Hot on the heels of my very successful first book God, Guns & Guts, which inspired the History Channel TV show God, Guns & Automobiles, I’m now working on a new book entitled We The People. It will present contemporary American gun culture in a bright, positive light and feature some of today’s most prolific Patriots.
For the last two years, I’ve driven over 40,000 miles visiting every corner of the nation to photograph gun owners. I take beautiful portraits of them in their natural surroundings with their favourite firearms and ask them to write 250 to 500 words about what The 2nd Amendment, freedom and liberty means to them.
Below are a few sample images and abridged texts from my much anticipated book due out in Fall 2014.
Michael and DeAnna Madsen photographed in Malibu, California by Ben Philippi.
“There’s a western that was made many years ago by the director George Stevens. The actor in the picture is Allan Ladd. He plays a character named Shane and there’s one part in the movie where he’s talking to the woman and he says ‘A gun is a tool Marianne. No better and no worse than any other tool; an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.’ And I think that’s true.
There are certain freedoms in this country that need to be embraced and understood.”
- Michael Madsen – Actor, poet and photographer sports his Remington 870 Police Magnum 12 -gauge shotgun and DeAnna sports her Smith & Wesson model 686 .357 magnum revolver.
Mr. Colion Noir photographed in Dallas, Texas by Ben Philippi
“The gun doesn’t have to be so polarizing, but people want to make it that way. People around the country have seamlessly integrated firearms into their already existing life style. The firearm doesn’t take over your life any more than a picture on a wall takes over your apartment or house.
The firearm simply becomes a part of what was already there.”
- Mr. Colion Noir, host of NRA’s NOIR sports his Sig Sauer Equinox 9mm.
Regis Giles photographed in Miami, Florida by Ben Philippi
“I was about 9 years old when I became infatuated with guns after my dad decided to take me to the gun range to shoot his .22 rifle. I remember being terrified and dreading the ‘recoil’, but as I squeezed the trigger and the gun went off, I thought to myself, “This is freaking awesome!” From that moment on I knew I wanted more.
My next encounter with a gun was at target practice for a wild boar hunt I was about to partake in – my first hunt ever! The .30-30 Marlin had a little bit more of a kick to it than the .22 did, but I didn’t mind at all. I was ready to tackle the beasts of the wild and bring home some bacon (literally).
After that initial blood baptism, I knew I had been bit by the hunting bug. From the thrill of the hunt, to being away from the concrete jungle and shooting things that go ‘BOOM’, I loved everything that hunting had to offer.
This love affair has taken me far and wide, from Alaska to Africa, and has allowed me to tread on land that most humans have never seen before. I count myself incredibly blessed to have had those experiences.
Hunting also played a major role in exposing me to a variety of firearms; everything from those ‘ugly black guns’ to the finely etched, blue barreled double rifles.
As you can imagine, a hobby like mine can cost quite a bit, so at around the age of 18 I started my own company called GirlsJustWannaHaveGuns.com to help finance my ‘addiction’.
What started off as a T-shirt idea – designing and selling products that had my logo on them – transformed into something bigger than I could’ve imagined.
Combining my training from a young age in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu by the Valente Brothers and my knowledge and love of shooting, I decided to use GirlsJustWannaHaveGuns.com as a platform to encourage women to learn how to defend themselves. Since then, my website and I have been featured and interviewed by The Daily Mail, ELLE Magazine, Variety, CNN, FOX News, CBS & ABC.
GirlsJustWannaHaveGuns.com has grown exponentially, becoming quite a successful blog, and my website is now partnered with the nation’s top conservative media company, Liberty Alliance – and all of this pointing back to that first day at the gun range. #Winning.”
- Regis Giles, owner of GirsJustWannaHaveGuns, photographed in Miami, Florida with her 1895 Winchester chambered in US .30 Gov’t.
Charlie M Blackmore photographed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Ben Philippi
“On a cold March morning, I was driving home after a 12-hour shift. As I came to a stoplight, I noticed a woman being assaulted on the side of the road. She was lying in a fetal position, completely helpless underneath a large man.
Little did he know, he was about to be confronted by a tired and now agitated Marine with 13+ means of giving him a dirt nap.
I parked my car and approached the scene to assess the situation. The perp was vulgar and advised me to mind my own. I reciprocated that I too am quite fluent in the “French language” and was not leaving. Now knowing that this was not going to be a peaceful discussion, I began to mentally prepare for the inevitable; a fight with a much larger adversary.
As he took his first step in the fresh untouched snow, he initiated his stance as the aggressor. Adrenaline now rushed into my system and I was given the power of suspended animation to make a move before his next step. If the perp gets to me it is end game for the victim and I. I was now liable to display my equalizer in this situation and I did.
He never made another footprint in the snow in my direction. He shook his head in denial and chuckled. Game over! No one else was going to get hurt, except him. It was his decision now if he lives or dies.
