Give Piece a Chance

Arm the Homeless stages a firearms giveaway for Phoenix vagrants.

"Once I got here, I decided to use the money I made as a hired gun fighting for causes I didn't believe in to fund an organization fighting for one I do," said Whippit. "I found a few like-minded individuals, and we started having meetings and acquiring guns."

Whippit says Arm the Homeless accumulated its stockpile of weapons through numerous, scattered purchases at Valley area "cash and carry" gun shows, where private, small volume dealers are not required to register sales, and handgun buyers can avoid the background checks mandated by the 1993 Brady Bill.

Arm the Homeless spent more than $25,000 on the guns, Hawk says, not including the SKS, Mac-10 and three Tec-9s, which ATH members donated from private collections she characterized as "extensive."

Arm the Homeless, which is a 501c4 tax-exempt organization, has also received more than $10,000 in direct cash donations from Second Amendment fanatics--much of that generated through the group's Web site:

"All the weapons we're giving away are used weapons, but they're good used weapons," Hawk said. "There's not a Saturday Night Special in the lot."

Arm the Homeless could have provided each gun recipient with more than one box of ammo, she said, but "we didn't want them selling bullets for booze."

Also, Hawk said, two days before the giveaway, Arm the Homeless mailed a letter to every address listed under "Pawnbrokers" in the yellow pages. The communique informed pawn shop owners of the group's action, and asked them not to purchase any weapons from homeless people.

"We thought this thing through," Hawk said. "We didn't just come down here and start handing out guns. This is not some haphazard distribution of dangerous weaponry. This is a well-organized political and social service action."

Bob Dobbs, director of the Downtown Business Interest Protection Committee for the City of Phoenix, said the gun giveaway "sounds like somebody's idea of a sick joke."

"What do these gun crazies think they're going to accomplish with this idiocy?" he asked. "I mean, do they have any idea how much damage this will do to Phoenix's reputation? Would you want to visit a city where the homeless are being given guns? This is catastrophic. So much for revitalizing downtown."

Dobbs said he planned to advise Mayor Skip Rimsza to declare an emergency and call for the passage of an ordinance to require all Phoenix gun owners to have a legal mailing address, other than a homeless shelter.

"At least a P.O. Box," Dobbs said. "I mean, sweet Jesus, is that too much to ask of someone with a loaded .44?"

Meanwhile, Terrence "Skip" Towne, a disgruntled former member of Arm the Homeless, has begun a campaign to discredit the organization.

"Arm the Homeless--hah! What a bunch of crap. I call it Arm the Whole Mess," snarled Towne, formerly Whippit's right-hand man in the group.

Towne, who lives in Surprise, said he initially was taken in by Whippit's combat stories, which he has since begun to doubt.

"I think Whippit's a fascist fruitcake whose real agenda is to get rid of the homeless. I think he hopes they all shoot each other, which they probably will," Towne said.

Whippit says he expelled Towne from the group in January for misuse of weapons.

"Every Friday night, like clockwork, Skip would snort a bunch of bathtub speed, load about 50 of our guns into his truck, and disappear into the desert. He'd burn through 500 bucks of ammo a weekend, easy. He had to go."

Commander Guy Armstrong, head of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Homeless Posse, says none of his volunteer patrolmen, who are themselves homeless, have seen evidence of more firearms among the street people.

Asked if he is concerned about the prospect of encountering armed homeless, Armstrong shrugged and said, "Not really. We've got guns, too."

A reporter who'd been invited to cover the giveaway asked Hawk if distributing guns to the homeless might lead them to rob and shoot people. She fired this sarcastic retort: "I think that question reflects your prejudice. Let me guess--homeless people are all criminals or crazy, and shouldn't be able to own guns. Yeah, that's real enlightened."

Hawk brandished a sheet of crime statistics indicating that people who live on the streets are 10 times as likely to become victims of violent crime as people who don't.

"These people need guns," she said. "It's not their fault our cities aren't safe, and it's not fair to deny them the right to protect themselves in a dangerous environment, just because they're poor."

She pointed to 74-year-old WW II veteran Gabo "Pops" McClean, who had just claimed a gleaming black Tec-9. McClean assumed a firing position and pretended to pull the Tec-9's trigger, rattling the weapon with both hands and rolling his tongue behind his teeth to make machine gun noises.

"I'd sure like to see some skinhead punks try to set him on fire tonight," Hawk said. "Gabo there looks like he's ready to go Charles Bronson on their ass."

As an Arm the Homeless instructor showed McClean how to conceal the Tec-9 on a shoulder sling beneath his tattered windbreaker, Hawk admitted that the homeless gun recipients probably do not have permits to carry concealed weapons in the state of Arizona.

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