed downtown to Tropigala, his cousin’s nightclub. Tropigala occupied a bunkerlike, one-story brick building on Main South, a street that was home to shuttered storefronts, rooming houses, and a creeping underworld of drug dealing and prostitution, punctuated by the occasional shooting. Despite the upcoming holiday, Tropigala was packed with its usual, mostly Hispanic, crowd, and Guzman, a handsome 26-year-old with a muscular build and deep-olive complexion, settled in with a drink.
Just before 2 a.m., as the club shut down and crowds spilled onto the street, a man named Edwin Novas—a 20-year-old heroin dealer from the Bronx who sported a boyish mustache—started causing a disturbance. Details about what happened are murky, but Guzman was somehow drawn into the scuffle. Novas allegedly drew a 9-millimeter pistol from his waistband and fired, and Guzman was hit. Novas fled, followed by two friends. And at 2:12 a.m. on December 24 at Saint Vincent Hospital, Guzman was pronounced dead.
Four days later, in an empty, weed-choked lot around the corner from Tropigala, a four-year-old child found a loaded 9 millimeter with no serial number. Ballistics linked it to the shooting, and prosecutors, armed with eyewitness reports, accused Novas of murder. Immediately after the killing, his trail went cold, which is how it remains today. Years later, America’s Most Wanted featured the Tropigala murder, describing Novas as the Christmas Eve Killer, but the exposure didn’t help solve the case.
With no one in custody for the murder, investigators turned their attention to the murder weapon, and people in Worcester began whispering about the gun’s local manufacturer, Kahr Arms. We now know that the gun used to kill Danny Guzman was one of dozens that had been either lost or stolen and then sold into the underworld by rogue Kahr Arms employees, at least one of whom was a drug addict. Guzman’s family has since sued Kahr, accusing the company of negligence in connection with his death. A trial is pending. The $2 billion-a-year gun industry is watching the case with trepidation, fearing that a successful suit could prompt other victims’ families to bring similar cases against other gunmakers.
But Kahr Arms is more than just the manufacturer of some of the smallest and most lethal weapons on earth (including the tommy gun, made famous by Al Capone). It is run and mostly owned by a son of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the billionaire and self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church and controls a sprawl of businesses presumably intended to sustain and defend his followers when the world as we know it ends. The gun business, along with food companies, real estate, and other holdings, will serve to protect the fortress and keep sinners at bay, according to former members, as well as supply necessary provisions after the arrival of the new world order.
Not much is known about Moon’s 37-year-old son, Justin, or how Kahr Arms fits into the church’s teachings and the reverend’s plans for world domination. People who know Justin say he travels a lot, has a penchant for fast cars and big-caliber pistols, and spends stretches of time at various family and church mansions around the globe. He is also vigorously business-minded and has personally designed most of his company’s guns. He has grown Kahr Arms into one of America’s top privately owned handgun manufacturers, with sales of around $20 million a year and climbing at an annual rate of 30 percent.
Kahr’s success could influence the future of the church itself. With the True Father, as followers call Reverend Moon, slowing down, speculation about his heir has begun to emerge. Church watchers say the fact that Justin has built a company from the ground up makes him a front-runner in any possible succession race to lead the Moonies and run a church business empire valued in the billions of dollars.
But the son of the messiah doesn’t talk much, and the inner workings of Kahr are a jumble of shell companies. Like his father and the church, Justin Moon prefers to be an enigma, never granting a face-to-face interview—until now, finally unfolding his strange story of God and guns.
I meet Justin Moon for the first time in Orlando. We are at Shot Show, one of the biggest annual gun conventions on the planet, with 15 acres of exhibitions and N.F.L.-size crowds. At the Orange County Convention Center, not far from Disney World, Justin holds court at Kahr’s booth, where the company’s notorious super-subcompact pistols, each about the size of my hand, are on display. As I look down one of the guns’ six-inch steel barrels one afternoon, Justin slides over and shakes his head. “You don’t know much about guns,” he says, “do you.”
Justin is tall, clean-shaven, and well built, with a schoolboy part in his hair and an imperious presence. He wears a fitted gray pinstriped suit with a green-and-gray-striped shirt and matching green tie, perfectly knotted and speckled with what look like white terriers. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d inadvertently aimed the gun at his chest. I put it down.