The moment I decided to intervene, that woman’s pain stopped and I very possibly saved her life. It is up to us to make sure our rights stay intact. My oath still stands; We The People affirm; don’t tread on us or we will tread on you.”
- Charlie M Blackmore, USMC Veteren, sports his Springfield XDM 9mm Compact with a 13 round magazine and Crimson Trace trigger guard laser shooting 147 Gr Hornady Critical Duty Hollowpoints.
Branden Spear photographed in Cambridge, Maryland by Ben Philippi
“History always repeats its self! During the 1920’s Hitler removed guns from people, look what happened…
The law to use a firearm in self-defense nowadays is so strict that you almost have to pause the situation and think ‘legally’ if I am at the point to legally defend my self. We are pushed to make sure we kill the burglar to avoid being penalized in court if we only wounded the person. Guns are restricted enough in this country!
‘If you can’t take the guns off the street and out of the hands of criminals, then you shouldn’t take the guns from rightful legal owners.’
I have a security alarm at home. The sign on front yard and windows is all you need 95% of the time to avoid being broken into, but the other 4% can be avoided by a simple pump of a 12-gauge shotgun and if that is not a enough, well then I am loaded and ready for the 1% of the time.”
- Branden Spear, owner of Spear Construction, sports his Mossberg 930 Special Purpose 12-gauge shotgun. Behind him is The Patriotic House he hand-painted.
Dave Romero photographed in Chicago, Illinois by Ben Philippi.
“As an Officer in a major metropolitan city, I see the importance of the second amendment to the citizens of our country better than any politician can. On a daily basis I respond to calls of life threatening situations, many times our arrival is too late. It’s those times when I think, if this person was armed at the time of the attack, they wouldn’t be a victim right now.
Unfortunately Police departments across the country are understaffed and overworked, and with the changing economic times, violent crimes against hard working law biding citizens are steadily rising. The citizens of the United States have an absolute God given right to defend themselves, and resistance to oppression, so I thank our Forefathers for their amazing wisdom and foresight in creating the Second Amendment.”
– Dave Romero, Chicago Police Department Officer, sports his LMT AR-15 rifle.
Tana Leggo photographed in Louisville, Kentucky by Ben Philippi.
“There is nothing more satisfying than the feel of cold, hard steel in my hands! Guns are dangerous, exciting and even seductive…much like me! Interestingly, I grew up in a family that didn’t care for guns. They weren’t anti-gun per se, but guns were foreign to my parents due to their being uneducated about the subject.
After I became an adult, I started hanging around gun guys and gals. As a female, I’ve always been concerned about personal safety. The ex military guys, who are my friends, talked to me about firearms. These were really good guys who I trusted; educated, law abiding, freedom loving folks, who were protective and concerned about my safety, so I took their advice.
The first time I held a gun, I loved it! It was sexy, it was empowering! After learning to shoot, I was hooked! I’m an independent woman, and guns reinforce that independence! I’m all about freedom! I’m actually quite liberal in the classical sense, truly being liberal means loving freedom, and guns make us all equal and truly free! I’m a 115 pound fashion model! A gun makes me equal to any potential threat. Like the old ad used to say, ‘fear no man, no matter his size, call on me, and I shall equalize.’
My philosophy toward self-defense was to choose one firearm and become expert with that gun. My choice was the Smith and Wesson 60LS in .357 Magnum. It fits my needs perfectly and being stainless steel, it always goes well with my wardrobe and accessories! When it comes to fun, I like to shoot just about everything, as my picture with the AK-47 shows! The modeling and entertainment world in which I work, generally is not a “gun friendly” environment. Hopefully my enthusiasm, and showing other women how they can keep from falling prey to predators is having a positive impact!
- Tana, model, sports her Romanian made WASR-10 AK-47 rifle.
Rusty Humphries photographed in Phoenix, Arizona by Ben Philippi.
“It’s very easy to allow emotion to get the better of you when talking about guns. If you’ve never been around them, they can seem very scary. TV, movies, the news, everywhere you turn you see guns portrayed in a negative way. I think we have turned into a nation of big weenies, far more interested in Lattes than Lugers, and if you choose not to arm or protect yourself, that’s your right, but with rights come responsibilities. I am responsible for my family and my property and we all have a responsibility to our posterity to protect this land for them.
One of the reasons our homeland has not been attacked, (other than with flying suicide bombers) is the fact that we have over 300 million guns in this country, with millions of men and women who choose to know how to use them. Thank God we still have some American’s with courage and fight left in them. That’s a hell of a deterrent for anyone to wants to take, by force, what is ours.”
- Rusty Humphries, media personality and political consultant, sports his Winchester 1899 rifle and stands in front of his 1966 Chevy Impala.
The Cheney family of Battlefield: Vegas photographed in Las Vegas by Ben Philippi.
