Bill Stevenson loves the smell of gunpowder, the cold steel of a handgun and the satisfying pop the bullets make as they whiz towards the paper target. He got a taste of all three last Thursday when he took his 1911 and Walther PPK pistols to the Ozark Sportsman range in Tontitown.
But for the international office director, it’s not just that guns please the senses. They represent an idea he finds radical and beautiful: that all law-abiding, free Americans can own weapons, defend their loved ones and hunt game. But the road to the second amendment for him has been long.
He was born in the Shankill Road area in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Growing up during the Troubles in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Stevenson saw snipers, bombs and machine guns terrorize the neighborhood and stain it with blood. Stevenson watched as a 16-year-old boy was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet near his home. He watched smoke billow as Catholic homes burned. He watched as bullets rattled his car.
His home was no escape. Stevenson’s father was a terrorist leader with the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group combating Irish republicanism. Cardboard boxes of AK-47s shipped from Libya were stacked in the parlor, waiting to be assigned. A UVF member getting a gun like that meant he was important, explained Stevenson. He was told never to touch them.
“I didn’t want to touch them,” said Stevenson. “That image always remains in my mind of those dirty, evil, bad, dangerous guns.”
As Stevenson grew older he began to realize something: guns meant power, and in Northern Ireland there was a serious imbalance of power. The police and military could carry weapons. Understandable, he thought. But the Irish Republican Army and other terrorist organizations that killed hundreds of civilians during the Troubles had guns as well. This troubled Stevenson. What about the law-abiding citizen trying to protect his family and his home?
Stevenson found his answer when he moved to the United States in late 80s and read the second amendment. It was an incredible revelation for him.
“I found myself being pleased with that I was living in a country where every free man could bear an arm to defend themselves and hunt with it,” said Stevenson. “I wanted to celebrate that.”
But he couldn’t. While trying to purchase a shotgun in 1989, Stevenson’s background check came back negative and his purchase was denied. He tried again and again over the years, each time being denied. He came to understand through sources that his history growing up in Northern Ireland as the son of a former terrorist had carried over to America, blemishing his record.
“That bothered me,” said Stevenson, “because I had nothing to do with terrorism. I was born into it, I didn’t choose it. My rights as a U.S. citizen were being violated by the sins of the past.”
In 2011, Stevenson met with a source working out of Washington D.C. who told him that it was possible to get these background blemishes taken care of. He was told he would get a letter, phone call or email. He was just told to keep trying to buy guns and eventually it would go through. So he did, and last month he was able to purchase a Glock .40 caliber.
“That was really exciting for me,” said Stevenson. He plans to pursue getting his concealed weapons permit.