“When you picked up the gun, your finger went right to the trigger,” he says, picking up one of his own weapons. It’s apparently immaterial that the gun isn’t loaded and is missing its firing pin, just like the countless other handguns, long-range sniper rifles, and shotguns on the convention floor. “When you present a firearm, you always make sure your finger is outside the trigger guard. You never put your finger on the trigger,” he continues, holding the pistol in his palm, “until you’re ready to fire.” Pointing it at the ground, he cocks the gun and pulls the trigger, which produces a metal snapping sound. “That is the only time you put your finger on the trigger,” he says. “When you are ready.”
He’s right. I know nothing about guns; they scare me. However, my grandfather was an F.B.I. agent, so I’d seen his Colt .38 around the house and had watched him fire it at raccoons in the yard.
Justin asks what I’m doing at Shot Show. Pointing to my badge, I tell him I’m a writer from New York. “A Democrat!” he declares, nodding, as if that says everything. “I have some Democrat friends,” he tells me, “but they don’t understand any of this. It’s another world to them.”
Earlier in his life, Justin Moon was known as Kook Jin, which is what his parents, Reverend Moon and Hak Ja Han, named him. He was born in South Korea in 1970, one of 13 children and the fourth of seven sons. Like his brothers and sisters, who sometimes called him Kookie, he was brought up to be a leader in his father’s religious kingdom. The Unification Church blends Christianity with Confucianism and anticommunism and divides the world into believers and nonbelievers. The duty of the believers, according to the church, is to conquer Satan and eradicate moral decay in the world, even if it means war with the infidels. The idea is that Reverend Moon, with God’s guidance, will one day take over the earth, restoring it to peace and love.
When the Moon family moved to America from South Korea in the 1970s, critics were already calling their followers the Moonies. They were portrayed by some as a brainwashing personality cult with a thing for mass marriages and strange ideas (a highway around the world or a modern Eden in a Brazilian swamp), whose leader had a reputation for living off the work of his followers. Depending on whom you asked, there were either thousands of followers or tens of thousands; the exact number remains a mystery. Among believers, Justin’s mother and father are known as the True Parents, an acknowledgment of the reverend’s distinctive relationship with God; he claims to have spoken to Jesus.
Justin and his siblings are considered just as holy. They are called the True Children, and they have lived their lives accordingly. “The Moon kids acted like royalty,” Graham Lester, who was a member of the Unification Church from 1979 to 1995, tells me. “From their viewpoint, everyone else was a different species. Other people were not a part of God’s realm.”
Home for the True Family was a guarded 18-acre mini-castle in Irvington, New York, a tony suburb located along a sweep of the Hudson River. Named East Garden, after Eden, the estate included two smaller houses and a three-story brick mansion with 12 bedrooms, seven baths, a bowling alley, and a dining room equipped with a waterfall and pond. There were other castles and mansions too—in South Korea, Germany, Scotland, England—and few expenses were spared. The children had tutors from Japan, purebred horses, motorbikes, sports cars, and first-class vacations with blank-check spending. “The kids got whatever they wanted,” says Donna Collins, who grew up in the church. “At one point, the Moon kids were each getting $40,000 or $50,000 a month for allowance. They had wads of cash. I remember once in London where [one of Justin’s sisters] spent like $2,000 a day; I saw a drawer filled with Rolexes and diamonds.”
Justin, however, doesn’t remember that kind of indulgence. “I got nothing when I was young,” he says. “I didn’t get one dollar. I drove a beat-up Datsun.”
The True Parents were rarely around; they were off building a religion, expanding businesses, and recruiting more followers to work at those businesses. Justin grew up among church members, though the adults around him acted less like elders and more like servants, bowing as he came and went, rarely looking him in the eye.
At times, his parents’ absence seemed to take a toll on him. “For me as a child, it was very difficult to understand why our True Parents have always been away,” he said in a speech to Unification members in the Philippines. “It is difficult not to be able to have time to share your difficulties with your parents.” Only after much “reflection,” he explained, did he understand why they “had to live their life.”