“Guns started out for me as a hobby with my friends. We used to build AK kits in the garage. We’d have build parties and when the build parties got to the point where I wasn’t sure if we were breaking any laws, I figured I better get a license and go the proper route. And it’s just grown from there.
I have 350 machine guns at Battlefield: Vegas. My whole family is involved. My son runs one of my retail stores, my wife is here with me and my little ones like to come in and mess with the guns and see who can field strip them the fastest or show daddy who’s better at them.”
Melissa LaBoy and Kevin Jackson photographed in St. Louis, Missouri by Ben Philippi.
“I grew up on a big cattle ranch, and guns were as much a part of my life as pastures and cattle guards. I always had a firearm growing up, from a Ruger .22 to various deer hunting rifles.
Guns allowed freed slaves to remain free. Attempts at gun control were early attempts at putting black people under the authority of those who didn’t want to treat blacks humanely. Guns in America did what the Constitution had not: guns made black people equal.
There is a responsibility guns teach that you can’t learn with anything else. It’s too bad that responsibility has been shirked by a society that wants to demonize the gun. But no matter what the politics of guns, they will always put a smile on my face. Because learning about guns, using guns, appreciating guns has made me more American than I would have been without them.”
– Kevin Jackson, political commentator, author, activist at The Black Sphere and Melissa LaBoy, COO at The Black Sphere. Kevin sports his Beretta 92A1 and Melissa her Henry .22 long rifle.
Jeff Zimba photographed near Fairfield, Maine by Ben Philippi.
“The whole issue of guns is pretty simple to me. We have a Bill of Rights, not a Bill of Needs. The opposition doesn’t understand guns so they develop a fear of these inanimate objects and hope they will just go away.
Well, neither guns, nor gun owners are going anywhere and it’s not really up for debate or discussion. Uneducated opinions don’t matter in the big picture. Simple stuff.
Every law-abiding citizen has the most basic right to self-preservation and a firearm is the great equalizer. Most people who carry a firearm are painted as crazed lunatics “looking for a gun fight” when the opposite is actually the truth.’ A well-trained person with a firearm is prepared to defend his life and that of his family in a situation he hopes will never arise.
It is no different than having a fire extinguisher in the home and automobile. No one is ‘asking for a fire’ but prepared for the unlikely event they may need it. It is the same thing as having a spare tire and a jack in the vehicle. No one is ‘asking for a flat tire’ but better prepared for the unlikely event of one and have the ability to get back into action in a reasonable time. Sure, you can walk the Earth defenseless and unprepared for anything and leave your safety to the responsibility of others, but gun owners are generally a little more forward thinking than that. It’s simple stuff. Others can be useless and unprepared for a bad guy, a fire and a flat tire and just call a policeman, a fireman and a mechanic, but their life will certainly improve if they meet with someone who does prepare for the unexpected while they wait for their ‘professional’ knight in shining armor to come to their rescue, when they get around to it. To my peers, NOT being prepared is selfish and irrational. Bad things WILL happen at inopportune times and tasking your safety to strangers by refusing to help yourself is just not an option. Being afraid of inanimate objects and pretending that nothing bad will happen to you, so you don’t have to deal with the burden of unpleasant real life situations that certainly do happen to “others” is a dangerous way to stay in a false comfort zone that doesn’t really exist.”
- Jeff Zimba: gun expert at The Bigshooterist. Jeff sports his POF-USA P416 with an LMT 40mm Grenade Launcher and stands in front of the Bigshooterist Test Facility Border Patrol Vehicle which started life as a simple Suzuki Samurai and is now heavily modified, with a gun mount, 62″ of off-road rubber, several inches of lift and 18″ of articulation to reach as deep as necessary into the dense Maine wood.
Justin Harvel photographed in Neosho, Missouri at the Black Rain Ordnance factory by Ben Philippi.
“My grandfather has been a gun dealer all of my life and even way before; he is 95 now and although rarely “deals” he still loves his guns. He lived back in the days when marksmanship was still taught in school. He promoted and hosted the first gun show in our town of Neosho, Mo. in the late 50′s and yes believe it or not it was held in the gymnasium of the high school! He always carried a sidearm and I remember that old Smith & Wesson .38 and the smell of the leather holster.
Both of my two uncles and my father also carried on that tradition proudly, of loving and dealing in guns. But again, they lived in an age where guns were still viewed as the heritages of a free society. They would take me shooting or hunting all the time and I remember the first time I shot a gun and the honor and respect i had for it. It was a right of passage it was just part of growing up and learning a new responsibility!
We’re entering a new age and despite opposition to firearms I am personally very excited. I see great things for the future of shooting sports and the industry and I’m proud to be part of it. We as a society need to focus on our youth to carry on the torch of freedom! This is our responsibility as parents and adults to teach our children good Christian values.”
