William Thomas is just fine with being called a gun nerd.
“Just like you have ‘Star Wars’ nerds who can tell you everything about ‘Star Wars’ — that’s how I am,” he said. “I’m that resource for a lot of my friends who want a gun.”
Thomas owns several firearms. The other day on his coffee table/workbench, he had several weapons in various states of assembly. He laid out a few more on his kitchen floor. He showed an AR-15 he had custom painted royal blue, and later produced a bandolier with different types of ammo for shotguns.
“It’s a hobby,” the 37-year-old Gladstone resident said.
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It wasn’t always so. Thomas said his mother wouldn’t allow him or his siblings to even play with toy guns.
“That was just her take on it,” he said. “We grew up in the 64130 ZIP code, and in that area, you go to sleep to gunshots. My father was killed with a gun, by police. That’s the way he died, so my mother didn’t allow it. Growing up we could never play with toy guns, very few water guns.”
He said the first time he saw a firearm was when an older schoolmate brought one to school.
“It was crazy times — just knowing people who had been shot and killed,” he said. “When I was in 6th grade, an 8th grader from my school, he went over to Central and I think they were arguing over a girl, and he pulls out a gun and the other guy pulls out a gun and shoots and kills him. You have these two kids, 13, 14 years old, and they both have guns. That just blows my mind.”
Today, Thomas has a 15-year-old son. He said he can’t imagine his boy thinking he’d need a gun to settle a dispute.
“When we were kids, we just felt like we were adults, because a lot of times you go home and look after yourself,” he said. “My brothers and I looked after each other because my mom worked — and she worked a lot. That’s just the way things were back then.”
Thomas’ own interest in firearms was piqued after he enlisted in the Marines during his senior year in high school and took military entrance training. At a shooting range was the first time he held or fired a gun. Thomas ended up not serving, but when he turned 23, he started getting into marksmanship and collecting.
He’s now a technology architect. In his spare time, he helped start a local gun club, B.A.M.N. G.C. of K.C. The group arranges times to go to the range together, and he hopes to soon set up shooting matches. Members also share weapons — not only are guns and ammo expensive, Thomas said, but sharing different firearms helps people decide what’s right for them.
“When someone tells me they want to get a gun, the first question I ask them is, ‘Why do you think you want a gun?’” he said.
Just like with any other hobby or interest, Thomas said gun owners need to be responsible and practice their craft. He pointed to the bag of golf clubs in the corner of his apartment.
“You can’t just have a golf bag and go golf once and be Tiger Woods — it’s something you have to constantly practice so it becomes muscle memory,” he said. “Same thing with shooting. A lot of people don’t even know how to aim their gun.”
But it’s not just preparation and training that Thomas preaches; he also thinks it best to be vigilant of your surroundings.
“If you’re at a nightclub and you notice guys are arguing and stuff, why walk over there and see what’s going on?” he said. “Maybe it’s time to leave. Maybe it’s time to say, ‘I’ve enjoyed my night, I’m going to leave before things escalate.’ It’s better to avoid a situation than be in a situation.”
Thomas said he’s concerned the recent proposal to privatize sidewalks in Westport is just the latest iteration of “stop and frisk” policies and racial profiling. He said he doesn’t want to be anywhere where people are going to be stopped because of their race, because race has nothing to do with being a responsible gun owner.
“You have young thugs out there that may run around with guns, but that’s indifferent of color,” he said. “I think it’s socio-economic more than anything. There’s a lot of dumb people who shouldn’t be armed. There’s a lot of people who think just by owning a gun, they’re going to be safe, and I don’t think that’s true.”