Justin attended Hackley, an elite prep school in Tarrytown, New York. Girls were verboten for the Moon boys; Reverend Moon had banned premarital sexual relations for all of the church’s adherents. The Moon brothers were athletic, good-looking, trained in martial arts, and suspicious of outsiders, according to former church members. Now and then, they got into scuffles on the playground, and on one occasion, Justin’s older brother Hyo Jin brought a BB gun to school and shot at students, for which he was expelled.
By the age of 14, Justin had become interested in guns. “My brothers introduced me to shooting,” he tells me. “We’d shoot pistols and rifles, go target shooting and hunting.” There was a range at the church’s seminary in Barrytown, New York, and the family took hunting trips to Alaska. “Hunting was a spiritual event for the Moons,” Graham Lester says. “The bigger the beast, the more evil killed.”
It was around this time that Tim Porter entered Justin’s life. From ages 16 to 20, Porter was considered one of Justin’s “expected” friends—local church members summoned to the Moon compound to keep the True Children company. “It was never friendship,” Porter recalls one night over drinks in Manhattan. “Think of it as a bunch of people meant to keep the prince happy. We were beneath him and there to serve, to laugh at his jokes, be abused by him, be his yes-men. It was a nightmare.”
Porter was born into the Moonie world, the son of high-ranking church members. When he was called to East Garden, he would join the Moon kids in target shooting, tackle football, wrestling. “Sometimes [Justin] would bring in his younger brothers and have them beat us up,” Porter says. “His point was that we were wussies and he wanted us to be stronger. It was like military training, getting us ready for the time when we would take on the unbelievers.” According to Porter, Justin regularly reminded him and the other members’ kids about his father’s elevated place in God’s drama. “He would always philosophize about the world ending,” Porter says, “and how great his father was. That’s why he did all this stuff with guns. He believes that they’re going to take over the world. He would say this all the time.”
Of the 13 children, Justin was considered the most transfixed by his father’s messianic claims—a view that would later make Moonie watchers think he could one day become the church’s leader.
Later on, there was the fight club. It was Justin’s idea, Porter says, and he held sessions at his parents’ compound in Seoul. “There were five or six of us, and we’d fight without gloves until we were bloody,” Porter says. Justin officiated and fought, but he didn’t always play by the rules. As one fight was starting, he unleashed a head kick. “This guy Isaac was just waiting for the fight to begin, and Justin leaped up and did this crazy swinging kick,” Porter remembers. “It landed in the guy’s face, and it looked like the guy was airborne forever, like he was levitating, until he finally dropped to the floor. It was cool. But it wasn’t an emotional thing with [Justin]. He was very calculated about his violence. He had to be the best.”
I ask Porter what would have happened had he refused to come one day when the True Family called. “You didn’t say no,” he says flatly.
Asked about the fight club, Justin acknowledges participating in martial arts training but says he “never officiated.” He adds that he isn’t sure about his brothers or sisters. “I’m one of 13 siblings. We all had our own lives, and I don’t know what they did.”
At 18, Justin got a license to carry a handgun, co-signed by one of his older brothers. He became obsessed with guns, especially the compact Walther PPK, the brand James Bond carried. Justin pored over trade magazines and sketched out his own designs. By his junior year of college, he had decided that he wanted to make his own weapons and that guns would be his future.
Over the next two years, he worked on the design and often traveled to Saeilo, the family’s precision-machine company in Queens, New York, where he began to build a prototype. He wasn’t an engineer, but that didn’t matter. In 1992, he graduated from Harvard magna cum laude, and soon after, the perfect pistol—the one that would get the tight-knit gun world talking—was complete. “He walked into the shop one day and said, ‘I got it, I got it,’ ” remembers David Konn, a longtime Kahr employee and a current member of the church. “That’s when it all started.” (Konn is no longer with Kahr. He now works in the alternative-medicine business.)
In 1993, Justin founded Kahr, taking for the name a made-up word that combined his affection for German engineering and fast cars. It is unclear what role his father had in the formation of the company, but many people familiar with Kahr believe the True Father was at the very least consulted. “I used the connections I had,” Justin replies when asked what part the church and his father had in the formation of the business. “I borrowed money.” What is known is that in his early twenties, the son of the True Father morphed from Kook Jin into Justin Moon, and right away his objective was clear. “I wanted to create the ultimate line of concealable pistols,” he tells me.
