It was 0500 on a Monday. The young man who clerked the local minimart was in the back corner of the store straightening up the milk jugs. His partner, a local teenaged girl, was in the restroom. The man walked into the store quietly wearing a long black raincoat. It was both too warm and too dry out for a raincoat.
The minimart was located within spitting distance of the front gate of the local Army base. However, this early the PT (Physical Training) crowd was not yet cranked up. The minimart, its associated parking lot, and the surrounding neighborhood had not yet awakened for the day.
There wasn’t a bell on the door, so the clerk arranging the dairy products did not hear the man come in. According to the surveillance video reviewed later the man feigned interest in a magazine long enough to get a feel for the store. He then quietly made his way to the distracted clerk.
Once within a few feet of his target, the man swept his long black Army-issue raincoat aside to expose a wicked-looking cut-down 12-gauge shotgun. The young clerk still had no idea there was anyone else in the retail portion of the store. The man then calmly rotated the gun up, oriented it on the back of the unsuspecting clerk’s head, and squeezed the trigger.
The clerk was dead before his body hit the ground. The noise of the heavy short-barreled shotgun discharged within such a confined space must have been deafening. Regardless, the man regained his wits in short order and made his way to the cash register.
The teenaged girl heard the gunshot, locked the door to the restroom, and stood atop the toilet. She remained in this position throughout the whole sordid episode. The newly-minted murderer not twenty meters away never knew she was there.
The man, his ears undoubtedly still ringing mightily from the shotgun blast, replaced his shotgun underneath his raincoat and addressed the electronic cash register. He studied the device for a few moments before timidly trying a button or three. Alas, this machine demanded some kind of code to operate.
He had just precipitously retired said code along with the unfortunate young clerk vicinity the refrigerated beer cooler. Just as the man was becoming frustrated the door opened and a local businessman walked in unawares.
The business guy was obviously an early riser, and he had a habit of picking up a local newspaper at the minimart as he made his lonely way to work. This morning he did not recognize the face of the skinny guy behind the counter, but these teenagers came and went.
He grabbed his paper, smiled, and dropped a quarter on the counter before turning to leave. He never noticed the cooling corpse in the back of the store.
Stunned, the armed robber-turned-murderer dropped the quarter into his pocket before returning his attention back to the register. Once the business guy was clear of the parking lot he retrieved his shotgun, reversed it, and bashed the keypad with its butt. By now he was getting worried. He was running out of time.
In desperation the man hefted his shotgun, jacked the slide, and pointed it at the register. He stroked the trigger and unleashed a charge of birdshot into the machine at near contact range. Shredded keys blew across the store, and the LED display disintegrated. The cash drawer, however, remained closed. In fact, the shotgun blast had effectively peened the thing shut for the rest of time.
Realizing that this operation was now doomed to failure, the dangerously inept murderer replaced his shotgun underneath his coat and fled the scene. Once a decent period of time passed the young woman carefully peeked out of the restroom. These were the days before cell phones, so she grabbed the store phone and called the cops.
David Fenimore Cooper was purportedly the first person to use the term “shotgun” in print. British Redcoats were known to charge their Brown Bess muskets with a combination of shot and a standard musket ball to form a “buck and ball” load. With a barrel diameter of three quarters of an inch, this smoothbore flintlock musket packed an impressive payload. This puts the Brown Bess close to a modern 10-gauge from the perspective of pure geometry.
The shotgun as we know it really came into its own in the middle of the 19th century. Scatterguns were fairly widely used during the American Civil War.
Doc Holliday purportedly wielded a short-barreled 10-gauge side-by-side coach gun during the famed gunfight at the OK Corral. Holliday was an Old West legend who was likely responsible for shedding a great deal of blood. However, Tom McLaury that fateful day in Tombstone was supposedly his only historically verified kill.
Modern shotguns number in the tens of millions and are found around the globe. The fact that shotguns are commonly used hunting arms typically makes them the last to fall victim to gun bans. However, the determined miscreant can still conjure a superb concealable close-quarters weapon out of your typical sporting scattergun.
The peculiar gauge system used to identify a shotgun bore is an English contrivance. The number reflects the number of pure lead balls of a certain diameter that make up a pound. Therefore a lead ball that perfectly describes a 12-gauge bore weighs one-twelfth of a pound. That’s the reason smaller numbers mean larger bores.
A theoretical one gauge shotgun would fire a one-pound projectile. This is, incidentally, the same diameter as a golf ball. For whatever reason, a .410 bore is an exception to this rule and is actually 0.410 inches across.
A typical slide action shotgun sporting a pistol grip and a shortened barrel is a devastating close-quarters tool. Longer barrels will always produce superior performance, but the gaping maw of a cut-down 12-bore is invariably attention-getting.
Transforming a typical Remington 870 sporting gun into such a tool requires a hacksaw, a rasp, about 20 minutes, and a total disregard for federal gun control law.
A side-by-side shotgun also makes an effective and concealable close-quarters gun once properly pruned. I have legally shortened three shotguns by means of a BATF Form 1. Each iteration requires its own $200 transfer tax, fingerprints, and interminable wait, but the transformations can be undertaken easily with simple tools.
The pistol grip on my side-by-side took a little trial and error, but remounting the front sight beads required nothing more than a drill press, a hand tap, and a little patience.
The Rest of the Story
The shooter was a young enlisted soldier posted to the nearby Army base. Nobody really knows where he went after the shooting but it wasn’t to PT. Once he missed the Monday morning formation he was reported absent, and the military admin wheels began turning.
This sordid episode took place in the early nineties, before 911, and airport security was unrecognizable from what it is today. The modest local airport offered regional service to the larger hubs, but you didn’t have to pass through a metal detector to board the plane. That’s hard to imagine today, but it was not unusual back then.
The soldier boarded the airplane with his shotgun tucked inside his carry-on. He changed planes in Dallas and made it aboard the second plane still with his shotgun in tow. By the time the sun set on the day, he had killed his first man, and then he was back home with his mom.
He didn’t bother telling his mother he had blown an innocent man’s head off in a botched robbery that morning. She was just pleased with an unexpected visit. Moms the world over are generally excited to see their kids and might not be inclined to ask too many questions.
There was still no connection to the shooting, but federal authorities nonetheless made a phone call to the young soldier’s home of record looking for the guy. Once they found out he was there somebody someplace put two and two together. The feds took the idiot kid into custody without a fuss. They seized his illegal shotgun as well.
The motive was simply money. As near as anyone could tell the shooter and the victim had never before met. Army Privates don’t get paid much, and this one had undoubtedly overextended himself. In my experience of supervising such knuckleheads, it likely involved an exorbitant car payment, a cheap girlfriend with expensive tastes, or some overpriced stereo equipment. For such as this an innocent man died.
I lost track of what happened to the murderous idiot soldier. He’s likely still locked up someplace. If rank stupidity was a capital offense he would be at the front of the line to the gallows. Throughout it all his take was a whopping twenty-five cents, and that for a newspaper he nominally sold.