|Give Piece a Chance
Arm the Homeless stages a firearms giveaway
for Phoenix vagrants.
BY INDA HOUSE
Manny Marco, unemployed
vagabond, tenderly loaded the last of 30
9-millimeter bullets into the spring-action,
extended clip for his new Mac-10--a semiautomatic
assault weapon capable of throwing rounds
as fast as Marco can blink.
"That's very good, Manny," coaxed
Arm the Homeless firearms instructor Pete
Whippit. "Now, insert the clip and
rack that lever there." Marco did so,
producing the wicked, unmistakable chik-chik
of a freshly loaded weapon.
"Okay, Manny," Whippit continued,
pointing to a switch. "Now, all you
need to do is flick this thing here from
'Safe' to 'Fire,' and you are cocked, locked
and ready to rock."
Tears of joy trickled through the caked
grime on Marco's face as he threw both arms
around Whippit, still holding the fully
loaded machine pistol. Nearby, a cluster
of vagrants sorting through a shopping cart
filled with handguns and shotguns ducked
and danced away from the arc of the Mac-10's
"God bless you, and God bless Arm the
Homeless," Marco said. "This is
the nicest thing anyone's done for me in
With that, Marco withdrew from the embrace
and shook the Mac-10 menacingly at a reporter.
"Beats the hell out of a little spare
change, don't it?"
The proud new gun owner slid the Mac-10
into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack,
which he latched over a soiled bed roll.
He waved goodbye, then set out across the
desolate, dry bed of the Salt River, his
course set for the corporate towers of downtown
Phoenix, two miles away. Marco said he spends
most afternoons there, panhandling near
the Valley National Bank building.
"That man is going to rest easier tonight
because of the gift we bestowed upon him
today," said Whippit, his eyes shielded
behind military surplus mirror shades. "Not
only did we give Manny the peace of mind
that comes with carrying a weapon. We also
gave him the sense of self-respect due any
man who exercises his God-given, Constitutional
right to keep and bear arms.
"Just because someone is homeless,
doesn't mean they don't need a gun--quite
the contrary," Whippit continued. "That's
what Arm the Homeless is all about--making
sure any American who wants a gun has one,
whether they can afford it or not."
On March 25, Whippit and five other Valley
gun activists calling themselves Arm the
Homeless distributed free, legal firearms
to 76 homeless men and women during a three-hour
giveaway on the Salt River bed.
The action--technically a series of transfers
between private citizens--was completely
legal under Arizona's loose gun laws (Arm
the Homeless required all firearm recipients
to sign a form stating they are not convicted
Appropriately, most of the weaponry--which
included eight .357 magnum revolvers, at
least five .38s, two .44s, dozens of 9mm,
.45, .25 and .380 caliber semiautomatic
pistols, a few Luger .22s, and high-capacity
arms such as the Mac-10, seven Tec-9s, and
one SKS assault rifle--was kept on-site
in a shopping cart, from which the homeless
literally chose their weapon.
The giveaway was staged in a secluded patch
of wasteland beneath the Central Avenue
Bridge. Honey Hawk, the gun group's "minister
of information," said the event was
promoted solely though word of mouth, on
a "classified, need-to-know basis."
"Basically, we planned the operation,
then established contact agents within the
downtown Phoenix homeless population, through
which we disseminated the time and place
specifics," she said.
The giveaway was first-come, first-armed,
and began at high noon. As the vagrants
arrived in ragged bands, two Arm the Homeless
organizers secured them into groups of five
in a holding area cordoned off with rope
in the shadow of one of the overpass' concrete
supports. The shopping cart of guns was
on the opposite side.
Whippit escorted each group in turn to the
"arming zone," where they sat
on the ground for a 15-minute lecture from
Arm the Homeless instructors, who skimmed
over the basic principles of firearm safety,
then identified and explained the pros and
cons of the four types of guns available--revolver,
semiautomatic pistol, shotgun and assault
"Now, the SKS assault rifle is not
a carry-down-the-street kind of weapon,"
Whippit said during one lecture. "It's
a camp weapon. It's a keep-it-in-your-sleeping-bag-by-the-fire
weapon. The SKS is ideal for defending an
After the lecture, each group of five was
instructed to make a selection from the
shopping cart, with a 10-minute time limit
Cat, 43, a member of the first group, immediately
seized upon a Mossburg 500 shotgun, which
came with a box of Milstor shatter disc
rounds--each Milstor shell is packed with
a stack of 15 dime-size metal discs, perforated
in quarters to detach upon barrel exit.
"I want this one!" Cat said.
"That's a lot of gun for a little lady,"
one Arm the Homeless volunteer told her.
"How about this, instead?"
He reached into the cart and pulled out
a silver, Colt .380 that fit into his palm.
"This is what we call a purse gun.
It might be more your type."
"I don't have a purse!" protested
Cat. "I want the scatter gun!"
"Let her have the damn shotgun,"
Whippit directed. "We've got people
Whippit, 33, is a Marine Recon combat veteran
who says he saw action in the 1989 Mongol-Sumerian
conflict. After Whippit left the Marines
in 1992 (records indicate an honorable discharge),
he says he fought as a paid mercenary with
the Mau-Mau Liberation Front in several
west African tribal wars. Whippit followed
a girlfriend to the Valley about a year
ago, and now lives in east Mesa, where Arm
the Homeless is based.
"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
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: www.armthehomless.com.
"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
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.
"I doubt if many of them have the money
to afford the 16-hour class and permit fees,"
she said. "Which is just another example
of how, when it comes to guns, this country
discriminates against its so-called 'second-class
Hawk said Arm the Homeless hoped to recruit
a Department of Public Safety certified
firearms instructor to conduct concealed-weapons
permit classes for the homeless.
"If they donate their time, we'll come
up with the permit money and do our best
to round all [the homeless] up and get 'em
back here for a CCW class, so they can legally
"Obviously, it's not as big a problem
with the SKS and the shotguns, unless they
get their hands on a hacksaw.
"In any case, we consider what these
people do with the guns after they get them
to be their business. Our business is to
make a forceful statement in support of
the Second Amendment, and that statement
is that when guns are only for people with
homes, only people with homes will have
As if to punctuate Hawk's point, a rapid-fire
pop-pop-pop volley of shots rang out from
100 yards away, where homeless gun recipient
Habbie "Abe" Rafuls was busy emptying
the pre-ban, 15-round clip of his newly
acquired Smith and Wesson 9mm. Rafuls whooped
as he pumped an old mattress full of lead.
"Seeing that gives me a warm feeling
inside," Whippit said.
He grabbed the sleeve of a passing Arm the
Homeless member and pointed to Rafuls, just
as the man fired his last bullet into the
ground. The ricochet kicked up a spoof of
dust and sang off into the distance. Rafuls
began spinning circles, repeatedly pulling
the trigger on a spent clip.
"Go ahead and give that man another
box of ammo," Whippit ordered. "Let's
make his day."
At press time, Arm the Homeless announced
a second firearm giveaway, to take place
in the America West Arena plaza on Friday,
April 2, starting at 5:30 p.m. (one half
hour before tip-off of the Phoenix Suns
vs. Los Angeles Lakers basketball game).
For volunteer information or to donate a
firearm, call Arm the Homeless at 440-1136.
phoenixnewtimes.com | originally published:
April 1, 1999