Justin’s prototype became Kahr’s first gun, a double-action steel 9 millimeter he called the K9. It weighed 25 ounces and was six inches long, about as big as a wallet. Although the world had seen small guns before, it had not seen small guns that fired large-caliber bullets and fit snugly, almost invisibly, in the pocket of a pair of beach shorts. Gun folks called it a pocket rocket, and some considered the design the closest thing to a Platonic ideal. “It was one of those hand-to-the-chin moments,” Greg Jones, a gun critic, says. “You see it and think, Why didn’t I think of that?”
One spring morning, Justin sends me out to shoot with Frank Harris, Kahr’s vice president of sales and marketing. We go to the Firing Line, a dingy basement shooting range under a general store in the hamlet of Pearl River, New York. Dimly lit, the range feels like a bomb shelter—low ceilings, gunpowder-blackened walls, damp air that reeks of cordite.
Harris is dressed like a movie commando, in black fatigues, black combat boots, and a black shirt. Before shooting, I put on safety goggles and earplugs while Harris sets up a paper bull’s-eye target five yards out. He hands over a .40-caliber subcompact Kahr. It feels like a toy, not much larger or heavier than my BlackBerry.
After 10 seconds or so, I raise the gun and aim at the target. “In a gunfight or survival situation,” Harris instructs, “you want to have both your eyes open.”
I squeeze the trigger. Time bends. The gun cracks, fire explodes from the muzzle, a bullet shell kicks out, and the gun’s recoil nearly knocks out my right shoulder. I squeeze the trigger four more times, the gun flaming and kicking, two of the bullets catching paper. It’s thrilling. My adrenaline is flowing. But when the smoke settles and silence returns, I can’t help thinking that such a small object can actually be used to kill someone—with ease. I tell Harris that the sound and violence of the gun’s action are much more dramatic than anything I’d seen on TV. “It’s very intense,” Harris admits. “I mean, I’ve taught women to shoot, and they would literally start crying afterward because they would realize how powerful this thing is. This definitely isn’t television.”
When Justin talks about his guns, he is calm and proud, like a professor eager to expound a bold new theory. Generally, he says, his guns are a reimagination of firepower. “They are designed for a specific application: self-defense. I mean, we don’t have a lot of excessive levers. The safety is internal. The only controls we have on the gun are the trigger—to fire the gun—and the magazine release. Any unnecessary features are removed.”
The design of Kahr’s line of pocket rockets is complicated, but basically it involves five patented methods of arranging the gun’s internal parts, reducing empty space and allowing the gun to contract in just the right places, while maintaining enough room for a larger-caliber bullet. Because of all the patents, it is difficult, if not impossible, for others to replicate its design.
When the K9 first appeared, critics of the gun industry howled. They considered the pocket rocket to have little value. Other than criminals sticking up liquor stores, who would need a gun so small and potent? Yet the K9 earned almost immediate cachet with the gun crowd, a difficult group to crack. Users tend to be resistant to change, and heavyweights like Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Colt, and Glock make up the bulk of the roughly 1 million handguns produced each year.
Kahr’s break was partly due to timing. In the late 1980s, America had entered a new age of hidden firepower, thanks to a movement led by the National Rifle Association championing self-reliance, freedom, and Second Amendment rights. It began in 1987, when Florida enacted laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons. Forty-one states followed suit, driving up the demand for smaller weapons. The market grew again in 1994 after a federal ban on the manufacture of guns that hold more than 10 bullets. (The prohibition expired in 2004.) As a result, guns shrank, and Kahr was there to take advantage of that trend. Justin’s guns had no pretense of being sporting weapons, Greg Jones says, “and this transparency of motive sits well with the pro-gun folks.”
In 1995, the K9’s first year of limited production, Kahr sold as many of the tailor-made guns as it could churn out, about 3,000. One magazine described the gun, which held seven bullets, as “short and light enough to permit excellent shooting, especially in fast combat-style scenarios.” That gun would later evolve into lighter and more lethal versions—.40 and .45 calibers. In 1998, the New York Police Department approved the K9 as a backup pistol. “People suddenly wanted to carry portable killing machines,” says Tom Diaz, author of Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America, “and Kahr cornered that market.”
