Special Reports

Smoke clears at gun store after 5 days in cross hairs

After five days in the glare of national media attention, Brian Borgelt spent Tuesday hunkered down and silent.

The owner of Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, the Tacoma gun store where sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad apparently acquired his weapon, spent the day inside his office on the top floor of the gun shop. He was not returning calls.

"He's been just inundated by media," a salesman behind a counter said.

Otherwise, things appeared to be back to normal at the Puyallup Avenue store. The television trucks were gone, ATF investigators were nowhere to be seen and only an occasional photographer showed up to snap pictures of the 50-foot cape buffalo mural that adorns the outside of the building.

Throughout the day, customers - almost all men - browsed among the aisles filled with camouflage clothing, knives, self-defense videos and ammunition.

They gazed at long ranks of firearms lined up, butts down, along the walls. The weapons, ranging from museum pieces to military-style rifles, gave testimony to the Bull's Eye claim to offer "Puget Sound's Largest Firearm Selection."

About noon, a man and woman crouched in front of a glass display case, examining pistols. When they couldn't find exactly what they wanted, the woman good-naturedly chided a salesman. "They told us we could get anything here," she said.

Deadly merchandise aside, Bull's Eye has a relaxed, down-home atmosphere. Except for the sturdy steel gate that closes over the front door and the muffled thump of gunfire from the shooting range upstairs, the place has the feel of a small-town hardware or plumbing supply store, the kind where the salespeople know what they're talking about and enthusiasts gather to swap stories.

Enthusiasts do gather here. Bull's Eye offers memberships, which include free, unlimited use of the ranges and discounts on guns and ammunition.

Upstairs, there's a small lounge area, with a television set and a few soft chairs. There's a room for self-defense classes and a bulletin board crammed with customers' snapshots of themselves posing with dead wildlife: coyotes, bears, several species of deer ... even a zebra.

According to employees, Bull's Eye is a favorite not only of hunters and hobbyists, but of area law enforcement officers. It's so close to downtown, they can drop in at lunchtime or after work to fire off practice rounds.

"I see them all in here," said Chris Lefort, who runs the shooting range. "We get the DEA, ATF, Customs, Tacoma police, Pierce County ... Corrections, bail bond guys ... they're all in here."

When asked what they thought of Bull's Eye, customers seemed eager to defend it. Several delivered impromptu testimonials casting doubt on charges of sloppy paperwork implied by early reports from ATF investigators.

"I've been coming here for three or four years," said Dick Taylor, a retired truck-terminal manager from Federal Way. "They've always been straight and above board."

"What I like about them is they're honest," he said. "You bring something in and ask them for an appraisal, and they're straight up. Most people try to buy cheap and sell high. They're fair."

Rob Carson 253-597-8693