- Justin Harvel, President of Black Rain Ordnance Inc sports his Black Rain Ordnance Fallout-15 Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) in the Norguard Finish with a Black Rain Ordnance Aris .223/5.56 Suppressor, and an X-Products 50 Round Drum Magazine.
The Sumner family photographed at the Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Kentucky by Ben Philippi.
“My dad was inspired as a boy by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. He sported his red cowboy hat and sheep wool chaps with cap pistols holstered on each side. That’s what started the love for guns in the Sumner family.
My Grandfather and Grandmother opened up a toy store/sporting goods/hardware store. Later on my Dad and Grandfather bought a piece of property (owned by the navy) at auction; that became Knob Creek Gun Range. Dad started the Range in 1964.
My brother and I would collect range fees for our allowance, as kids we grew up shooting guns and hunting at a very young age. As The Range grew, Dad started the machine gun shoot that evolved into the world’s largest machine gun shoot and military gun show, which is twice a year.
We also have a new TV series which airs on CMT called Guntucky. The show is based on our family business and our love for guns. Our motto is …… In guns we trust!! We must stand up for our 2nd amendment rights! Our forefathers put the 2nd want us to be subjects to a tyrannical government. This is a government for the people by the people, not a dictatorship or socialism. Make this stand so our children and their children will and can enjoy guns as we have!!
Good Luck and God Bless America!”
- The Sumner Family: owners of Knob Creek Range and stars of CMT’s Guntucky. Steven sports an M1A. Olivia sports a .30 carbine. Novi sports a Rossi .45 long colt. Erin sports a Keltec KSG 12 gauge. Biff sports a pair of Ruger Super Redhawk .44 magnums. Payton sports a Chiappa Triple Threat 12 gauge. Keri sports a Stoeger Uberti Revolving carbine in .45 Long Colt. Tracy sports a Mossberg Plinkster .22.
Dominique Carmen Bear photographed in Butler, Missouri with her daughter Xandra D by Ben Philippi.
“Growing up, my 1st stepfather was into hunting in a major way. My sister and I were given strict orders to NEVER EVER EVER touch the guns; to not even go near them. It was a fear that stuck with me.
Of course, I grew up, left home and eventually had boyfriends and friends who owned guns. Even then, I wouldn’t touch them. The years go by, I enter my 30′s and move back to Missouri. I’m pretty much surrounded by guns…and I discover all fear is gone and instead I’m fascinated!
I spent many summer afternoons target shooting with friends. I enjoyed shooting but never bought a gun. I didn’t think I needed one. When I turned 31, I had my daughter Xandra D. and everything was fine. But then it happened.
I was awakened by a noise in the night. It was 2AM. I’d fallen asleep on the couch. Xandra D. was in her crib in the other room. My sleep-muddled mind was confused. What was that loud ass banging?! My phone rings at the exact same time. It’s my sister screaming, “Someone is trying with all their might to kick in your door!” My heart started pounding as adrenaline poured into my system. I was terrified! I ran through the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife and charged into the bedroom. I knew if they came in, I was screwed but I had an 8 month old to protect! I positioned myself between the door they were STILL trying to get through and the bedroom. My sister, who remained on the phone with me, stepped outside on her porch and yelled, “Hey!” BAM! My patio light goes out. The intruder(s) ran away. I stood there frozen while my sister called the police.
After this experience, I no longer felt safe. I had nightmares and I kept waking up at night to every little noise. I patrolled my home, listening, scared. At first, I start sleeping with knives under my pillows, hammers and pepper sprays hidden throughout my home. But it wasn’t enough.
Finally I bought my first gun. A 9mm. Immediately, I felt safer, much more confident in my abilities to protect my baby and myself. Sleep has returned. I keep it loaded and within arms reach when I go to bed. Until someone has tried and/or succeeded in breaking into your home, it’s hard to describe the utter violation and fear it puts in your heart.
When it comes to my daughters well-being, there will be no warning shots.”
- Dominique Carmen, mother and her daughter Xandra D. Dominique sports a High-Point 9mm.
Todd Causley photographed in Chicago, Illinois by Ben Philippi.
“I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, as I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. If I want to order giant steaks and ride around in my Cadillac Eldorado that burns a ton of gasoline, fine! But don’t tell me that I should have a little car that I can barely fit in. The same goes for my right own guns! Don’t tell me if I can own a gun or not. I truly believe in our United States constitutional second amendment right to bear arms. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want anyone to hurt me. But do not take away the right for me to protect my wife and family. I love spending some time at the gun range. I really enjoy re-loading my own ammunition and I especially like cleaning my guns. There’s nothing better. We all should have the right to protect ourselves. I’m a freedom loving guy and I am an Individual!”
- Todd Causley, wiseguy, sports his Sig Sauer 556 and sits atop his 1984 Cadillac Eldorado.