Despite the buzz about Kahr the newcomer, questions began bubbling up. There was something suspicious about Justin Moon, though no one could immediately put a finger on what it was. “I knew there was someone behind Kahr,” Jones says. “There was no way that [Kahr] was self-supporting.” Massad Ayoob, a writer for the trade magazines American Handgunner and Gunweek, wondered at the time if Justin was “gonna get a ton of prepaid orders, cash the checks, and disappear.”
Then people started making the connection, and the conversation turned to God.
Larry Zilliox was one of the first to connect Kahr Arms to Reverend Moon’s Unification Church. A private investigator from Bristow, Virginia, with a knack for the hardboiled, he’d spent almost two decades sniffing around the church’s kingdom—first for a cult-awareness group and then out of his own curiosity. “I became obsessed with finding out how Moon’s businesses all fit together,” he tells me. “It was a big puzzle, with lots of interlocking and moving parts.”
Exploring Reverend Moon’s empire is a lot like embarking on an archaeological dig—with the prospect of finding stuff that you’d never imagine and stuff that makes no sense at all. But Zilliox was diligent. He marshaled hundreds of pages of documents, business papers, press clippings, and government filings. He found that Moon’s business world is one vast, byzantine, global network of cultural, religious, and for-profit companies that includes (among other things) manufacturing, publishing, fishing, and real estate concerns, as well as enormous tracts of land in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The empire could be worth hundreds of millions, but more likely billions of dollars. “There are hundreds of companies,” Zilliox says. “Some are active; some are dormant and then active and then dormant again. Every time I look, I find out something new.”
Zilliox traced Kahr, one of more than a dozen Moon family companies in the U.S., through an intricate chain of firms to a mothership holding company called Unification Church International, which he says was formed to support and perpetuate the Unification movement. U.C.I. shares a building in Falls Church, Virginia, with its single subsidiary, One Up Enterprises, the central holding company of some of Reverend Moon’s most prominent and influential businesses. Among these are True World Group, a global seafood business run by Motoo Furuta, a church member; News World Communications, owner of U.P.I. and the Washington Times, led by Chung Hwan Kwak, another Moon follower; and Saeilo, which has offices in Japan and the United States, among other places. Saeilo lists Justin Moon as its C.E.O. and president.
How much money passes from Kahr to the church is hard to pinpoint, mainly because business names and relationships shift, and untraceable rafts of cash are sometimes used for major transactions. The unorthodox use of cash in the family businesses was highlighted in Nansook Hong’s tell-all memoir, In the Shadow of the Moons, published in 1998. Married to Justin’s older brother Hyo Jin for 15 years, she went underground after filing for divorce. In her book, she described beatings, emotional abuse, and days when Hyo Jin would stay locked in the master bedroom “snorting cocaine and watching pornographic videos.” But she also recalled how one day her husband came to her with Bloomingdale’s shopping bags filled with a million dollars in cash. The money was earmarked for his recording studio, Manhattan Center, though Hong alleges that Hyo Jin skimmed off $400,000 for his drug addiction. (While the Moon family has long disputed Hong’s allegations, many former members have corroborated her claims. A lawyer for Hyo Jin denied the accusations.)
When I question former church members about Reverend Moon’s conglomerate, they say he seems to have four goals in mind: He wants to disseminate his spiritual program; elevate his global status as messiah; buy power in myriad cultural, political, and business spheres; and procure the necessary resources to create a self-sustaining, economically viable sanctuary for himself and his believers when the world crumbles. In other words, he means to create a world according to Moon. “When I was a leader in the group,” claims Steven Hassan, a former member who says he now counsels ex-cultists, “Moon talked about how when the global economy falls apart, then we’ll have the infrastructure—we’ll have the food, we’ll have the media, the businesses, the banks, and everyone will need to come to us.”
So how do Justin’s guns fit into Reverend Moon’s plans? One theory is simple and innocuous: The reverend is just a rich father indulging his kid. One Moon daughter got a horse farm; another, the private Kirov Academy of Ballet. Hyo Jin got the New York recording studio. Yet a number of former church members sense something more sinister. “The church says it’s for peace, but that’s all a part of the deception,” says Hassan. He notes that another Moon company, Tongil Group, produces M16s and antiaircraft guns. Justin is now the chairman of Tongil Group. Among other things, the South Korea-based Tongil is in the business of making cars in North Korea, once the ideological enemy of the True Father. Reverend Moon years ago “told us he was making air rifles,” Hassan says. “He’s a liar. Kahr Arms is a part of Moon’s plan for taking over the world.” Of Tongil, Larry Zilliox adds, “Can you imagine what the conservative guys buying Kahr guns would think if they knew that the owner of Kahr is doing business with a communist country in the axis of evil?”
