PAINTING the nation's arms neon

     Most of us can be fairly certain that Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City doesn't know us from Adam. We could bet our bottom dollar that the politically unaffiliated, 6-year Big Apple mayor has never even heard our names before, and prior to June 2006, if Steve Lauer were a betting man; he'd have done the same.

     However, in an elaborately put together press junket in NYC, thousands of miles from Lauer at his business in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Bloomberg not only called him out by name, but also insulted his business, telling the crowd of news reporters and politicians he believes there to be malice behind the firearm finishing market, which includes the innovative product Lauer makes, DuraCoat. Further, Bloomberg predicted tragedy would result if firearms were not prohibited in certain bright colors.

     In essence, Bloomberg's position on the fluorescent guns was two-pronged: He alleged that by design, brightly colored firearms appeal to children because they resemble toys; and in addition, they are detrimental to law enforcement officers, who may hesitate to react when faced with a citizen holding one of the candy-colored guns.

     In what some industry officials called a grandstand, Bloomberg presented two brightly colored guns — one yellow and one red— and asked attendees to identify the firearm from the toy. Using language such as "sick" and "twisted" to describe the business men and women who sell finishing kits in bright colors, Bloomberg asserted that in the pursuit to "make a buck," businesses that sell such kits are endangering children and law enforcement officers in one swoop.

     Industry officials readily dismiss Bloomberg's accusations, citing ostentatious political agendas as the underlying motivation for the metropolitan mayor's stance on determining which colors are weapon-appropriate.

Practical

     In response to Bloomberg's allegations, Lauer says that his widely popular finishing product DuraCoat is the antithesis of an unsafe good. Lauer argues that DuraCoat is meant to protect firearms, ensuring their upkeep and guarding against corrosion that could affect a gun's safe function, just as gun oils and other protectants do.

     DuraCoat sets itself apart from other finishing products with its durability and versatility. And most importantly, DuraCoat provides those characteristics without complicating the application process, even for untrained users. Lauer counters Bloomberg's allegation that a DuraCoat finish creates a firearms safety issue.

     "Mayor Bloomberg thinks that we have an unsafe product," Lauer says. "And I'll tell you that what we have is a safety product. DuraCoat is about safety; and that simply means that your gun will always work."

     DuraCoat is meant to provide a corrosion-resistant surface, and the aesthetic value that colors add to the process is an added bonus, but not the driving factor.

     Lauer also explains that many of the 115 DuraCoat colors available were requested by customers (aside from the Bloomberg Collection colors — named for the New York City's boroughs, like Manhattan Red — which Lauer says were inspired by the Big Apple mayor). One color that has received a great deal of attention and concern is Barney Purple, which was requested by a customer who wanted to color a rifle after his daughter's favorite dinosaur character in order to generate interest on her part in shooting sports.

DuraCoat

     The DuraCoat System, on the market since 2001, is shaking up the finishing industry. The finish can be applied by any level of firearm finishers, Lauer stresses, and its applications are seemingly endless. DuraCoat can be applied to ferrous metals, alloys, stainless steel, synthetics, wood — and the list continues. To cure the finish, no preheating or baking is required, and in addition to the ever-expanding choice of colors, DuraCoat is available in a clear finish, which Lauer says is utilized by other industries such as plumbers to cover brass fixtures. Lauer claims that his finish is unmatched in its versatility, durability, and user-friendly characteristics as a commercially manufactured firearm finish system. DuraCoat is available in a line of CamoPaks, EZ CAMO kits — which are prepackaged, containing all necessary supplies to finish one or two firearms — and a variety of Peel 'N Spray Camo Templates, which are pre-cut for do-it-yourself use to create patterns such as the Bengal, Diamond Plate and Lady AmStripe, a pink and black tiger-print design, for example.

     Guns are coordinated to owner tastes and competitor's brands, just like Nascar racing cars or football teams' trademark colors, like the green and gold of the Packers.

     Siegler says there's nothing wrong with customizing firearms with special colors, patterns or other accessories, and it's not unusual for sport shooters to customize their weapons to personal tastes, and for hunting, camouflage finishes serve both aesthetic and practical purposes.

     Further, Siegler says that there isn't an issue with illegal guns in the United States, but what deserves higher billing is the illegal possession of guns. When it comes to law abiding citizens, the right to bear arms is written in our nation's rule book, and grandstanding anti-gun politics, like those he argues are underlying in Bloomberg's color control campaign, have long been the bane of the government.

Adding insult

     In addition to refuting the claims that guns with bright colors and designs appeal to kids, industry experts find the second claim by Bloomberg fallacious.

     Adding to his original argument from 2006, Bloomberg told the New York Daily News in a March 21 story that, "by coloring these guns, a real one looks like a toy, and a police officer won't be able to tell the difference. Imagine an officer who comes upon a teenager pointing a pink gun into a crowd. If the gun is a toy, an innocent teenager may be killed — and others, too. Our police officers have a hard enough job as it is, and that's why we passed a law to prevent these deadly tragedies from occurring."

