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The Buffalo Shooter Shopped at their Gun Stores

In the months leading up to the racist shooting at a Tops Friendly Market, in Buffalo, which left ten people dead and three others wounded, Payton Gendron, the alleged shooter, assembled a small arsenal. Gendron, who is eighteen and white, is from Conklin, New York, a town near the Pennsylvania border, about two hundred miles away from Buffalo. He targeted Buffalo, and Tops specifically, because his goal was to kill Black people. (“Buffalo has ~ 10% higher black population, that is the place I will go,” he posted on Discord, a chat app.) But he didn’t have to go far from Conklin to acquire his weapons and gear, which he purchased around southwestern New York and northern Pennsylvania. New York has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Gendron’s Discord posts, which recount the trips he made to various gun stores, big-box retailers, and pawnshops, show how a mass murderer was able to navigate those strictures.

“I went to many stores after my dermatology appointment today,” Gendron wrote, this past December. “Went to McLain’s and finger-fucked some of his guns, had a NY-safe AR with detachable magazines for $1150 and a Yugoslavian SKS for $775. Then I went to Vintage Firearms and bought some 2 boxes of some old 12 gauge game ammo, priced at 50 shells for $20. Doesn’t have much in the sense of fun things that could cause a lot of damage in short periods of time. Then I went to Pennsylvania guns and ammo and checked them out, has a nice NY-safe diamondback tactical AR-15.”

Gendron apparently wrote his Discord posts as a kind of private running diary. He invited other Discord users to read the posts only a few minutes before the shooting—around the same time that he published a hundred-and-eighty-page manifesto online. In addition to detailing merchandise and prices about guns and ammunition, Gendron often wrote on Discord about the various clerks and store owners he encountered, offering his opinions of them, and sometimes even imagining what they made of him. Describing his interactions with someone working at Vintage Firearms, in Endicott: “He was smiling, like he wasn’t completely disgusted with my presence.” Later: “I like the guy at Vintage Firearms. He’s quite a nice guy.” Meanwhile: “Mohammad from All Star Pawn Shop seems to like to ask for the maximum amount of money on everything. . . . I mean come on bro you’re jew is showing.”

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This week, I called around to the stores that Gendron listed on Discord. Several people who answered acknowledged that Gendron had been a customer. Several others hung up as soon as I mentioned Gendron’s name. A few spent a little while on the phone, telling me about their interactions with him. On Monday afternoon, I reached Mohammad, the owner of All Star Pawn Shop. His full name is Mohammad Farzad. He was born in Iran, and he came to America in 1979, when he was eighteen years old. He has a wife and three children, and he opened up his pawnshop, in Endicott, in 2012, after previously running a restaurant in the same space. Guns are around eighty per cent of his business, but his inventory includes everything from laptops to guitars to collectible coins. “You name it, I deal with it,” he said.

He remembers Gendron coming in. “He has been here many times,” Farzad said. “He mostly bought coins.” On Sunday, after seeing Gendron’s picture in the news, Farzad had trouble believing it was the same man who had come to his store so frequently. “It hit me really hard,” Farzad said. He went silent on the line for a few seconds. “If he had bought the gun from me and mowed down those poor people,” he said, “I would not be able to go to work.”

Police say that Gendron had an AR-15-type rifle, a shotgun, and a bolt-action rifle with him in Buffalo. Farzad recalled that, the last time Gendron visited All Star Pawn Shop, he had looked at an AR-15-type rifle. He ultimately didn’t buy the gun from Farzad, but he did buy one from Vintage Firearms, a few blocks away. Vintage Firearms temporarily closed, and its owner, Robert Donald, became the subject of a torrent of criticism on social media. Pennsylvania Guns & Ammo, where Gendron bought a shotgun, was open when I called. “A guy came in looking for a shotgun, nothing abnormal,” Jamie Deninis, the owner, told me. Gendron had passed a background check, and Deninis directed his criticism at New York State’s red-flag laws, which are intended to bar violent people from buying firearms. Gendron received a psychiatric evaluation last year, after making threats at his high school. For reasons that are still unclear, the state’s red-flag laws were not invoked. “This could have been a hundred-and-ten-per-cent preventable,” Deninis said. “New York State, they dropped the ball.”

In his Discord posts, Gendron expressed frustration with New York’s gun laws. “I can’t buy ammo online from many stores because NY is super cucked,” he wrote, in February. But he also seemed emboldened by the idea that the people he’d be shooting at would likely be unarmed. “I hope you guys realize that being a mass shooter is much harder and scarier when the people you’re trying to kill are armed themselves,” he wrote, a month later. (During the shooting, a Tops security guard, Aaron Salter, shot Gendron, but Gendron was wearing body armor. Gendron returned fire, and killed Salter.)

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Farzad told me that many of his friends and customers are critics of gun-control measures. “A friend of mine was in here earlier, saying, ‘We should all carry firearms, everywhere,’ ” he said. “I’m, like, ‘No, that’s not the solution.’ There has to be a solution, but that’s not the solution. We’re not going back to the Wild, Wild West.” Not that Farzad is anti-gun. Not at all. “It’s a very rural area,” he said, of southwest New York. “Most people like to go shooting on their days off. Hunting. Target practicing. Including myself. Whenever I get the chance—I have one day off, it’s Sunday—I get in my truck, go to my land, and shoot off a few rounds. That makes me happy.” Farzad has a concealed-carry permit. He usually has a gun on him in the store. It’s a pawnshop, after all. But outside the store he leaves the gun behind. Let the cops do their jobs, he figures. “Everyone in this area wants to protect themselves,” he said. “I’m not one of them.” Still, he said, it’s hard not to be fearful these days.

Two years ago, Farzad saw a run on guns like nothing he’d ever seen before. He sold more guns that year than in his previous eight years in business combined. “Everybody was concerned that we’re going to have a riot, we’re going to have a civil war,” he said. “Ammo’d up, or firearmed up, to the teeth.” This was part of a nationwide trend. In 2020, firearm sales went up an estimated sixty-five per cent. Demand was so intense that Farzad had trouble keeping guns stocked in his store. Many people who came in had never purchased a gun before. “I had a doctor in here, he had never held a firearm in his hand, ever,” Farzad said. “I said, ‘Why do you want a gun?’ He said, ‘Well, my co-workers told me that I need a gun—we’re going to have a civil war.’ ” Farzad sold the doctor a shotgun. He taught him how to hold it.

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In Gendron’s manifesto, he asserted that he was radicalized online, and that he had spoken to no one in his non-digital life about the ideas in whose name he committed mass murder. But whether he acknowledged it or not, he was part of this wave of gun-buying in his community. He, too, was consumed with thoughts of civil war. “We must not be in a chaotic, life or death civil war at a time when our rival nations are at their peak of dominance,” he wrote. “The risk is too great. We attack as soon as possible.”

Every gun-store owner in the area who spoke to me mentioned the 2020 sales boom. “Huge, huge, like, beyond my thought process,” Dave Fish, of Fish’s Firearms, said, of the uptick in customers that year. “It was crazy.” He said that he’d never dealt with Gendron, but that there were some customers who came in who gave him pause. “I’ve had customers come see me and I’ve had the hair on the back of my neck raised,” he said. “We have the right to turn people away, but if they pass a background check what’s your reason for turning them away at that point? You know what I’m saying? Are you showing some type of discrimination, or prejudice, or something like that?”

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