Gordon Neufeld, another ex-church member who wrote Heartbreak and Rage: Ten Years Under Sun Myung Moon about his experience, expands on this. “His idea has always been that the world would become so corrupt and disorderly that Moon and his movement would end up being the only hope remaining for beleaguered mankind,” Neufeld says. And when the world breaks apart, guns will play a role. “The purpose of the guns,” he continues, “would be, in theory, to protect the people that Moon has gathered to him from the general chaos. But by logical extension, it could also include using those weapons to ‘save’ other people by defeating the warlords or evil people who hold them captive.”
When pressed about Kahr’s connection to his father and the church, Justin will say only that he is the majority shareholder in Kahr, the weapons maker, as well as a proud member of the Unification Church. “I’m my father’s son, but I’m also my own man,” he says. “Being my father’s son, there are disadvantages. I’ve had to work my butt off to get away from the negativity.”
Justin has three children of his own and divides his time among houses in South Korea, New York State, and Miami Beach. Many Moonie watchers predict that, after the reverend’s death, the church’s attention will shift toward business, and the son who is perceived as the most adept businessman will take the throne. Given that Justin is the only Moon heir to have started his own business from scratch, his success with Kahr could persuade his father to hand him Moon Inc. While some speculate that Justin’s mother will act as interim leader after the True Father’s death, other insiders are bracing for an all-out family war over money and power, perhaps involving all 13 children, but most likely centered around Justin and his older brother Hyun Jin, who is known as Preston. As Nansook Hong wrote, “The failure to designate and groom a successor all but guarantees a familial bloodletting after Reverend Moon’s death.”
Meanwhile, Justin has trudged ahead. In 1999, he purchased Auto-Ordnance, maker of the tommy gun, the notorious mobster machine gun that featured a 50-bullet drum-shaped magazine. Although the gun was conceived for use by American soldiers in World War I and known as a “trench broom” for its rapid, sweeping fire, it earned its enduring fame in the 1920s netherworld, thanks to bad guys like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson.
Next came another pocket rocket, this one with some parts made of a polymer. Justin called it the P9, and Harris refers to it as a breakthrough. Glock had come out with a small, partly plastic gun, and Kahr needed to keep a lock on its self-defense niche. It succeeded. The P9 had the body of the K9 but weighed less: just over a pound. Sales climbed from a few thousand in 1995 to 7,067 in 1999. And for a time, it seemed that the family scandals and the talk of how Justin fit into his father’s alternative reality were, in fact, falling away.
Then Danny Guzman was killed.
The Kahr arms factory is a nondescript low-lying brick-and-glass building on the edge of Worcester. Up close, it appears more like just another building in a dreary office park than a place that produces some of America’s deadliest weapons. Trees poke up around the back and sides, with manicured shrubs around the front, and a sign that reads “Saeilo” is stuck into the neatly trimmed green lawn.
For a while, no one paid much attention to what went on behind the building’s brick facade. The trouble began when the company hired Mark Cronin to be a gunsmith in March 1999. Cronin was a 28-year-old high-school dropout who lived in the basement of his mother’s house. He had a well-documented crack habit and a history of violence. Not long after he landed a job on the factory floor, he noticed that Kahr had no metal detectors and no visible security cameras. That’s when he started stealing guns and selling them for cocaine.
Cronin smuggled the guns out in pieces. Typically, he said in documents filed in Massachusetts Superior Court, it took him about a week to sneak out enough components for a complete gun. He started with the smallest parts, such as the trigger and springs, which were stored in a plastic 10-drawer cabinet at his workbench. He stuffed the pieces into a ziplock bag, slipped the bag into his pants pocket, and walked out with it at the end of the day. The bigger parts, including the frame and the slide, were snuck out of the factory one at a time. “I just took them home,” he testified, “and built them.”