     John Siegler, NRA president and attorney in Maryland, finds Bloomberg's claims untrue and offensive to the men in blue. He says it is a slight on police officers' knowledge, training and experience to say an officer wouldn't know the difference between a firearm and a toy. Siegler says this claim dishonors police men and women and discredits Bloomberg's veracity.

     "Quite frankly, I am somewhat appalled that [Bloomberg] would think so little of his police officers as to believe that law enforcement officers wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a real firearm and a toy," says the 20-year Maryland police veteran. "I think that that's a slap at all of the trained law enforcement officers across the country and it's unfortunate that he has chosen to do this to otherwise expand his personal attack on the private possession and use of firearms by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes."

     Both Siegler and Lauer feel that the law enforcement scenarios that Bloomberg gives are created by his imagination, and are no more legitimate arguments than those in science fiction movies.

     "This is part of a much, much bigger campaign; Mr. Lauer just seems to be caught in the crossfire, so to speak."

The city — and agenda — that never sleeps

     To enter the showroom at Lauer Custom Weaponry in Northern Wisconsin, one must pass under an awning which reads, "NRA Members Only," and Lauer means it.

     The right to bear arms is a constantly controversial issue in the United States. On one end of the spectrum sits the NRA, and on the other is the famously anti-gun Bloomberg, so it's no surprise these two entities are positioned polarly on the color issue.

     The issue, according to some officials, isn't the color of the gun, but the gun itself, and attempts at controlling arms. Pro-gun advocates say that it isn't children and law enforcement that are at risk in the case of brightly colored firearms, but it's the security of the Second Amendment that's in jeopardy when politicians like Bloomberg take up causes such as gun color control: where the word "color" may as well be invisible.

     One of the bases for Bloomberg's 2006 anti-color kit bill, introduced during the press conference that called out Lauer Custom Weaponry, was that it contradicted a 1999 NYC law which restricted the colors of toy guns. The 2006 anti-coloration kit law, signed by Bloomberg, prohibited firearms finishes in certain colors to curb gun versus toy confusion. This includes DuraCoat's Electric Color line, with hues such as Cherry, a bright red; Rose, a deep pink; O'Sherbert, a neon orange; and Sunburst, a vibrant yellow.

     In an opinion article Bloomberg wrote for Newsweek magazine, published in the April 30, 2007, issue, Bloomberg briefly addressed the concern from special interest groups and Congress on the placement of restrictions on firearms. The column, titled "The Changing Gun Debate," insisted that his organization's agenda doesn't impinge on the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and it's that kind of thinking that hinders progress of keeping "illegal guns" out of criminal hands.

     "This isn't about gun control," Bloomberg wrote. "It's about crime control. The question is, can't we protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners while also doing more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals? Of course. It's not an either-or; a middle ground exists."

     But Siegler says that this kind of talk is more like smoke and mirrors, trying to cover up Bloomberg's famously anti-gun agenda, as he continuously introduces gun-control legislation into New York City law.

     "His actions to date and statements to date do not square with this statement. The law enforcement officer wants to keep guns out of the hands of those who are not legally able to possess them and who pose a danger to the public," Siegler explains. "That's different than saying that the guns themselves are illegal. The guns themselves are not illegal; it's the possession that's illegal. That's one thing that we probably do agree on: that persons who are already prohibited by federal or state law should not have firearms in their possession. However, the attack that Mayor Bloomberg [is] taking would render the ability of the law-abiding citizen — who is not under any legal impediment from owning a firearm — impotent, so to speak, in their ability to exercise their right under the Second Amendment."

     On March 3, Bloomberg spoke at a conference in Florida for the organization that he co-founded, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, where he told the audience that he agrees with the NRA, saying "we should enforce the laws of this country and that is what we are fighting to do."

     But Siegler says many of the things that Bloomberg wants to do have nothing to do with keeping firearms out of the hands of the law-breaker, and everything to do with disarming the nation, contrary to the Second Amendment. Siegler says that Bloomberg's incessant push for new laws on firearm restrictions poses a threat to the freedoms outlined by the Second Amendment. Such laws include one Bloomberg-initiated legislation that limited handgun purchases, and another which imposed more restrictions on gun dealers, both in New York City.

     Siegler argues that new laws restricting law-abiding citizens are not the answer to gun violence, since criminals, by nature, are not law-abiding.

     "Enforcing existing laws is the answer," Siegler says. "That's what the rank and file law enforcement officers want: they don't need headline grabbers such as Mayor Bloomberg. They need … tough-minded prosecutors and they need judges who will apply the law as it was intended to be applied."

Color blind

     While Bloomberg's solution to children and firearm safety is gun control, pro-gun advocates say the best practice to keep kids and guns apart is education.

     "It doesn't matter whether I have a pink firearm in the home," Siegler argues. "I don't know why that would make it less dangerous or more dangerous than any other firearm. It's not dangerous unless it's handled improperly."

     Officials argue that it's too easy for Bloomberg to slip anti-gun agendas under the imminent danger guise, by claiming children and law enforcement are potential victims, inevitably arousing public concern.

