Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun
Since I have lost track of his family, my ploy to tell my friend’s story without harming his family’s privacy and sensitivities is to change his name, his college, and other details. Otherwise, this is a true story.
I call Roy Bedding my friend, but maybe counter-culture associate is a better description. I knew him in the 1970s, that period of social change battered by the Vietnam War, the birth control pill, the explosive growth of the personal automobile, and many other shattering forms of upheaval. I missed being drafted for military service in the “ the war over there” by only a few months because the extreme unpopularity of the draft ended the practice. I had shoulder-length hair, which in Arkansas made you a degenerate hippie, but allowed you instant access to all kinds of activities that short hair did not. I was a pot smoker, acid-dropper, free love kind of guy. This is how I met Roy.
Roy was a little bit older than I and for that reason, among others, I never hung out with him that much. He had a big, loud, green sedan that he cruised around in and sold his various illegal substances out of the trunk. He wore his black hair very long in front, but kept it tucked behind an ear around school and his parents. His father was a retired lieutenant colonel, so he had no tolerance for shagginess. He did agree with his dad on one thing: guns were cool and were his birth right as an American.
I went off to college at University of Arkansas, mostly to party, but my parents demanded high grades if I was to stay there; they weren’t happy with my adamant wish to leave home for higher education. To my amazement, I ran into Roy there. It seemed that a huge part of his clientele had moved off in that direction, so Roy followed. His father was happy to see that he wanted to better himself, but business was his real motivation.
It wasn’t all drug dealing and skulking around for Roy. I will never forget one “jock raid” by the university girls at our dormitory. I was hanging out of my 10th story window & enjoying the screams & chaos of a crowd of co-eds collected downstairs when I heard deep bellowing above me. To my amazement, I was “treated” to a naked Roy clinging to the ledge & swinging his bum about for all to see. This was typical Roy-boy for you, though. He told me a story about how stupid the cops were. He and some of his fellow entrepreneurs were stopped and searched on a country lane one evening. He was “in the position” on the driver’s side of his car when the policeman decided to search his loud-mouthed friend first. While the cop was busy, Roy pulled his bag of weed out, stuffed it in the dirt behind a wheel , and covered it up. No weed, no charge for Roy!
Besides buying and selling recreational drugs, Roy wasn’t above petty theft. I had a keg party at my apartment which was poorly attended, to the point I could remember who had shown up. Roy was one of my guests and we didn’t even float the keg. The next morning, with hurt pride and a hang-over, I was appalled to see that someone had stolen my keg and barrel! I was out a hefty deposit for a college student, but something told me to check out Roy. Wouldn’t you know it, there was a now-empty keg & barrel sitting by the side of his garage when I cruised by, and I stole it back without incident.
I lost track of Roy for quite a period. The stories I heard about him I didn’t like. He had collected some shadier, rougher buddies who had nastier stuff they were pushing, so I didn’t make any concerted efforts to find him. He found me one afternoon and showed me his latest mark of manhood: A bullet hole through his left hand! He bragged he’d been cleaning his gun when it went off, ripping a hole in the wall and narrowly missing his roommate.
Needless to say, I wasn’t favorably impressed, but by this time we had pretty much taken to different fields of endeavor. I finished my degree and returned home to look for a career. Roy dropped out and went on with his drugs and guns.
One day, I ran into a mutual associate of Roy and mine and Roy’s whereabouts came up. “You can’t find Roy except in the cemetary. He’s dead!” He told me that the crowd of hard characters he had taken up with had gotten into the business of converting semi-automatic handguns into automatic ones. The ATF got wind of this and picked up Roy, who agreed to snitch on his “buddies” for leniency. At some point, his partners in gun modification showed up, took him into the forest, had him dig his own grave, and shot him in the head. The only reason his fate became known was due to a hunter in a deer blind who saw the whole, sorry thing and called the police.
MORAL OF THE STORY: While I never got to know Roy all that well, he wasn’t really a bad guy. He was a convenient figure in the college counter-culture; he didn’t sell fake dope and he wasn’t known to strong-arm the people who owed him money. But somewhere along the line, he passed from the status of minor dealer to major criminal, and I have to chalk it up to his fondness and tolerance for firearms. Unlike myself, he had been raised with the attitude that guns were cool and made you more of a man. I’m sorry to say they also made him a dead one before his time.