Cronin’s stolen guns were exceptionally valuable. Having bypassed the serial-number-stamp stage at the factory, they were untraceable, perfect for criminals. Although it’s not clear when Cronin began unloading his wares on the streets, he sold the gun that would kill Danny Guzman sometime in November 1999. It was a 9 millimeter, and the buyer was an old friend named Robert Jachimczyk, a former high-school tennis star who’d recently dropped out of community college. Cronin traded the gun for two half-grams of cocaine, valued at about $80 at the time. Jachimczyk turned around and sold the gun to Edwin Novas, the alleged shooter, for $200 worth of cocaine. Feeling that the relationship had potential, Cronin told Jachimczyk that he stole guns “all the time” and that he “can just walk out with them,” according to the court documents.
The next deal didn’t go down as planned. Several weeks later, Cronin traded Jachimczyk another gun for cocaine—a Kahr .40 caliber without a serial number. As Jachimczyk was on his way to sell it to Novas, police pulled him over, found the gun, and arrested him. Police didn’t make the connection until later. But when Jachimczyk heard about the Christmas Eve murder and the stolen 9-millimeter gun linking him to the crime, he told lawyers, “I shit my pants.”
By the time of the shooting, Kahr was already in the spotlight. Not only did police learn about Cronin’s activities; they discovered that another employee had walked out of the factory with a 9 millimeter and an extra pistol slide and that there were dozens more lost guns. Captain Paul Campbell, a detective for the Worcester police, said that going back more than a year, “as many as 50 weapons manufactured at the plant may be missing.” Campbell also condemned Kahr’s “shoddy” bookkeeping and questioned its security measures. The implication seemed to be that Kahr might as well have been handing out guns to anyone.
Cronin eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges of stealing just two guns, leaving the whereabouts of other missing weapons unresolved. During the year that Cronin worked at Kahr, four or five other company-made guns, all without serial numbers, turned up in connection to local crimes. This means that either Cronin lied to investigators or that there were other people with access to Kahr’s facility who were dealing guns.
Two years later, the lawsuit against Justin Moon and Kahr Arms threatened not only to derail the company but also dredge up stuff the Moon family would rather leave alone. Guzman’s mother hired a scrappy Worcester lawyer named Hector Piñeiro, who had an office within eyeshot of the Tropigala. Soon afterward, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence joined the fight. Together, they filed a class-action suit for wrongful death against Kahr, accusing the company of negligence.
At the outset, it seemed like an open-and-shut case: If a gun manufacturer can’t keep track of its wares and has a drug-addict employee stealing and selling its products, shouldn’t that company be held liable? But it’s not that straightforward. While it is illegal for a known drug user to handle guns, no federal law requires gun companies to secure their facilities or track their inventory, except when shipping a completed firearm. “Most gun companies have security set up,” says Daniel Vice, a lawyer for the Brady Campaign. “You can’t really check this, because all but two—Smith & Wesson and Ruger—are private. But I think most believe that it’s not profitable to let guns leave the factory.”
Vice argues that Kahr’s is an exceptional case. It was not simply a question of the company’s bad hiring policies and slipshod security. The argument is that its lax practices created an atmosphere that endangered the Worcester community and resulted in the death of Guzman. The plaintiffs aimed for a settlement in the millions and hoped to make an example out of Kahr. “We have 32 gun homicides every day in this country,” Vice says. “Certainly it is not too much to ask a gunmaker not to hire drug addicts with criminal records to work in its unsecured manufacturing plant.”
Justin went dark. When questions came from the press, he let his attorneys do the talking. Kahr filed to dismiss the case, but the judge refused. For a stretch, things looked bad for Kahr, until Congress, with help from the lobbying power of the N.R.A., intervened. In October 2005, President Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. A coup for the gun industry, the act protected manufacturers and dealers from liability for crimes committed with their products, saving them from what they described as frivolous lawsuits that threatened to bankrupt them. Kahr filed to dismiss again, citing the new law, but Piñeiro and Vice argued that the law didn’t apply. Most prominently, Vice pointed out that the law only applied to guns “shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce” and the murder weapon in this case was manufactured in Worcester and used in Worcester, thus never crossing Massachusetts state lines.
When I ask Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the N.R.A., if manufacturers should ever be held accountable for insufficient security measures and poor hiring practices that result in guns being stolen and getting into the hands of criminals, he says, “We’ve been very clear that if a gun manufacturer violates a state or federal law, it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent.”
