Bill Tsompanidis reminds me of the old recruiting slogan, "an Army of One.''
His house in Woodland Waters is stockpiled with weapons and fitted with an alarm system that detects both motion and body heat.
He drives a Hummer. Though he never served in the armed forces, he likes the jargon — "negative'' for "no'' and "correct'' for "yes.''
The store he owns, Sportsman's Attic on U.S. 19, carries about 2,200 guns, including assault rifles, which he calls "military-style weapons.'' Those are his billboards you've probably seen, the ones with the giant images of AR-15 rifles.
"Yeah, I'm armed to the teeth,'' said Tsompanidis, 44. "I carry a weapon 24-7.''
People like Tsompanidis are taking a lot of heat after an outburst of gun violence in the past few weeks: seven police officers gunned down in Pittsburgh and Oakland; mass shootings in Alabama, Washington state and Binghamton, N.Y.; the killing of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton in St. Petersburg.
Assault weapons were used in many of these shootings, police say, and Paris was killed by exactly the kind of rifle pictured on Tsompanidis' billboards.
As you might expect, he thinks the idea of an assault weapons ban is ridiculous. So is applying that term to the semi-automatic AR-15. Unlike the military version, the M-16, it cannot be fired as a machine gun and is less lethal than many other rifles he sells.
So what's the point? Well, probably the same as owning a Hummer: you get to feel like an intimidating big shot.
Except Hummers are just wasteful and silly, while assault weapons seem to have a special appeal to nuts and thugs who are contributing to the vast number of gun deaths in the United States.
Tsompanidis doesn't think this, of course. Our 283 million privately owned guns have done more to discourage foreign invaders than our armed forces, he said. They keep us safe from crime.
On Feb. 5, he was able to nab Christian Rogers, an 18-year-old man whom, Tsompanidis said, had committed 11 "home invasions'' that same night. After hearing Rogers trip his alarm, Tsompanidis ran down the driveway, "put a gun to the back of his head,'' ripped off his "ninja mask,'' and held him until deputies arrived.
This strikes me as foolishness. Fighting criminals and foreign armies is something that must be done together. A well-armed soldier not following orders is worse than useless. A country full of them is a recipe for chaos. It's no surprise more than 30,000 U.S. citizens died from gunshots in 2005, the most recent statistics available.
By the way, Rogers wasn't charged with home invasion, but with loitering and carrying burglary tools. The Sheriff's Office report makes no mention of a ninja mask, just that he had his shirt stretched over his face. Yes, he's been accused of other crimes: burglarizing seven cars, all of them unlocked, according to Sgt. Donna Black, the Sheriff's Office spokeswoman. Overall, he sounds a lot less menacing than a homeowner running down the driveway with a gun his hand.
What to do instead? Well, keep your car doors locked for one, said Black said, "and we always prefer people just notify law enforcement immediately and not put themselves in harm's way.''
Right. They're the pros. The rest of us can only be pretenders.