     And to further argue the position that Bloomberg's agenda stretches farther than the hue issue, Siegler asserts that it's a mask for the bigger schema of placing more restrictions on the provisions for citizens in the Second Amendment.

     "Let's face it: The answer isn't impinging on the rights of law-abiding citizens, and the rank and file police officers know that," Siegler says.

     Cobra Enterprises of Utah, a firearms manufacturer, sells handguns finished in traditional colors such as Chrome, Black Powder Coat and Satin Nickel, as well as in Ruby Red, Majestic Pink and Imperial Purple, to name a few. The company's president, Bill Gentry, who has 24 years of experience with firearms, believes that it shouldn't matter what the gun looks like, but rather, the answer is a color blind one, concerning practices in safety and storage. Gentry says that if guns look like toys, it's not a manufacturer's fault.

     "When I was a young man and I would go and buy myself a cap gun, they were normally black or chrome: They looked like guns," Gentry says. "It's up to the parents to make sure that their guns are properly secured and aren't lying around looking like a toy. It doesn't have anything to do with what the gun looks like; if it's being taken care of properly, kids can't get to them."

     Lauer's uncertain of where his custom weaponry business will be 30 years in the future; there are too many unknowns. But for this year, he plans to continue the remodel of his showroom in Chippewa Falls. A few of the new features in the revamped retail space will include diamond plate detailing, a fog machine and machine-gun fire, as well as a few surprises. Lauer says he also plans to hold his ground when it comes to Bloomberg's blacklisted colors, and states he will follow the law but doesn't plan to take any colors off his shelves. In fact, a recent news story on Bloomberg's campaign against brightly colored firearms has inspired a new color from its headline, "Color Mike Furious," which Lauer says will be a shade of flesh-toned red.

     Business was growing before the Bloomberg exploit, but since then, Lauer says business has exploded, though didn't divulge numbers. When it comes to Bloomberg's interest in the modest Northern Wisconsin-based company, Lauer — and his bank account — are tickled pink to have caught the anti-gun mayor's eye. Companies across the nation should cross their fingers and hope for the Bloomberg treatment, because it looks like it's good for business when the mayor of New York City does know you from Adam, especially if you're Steve.

     Editor's note: As of press time, Mayor Bloomberg had not responded to calls for comment.

Firing back

     Steve Lauer could barely keep up with the phone calls that morning. After Bloomberg picked out Lauer, among two other firearm finishing companies, in June 2006 for manufacturing and marketing candy-colored paints for guns, Lauer Custom Weaponry was the hot news story of the day, spurring interest from a variety of well-known New York-based news media, like The New York Times, who called him and asked for comment before Lauer had even heard about the press conference.

     But Lauer says he's not the kind of guy to take a punch — such as Bloomberg's lashing comments and misleading assumptions about DuraCoat's purpose — lying down.

     In February of this year, Lauer came out with a line of firearm finish colors which were named for each of New York City's five boroughs, where DuraCoat has been banned at the mayor's request. The new colors are accompanied by specially designed guns, patterned in brick and mortar with the NYC boroughs graffitied in their respective colors. Since the debut of the Bloomberg Collection, Lauer has fielded a whole new round of attention from the press.

     But Lauer Custom Weaponry has yet to market the idea to the press, though lack of news releases and prominent display on the company's Web site hasn't kept the news media at bay. In a March 21 story, the New York Daily News stated Lauer was taunting the anti-gun mayor by naming the collection after him.

     A Good Morning America host said he was glad that Lauer's daughter and operations manager, Amy, admitted on national television that the line of neon firearm finishes and a specially designed gun in Bloomberg's name was a publicity ploy by the company. John Siegler, former police officer and current president of the National Rifle Association says that there's no harm in Lauer's response, which he finds an appropriate counter-political statement, given the nature of the attack by Bloomberg on Lauer and his business.

     "I think that the language that Bloomberg used to describe Mr. Lauer as "sick" and "twisted," is a pretty damning statement by someone who's never met Mr. Lauer," Siegler says. "For someone to use those pejorative terms in such a fashion is a personal attack on Mr. Lauer, and if Mr. Lauer feels the need to respond to those in the way that he has, that's certainly understandable. I would be offended by that, and I think I would also be incensed."

     But Lauer isn't incensed, in fact, he has a good sense of humor about the situation, evidenced by his tongue-in-cheek design of the graffitied gun, and the caricature of the mayor stamped on the handguns displayed in his showroom.

     Lauer says that he hasn't heard personally from Bloomberg, and thus hasn't been able to defend his product to the mayor in a one-on-one conversation, adding that instead, the mayor prefers to speak through the news media. Case in point: Bloomberg responded to the paints bearing his name to New York Daily News in March, calling the firearm finishing business "craven" and "beneath any honest businessman."

     However busy his phone, Lauer says he is still waiting for that call from the mayor to defend DuraCoat and, Lauer says, to even offer him a tour, if he were so inclined.

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