The case drags on. Eight hearings have already been postponed, the latest in April, though Vice expects the matter to finally move forward this fall. Of course, you won’t hear anyone talking about this in Orlando.
Back at Shot Show, tens of thousands of law enforcement types, soldiers, hunters, and other gun enthusiasts roam the hangarlike space, eyeing the latest hunting and tactical equipment: $180,000 Perazzi shotguns, military-ready sniper rifles with ranges of up to four miles, foot-long knives that can cut through car hoods. Most of the attendees are men—some in camouflage, others in golf shirts—though there are a few mothers with strollers. One afternoon, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his wife, who was dressed in a leopard-print top, glad-hand the gun vote.
When I see Justin, on the second day, he recognizes me right away. “There’s the Democrat,” he calls out. Here, Democrats are tree huggers, greenies, urbanites—a demographic lost on the gun cause. “People living in the Northeast, especially Manhattan,” Justin says at one point, “they don’t understand the rest of the country. The rest of the country shoots guns. But when you get into Manhattan, it’s like a gun is evil.” (Justin must know that New Yorkers’ views of guns weren’t helped when New York City councilman James Davis was murdered with a Kahr weapon.) Kahr now markets 25 types of guns, with prices ranging from $533 to $1,012. The newest models are a .45 caliber that fires man-stopper bullets and an economy series of pocket rockets known as the CW line, aimed at giving the inexpensive Glock a run for its money. Frank Harris tells me the company is surging, thanks in part to a new age of fear stemming from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. “People know more than ever that they need to protect themselves,” he says. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reported that, in 2005, Kahr had produced 39,973 pistols and tommy guns. To keep up with demand, the company recently expanded its Worcester production facility to 15,000 square feet.
About a half dozen gun enthusiasts surround Justin. One stout, mustached man who trains police officers and the military says he has owned his Kahr for 10 years and has carried it with him every day. “I’m a believer,” he proclaims. Other people step up and ask Justin what the company plans next. “There are always new things,” he says coyly.
As I stand with Justin, I find it perplexing to try to reconcile Justin, the gun guy, with Kook Jin, the apocalyptic-church heir. “You will never see the Justin I know,” former church member Donna Collins warned me before I left for Orlando. “He has two faces, a public one and a church one.” Tim Porter and others said similar things. And maybe it’s true. I have never seen his church face, at least the one other people described to me. And this makes me curious as to what other people at Shot Show know. Does anyone have any idea that he’s the son of the Moonies’ messiah?
Most know nothing beyond the fact that he designs guns. The one person who seems to have a clue is Tom Gresham, who hosts Gun Talk, a popular three-hour show on Sirius satellite radio. He suggests that it makes sense that a Moonie is in the gun industry. “Self-defense is a critical part of many religions,” he explains one afternoon at a table in the pressroom. “It’s in the Old and New Testaments. It’s in the Muslim tradition. Religion’s whole thing is ‘Don’t hurt others; we want peace.’ But most religions understand that there are people who don’t want peace.”
The only time that Justin really gets agitated and even slightly aggressive is when the conversation shifts to the subject of who should be able to carry his guns and exactly why they should have that privilege. Does everyone who has a gun really know how to use it? I ask. And how do they know when the time is right to shoot a gun? A sour look engulfs Justin’s face. “There are two ways to get security,” he says, eyes narrowing. “One is to get someone else to do it, which is expensive, or you can do it yourself, with a gun.”
According to Justin, there are bad people in the world who will try to take your belongings or kill you, and if the time comes, you need to protect yourself against them. I hear this argument time and again at Shot Show: By the time the cops reach the scene, the crime is already over.
Justin is looking to make me see things his way. The more we talk, the more I feel as though I—“the Democrat”—am actively being opposed. But Justin isn’t atypical of the Shot Show crowd. Many of the people I approach express similar opinions and go on the offensive when questioned. Truth is, the gun world is constantly under attack—a lot like the Unification Church.
I have one last question before I leave. “Are you armed?” I ask Justin. He doesn’t respond at first. Then he smiles. Not now, he says. That’s prohibited in the convention center. Otherwise, he’d have his PM9 on him. “I always carry my gun locked and loaded in a holster. Quick access,” he declares, pointing to where he keeps it on his belt. “If you need it, you gotta be ready.”