Everyone knows lots of Philadelphians are armed. But not all of them are criminals.
Layton was his breakthrough.
"I was at a party, and he had an NRA patch on his jacket. I said, 'Hey, can I take a picture of you with your guns?' The only thing he said was, 'Can I wear my suit?' And his wife said, 'If you're gonna wear your suit, I'm gonna wear my ball gown. They were just so happy and so friendly, and it was obvious that their gun ownership was no deep dark secret."
Word spread. The dam broke. Hundreds of people in Philadelphia and across the U.S. couldn't wait to be photographed with their guns.
Forty-year-old South Jersey native Cassidy has lived in West Philly since 1993. Before coming up with the idea for Armed America, he hadn't touched a gun for 20 years. "My shotgun is still in my mom and dad's attic.
"Moving to Philly gave me a whole other viewpoint about guns," says Cassidy. "I'm coming from this rural South Jersey town to a place where 400 people were being murdered every year, most of them with guns. I'd hear gunshots at night and think, 'What could these people possibly be doing?' I used to hear gunshots three times a week in my neighborhood."
|Hell-bent for leather: Goth entrepreneur Patrick Rogers keeps his finger off the trigger.|
Cassidy and an assistant went on a 15,000-mile trek to get pictures for the book. Several times they encountered paranoid gun nuts who took them for government spies come to take away their God-given weapons.
"The only time I actually felt unsafe around people with guns wasn't because I thought I was going to get shot or because I thought they had bad intentions," he says. "It was when I ran up against people who had less than safe gun habits."
Mostly, says Cassidy, the gun owners were safety conscious, polite and courteous. Most gun owners, he says, are regular people--people with dogs and cats and cute kids.
Pets and children frolic across the pages of Armed America, defusing the impact of silver-and-black weapons lying in laps, resting against couches or sitting on coffee tables.
Nobody in Armed America scowls or fixes the camera with the dead eyes of what Layton mockingly calls "ninja-commando wannabes." The vast majority appear relaxed. Many are smiling.
Armed America undermines the stereotype of the 'roid-raging, borderline neo-Nazi death fetishist. Instead you find a Buddhist, a left-wing Democratic blogger, a smattering of liberals, an anticolonialist, a socialist and two members of the Pink Pistols, Philadelphia's gay gun owners' club.
Is there anything besides guns that unites these people?
"Kilts," says Cassidy. "There are four guys in this book wearing utili-kilts. They've got cargo pockets and a place to put a hammer. After the last one I was like, I'm not going to photograph another guy wearing a kilt. Show up at some guy's house and he's wearing a kilt, I'm gonna make him change."
Cassidy asked only one question of his subjects: Why do you own guns? Dig a little deeper and Philly's gun owners all have war stories.
"My first year tattooing--1998 or 1999, I guess--seven of my regular clients were shot and killed in one year here in West Philly," Layton tells PW. "And that's just the ones I know about. Who knows how many walk-ins got killed? My original shop on 47th and Baltimore was made up of pretty much thug-wannabe kids and cops. Those were my two main clientele, which was kinda interesting. One guy, I started a piece on him that said, 'Fuck the world.' Surprisingly enough, he ended up shot and killed."
Layton says he's twice shown his pistol to successfully dissuade men from attacking his wife.
Bahamas-born goth entrepreneur Patrick Rodgers doesn't tell people his age. He lives in Fairmount and owns a music company called Dancing Ferret.
He's tall, pale, has long black hair and savage-looking double-canine implants. When he burst in on burglars while clad in black silk pajamas and clutching a shotgun, they fled out the window. And he once used his pistol--for which he has a carry permit--to stop six men from beating a shopkeeper to death in the street.