Chris, who asked that his last name not be used, hasn't fired a third of his collection. (@Gun_Collector)
How many guns is that, you say?
One hundred and fifteen.
The country’s clash over gun control has created anxiety about ammo shortages, increased applications for conceal-carry permits and even brought a Florida man social-media fame.
1980 Colt MKIV/Series '70 Government Model M1911 (@Gun_Collector)
@Gun_Collector had 8,500 followers on the photo-sharing site Instagram before the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary bolstered calls for tougher firearms laws.
Now he has a celebritylike following of nearly 40,000 fans who subscribe to portraits he posts of his arsenal of semi-automatic handguns and rifles.
“I don’t consider myself a ‘gun nut,’” the 42-year-old father said. “I have a collection, and it is something I really enjoy and like to share with people. There really is no agenda other than that.”
He knows not everyone shares his passion or position on bearing arms, and asked that Yahoo News not publish his last name.
“There will be activists that would target me because of what I do,” Chris said. “I am not using this for personal gain … and I would hate to put my family at risk. I am a gun collector in a very trying time.”
According to a recent Gallup poll, 65 percent of Americans said they felt the U.S. Senate should have passed a bill last month expanding background checks for gun purchases. Twenty-nine percent said the measure should not have passed.
Despite the on-going debate, Chris continues to post photos of his guns almost daily. The collection of rare and high-powered firearms has been 20 years in the making. All of them were purchased legally, he said.
A 1960 Romanian SKS, which started the collection 20 years ago. (@Gun_Collector)
“I bought my first one at a gun show in Virginia and just kept buying,” he told Yahoo News. “I have always taken care of these things and appreciated the history behind them.”
Photography is also a hobby, which led him to start the Instagram account last summer.
“I wanted to show off my collection and have people see some of the interesting things I’ve acquired,” said Chris, who works as a marketing executive and product developer.
The cache, housed in four safes at his home, includes Eastern Bloc sniper rifles and 15 different AK-47s. His most recent purchase is a semi-automatic version of a belt-fed heavy machine gun, which he posed on top of a Polish flag. The photo received more than 2,800 likes and 120 comments. Dozens of followers email him weekly seeking information about a firearm’s history, purchasing and ownership.
“One of the things I really try to do with my Instagram account is educate people about guns,” said Chris, who is not a hunter but target shoots and trains for self-defense. “I field a lot of questions. It does take up a lot of time, but I do feel strongly about the Second Amendment and what it means for the country. I try to educate people about what is right and what is wrong.”
Ladd Everitt, a spokesman with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, called the photos “pretty run-of-the-mill gun porn.”
“Loose gun laws remain a far greater threat to public safety than this Instagram account will ever be,” Everitt wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
A love of photography and guns led to the Instagram account. (@Gun_Collector)
However, many of @Gun_Collector’s Instagram photos are of the kinds of high-powered, high-capacity rifles that sent the country reeling following the mass shootings last year at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“Does the average American need an automatic weapon that can spurt out hundreds of bullets in a second? No,” said Marcus Weaver, one of the moviegoers wounded in Colorado.
Weaver said he supports the right to bear arms, but would like to see more detailed background checks and perhaps 30-day wait periods for weapons. James Holmes, the man charged with killing 12 people and wounding 58 others at the theater, legally obtained four guns and thousands of bullets and other explosives in the two months leading up to the massacre, police said.
“How much ammo should someone be able to purchase in a 12-month span?” Weaver said.
Weaver, at the request of Yahoo News, viewed Chris’ Instagram photos.
“More power to the Gun Collector and his legion of fans that support his arsenal of weapons,” Weaver said. “He has the right to legally possess his weapons. Gun owners like him aren't the issue, I'm afraid.”
Sponsors provide swag for his weekly photo contests. (@Gun_Collector)
But Brad Bushman, a communications and psychology professor at Ohio State University, said @Gun_Collector’s popularity is troubling because, “the mere presence of weapons can increase aggression.”
Bushman wrote about the “weapons effect” for Psychology Today earlier this year. He began the article with a quote from noted social psychologist Leonard Berkowitz: “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”
That line of thinking is partly what motivated Chris to begin a photo contest on Instagram. Each week he announces a theme and challenges his followers to safely photograph their weapons. His popularity has prompted gun shops and weapons accessory companies to provide T-shirts and trinkets for the winners.
But the contests have also produced what some might deem as questionable art: guns posed in toasters, dishwashers, on poker tables or resting on a bowl of Fruit Loops.
“I am trying to show that the gun is not something that should be feared,” Chris said. “It is an inanimate object. It’s people behind the guns that have ill intentions that are what you need to watch out for.”
A semi-automatic version of a belt-fed heavy Polish machine gun. (@Gun_Collector)