Meet Jonathan O'Connor, a Dublin-born gunshop owner in Ohio
Dubliner Jonathan O'Connor firing the fully-automatic rifle his company manufactures for US law enforcement and military use.Irish people are leaving the country in big numbers, heading abroad to do all sorts of jobs – just like Jonathan O’Connor did 30 years ago alongside many of his peers. But Jonathan ended up doing something pretty unusual: he now sells, imports and manufactures firearms in the United States.
‘The first time I fired any sort of gun was with my grandfather at his home when he dug out an old air rifle and taught me the ins and outs of guns,’ he recalls. ‘We treated it like it was a full firearm and did target shooting with it.’
That started a sports interest in firearms that followed him through his childhood in the UK, where he took up clay pigeon shooting as an occasional past time.
In 1997, he moved to the United States for a job in Information Technology – something he still does a little of. He also decided to get in to the sport once more, and bought a clay launcher and shotgun.
‘That ended up being a rifle, then another handgun and the snowball started,’ he says. ‘Where I live I can shoot in my back yard, so it’s easy to use them and have fun with them.’
Owning a few firearms and finding himself becoming an enthusiast, O’Connor decided to get his licence to carry a firearm on his person – something which is regulated and requires attending a professionally-run course.
Impressed with the course itself, he signed up for another class to become an instructor.
‘From there I started teaching with that group as an assistant and loved it. Helping people responsibly use firearms it’s a big responsibility but its also one of the most satisfying teaching jobs you could have.’
GunEnvy - Jonathan’s shop
Moving to selling guns themselves was the next step, and Jonathan now holds three federal licences for the importation, sale and manufacture of guns – which he held before he became a US citizen a few years ago.
The shop, GunEnvy, is capable of crafting the components for weapons on CNC machines, though most parts are imported for convenience. Retail is their main trade, though Jonathan, like many others, is finding margins tight in the retail sector. ‘The profit level in guns is tiny,’ he says. ‘Accessories and training are where the profit percentage is better.’
‘There are many who think we are evil gun-toting loonies,’ O’Connor says. ‘But most people understand we are professionals and not some hole-in-the-wall place doing anything illegal. Our customers are amazing, from all walks of life and just a generally great bunch of people.’
So there’s no danger in being involved in the firearm trade?
‘The main danger is that we could be a target for somebody wanting to come in and rob us etc. We do handle firearms we test and they could blow up in testing etc sure, but it’s no more dangerous then most manufacturing. I get to play with explosives and blow things up, always going to be at least a little dangerous!’
Jonathan (right) with his shooting partner John, holding a rifle they had just used to shoot and 8-inch target 1000 yards away.
It’s been a while since Jonathan returned to Ireland, and as a naturalised US citizen, his place there is secure. But does he ever miss home?
‘I miss my family in Ireland, and it’s been a while (several years) since I returned. Dublin is nothing like it was when I as a kid, what a massive change it has gone through. The character is still there, you can never remove the core of Dublin, but its grown into this melting pot and very cosmopolitan city that is nothing like the one I remember.
‘I miss the food too. The US has amazing food, you can find about anything here, but I do long for some of the basics of growing up and I miss good lamb-based dishes which are so rare here. I used to miss the tea too, tea here is terrible, but I found Barry’s and Bewley’s here now so I have fixed that!’
What about Ireland’s gun laws, and the fact that we have an unarmed police force? O’Connor’s of two minds on this – he may be a firearm enthusiast, but he doesn’t believe guns are inherently a good idea.
‘It may seem unusual for somebody in this industry, but frankly I wish carrying a gun was just not necessary. I live in a good city here but there are bad people everywhere in the world and they are armed with guns, knives or many other weapons. I carry a gun to push the odds in my direction, after all if you're in a fair fight, your tactics suck. So by carrying my gun responsibly I have a tool to help defend myself and my kids if needed.
‘It seems amazing to Americans that the Irish police would be unarmed, but 99% of the time the police do not need anything more then pepper spray or tasers, they use their guns so little … most go a whole career without shooting their side arms.’
'In Ireland and the UK events are pushing it more and more to the police being armed, it’s a slow but I believe inevitable process, we cannot have those guys on the street without the tools they need.'
'300,000 people in Ohio are licensed to carry a concealed firearm, with millions more at home,' O’Connor says. 'Over the last number of years, concealed-carry holders accounted for only single-digits of gun crime in the state,' he claims. ‘Not a bad statistic is it? People who get licensed and trained are not criminals, we get an FBI background check.’