Meet Andy Raymond
Have you ever wondered who owns a gun shop in Montgomery county?
Raymond typically arrives at the store at 9 a.m., gets water and food for Brutus, his English bulldog and the shop pet, and opens for business at 10. Foot traffic fluctuates—sometimes there are four to six customers in the store, other times none. The shop closes around 7 p.m., and then there’s paperwork to go through. Raymond’s workday ends at 8:30 or 9 p.m.
Shortly after noon, Keanu Sy, 29, of Potomac, a waiter at an Asian fusion restaurant in the Kentlands, pops in to purchase an Engage Armament T-shirt, which features a handgun imposed over a map of Maryland. He also wants to talk to Raymond about parts for his M1 rifle, which he shoots at the Izaak Walton range in Poolesville every weekend.
Mike Clark, 60, who retired from the Metropolitan Police Department in the District 16 years ago on disability, also comes in. He lives in the neighborhood and says he drops by often to hang out. An occasional buying customer, Clark shoots at the Izaak Walton League range in Damascus.
Raymond describes his typical clientele as male, ages 24 to 35, military or former military. “Most customers are middle- or upper-income,” he says. “Nothing here sells for under $500.”
He estimates that 90 percent of his buyers live in Montgomery County. Some of his “best customers” live in Bethesda. Often, they are people whose homes or cars have been broken into, he says, though he also sees high-end weapons collectors, people with lots of disposable income who don’t really shoot but like owning classic firearms. He has older clients, too, who buy guns (“the great equalizer” in Raymond’s view) strictly for defense.
Reaching out to women, the store displays two “Hello Kitty” rifles with pink and purple stocks. But they’re mostly for show—only one has sold in a year. “I keep them up there because it looks cool,” Raymond says. “A gun is much more than a machine. It can be very artistic and a thing of beauty.” He sold one rifle with the words of the Constitution and Second Amendment custom-painted on it for $6,000 at auction. The proceeds went to support the unsuccessful fight against Maryland’s gun control law.
On another weekday, a Russian immigrant named Alex comes in to help Raymond negotiate with an official from the Georgian Interior Ministry over a prospective sale of weapons, part of Engage Armament’s export business. The negotiations are not going well. Alex conducts an international call in Russian, but nothing is resolved. “We had a contract that went to shit this morning,” Raymond sums up.
Raymond entered the export trade almost serendipitously, he says, when people who worked at embassies came in to buy weapons. He started getting invited to embassy events—he enjoyed the food and music and learning about their cultures. Relationships developed, and that led to a profitable trade.
Import-export now accounts for “the biggest part of our business,” he says. He has three overseas clients, including an Asian country he would prefer not to name.
At one point, he also was negotiating with an official from a country in the Middle East. Things were going well until they shook hands and the official saw his tattoos. “What’s that?” he asked.
Raymond got tattooed in his 20s, and now wishes he hadn’t. He’s had two removed from his chest (“gun stuff”) but says he can’t remove the rest because they are inked in black and would leave a shadow. “When you’re young,” he says, “you’re not thinking of this stuff.”
RAYMOND WAS born in 1980 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, around the corner from where he now lives in a two-bedroom condo with his uncle and dog. His parents divorced when he was young, and Raymond was raised largely by his mother in Silver Spring’s Woodmoor neighborhood. He attended St. Bernadette School on University Boulevard through eighth grade, and then Sandy Springs Friends, a Quaker school, where he says his mother sent him to turn him into a “feminized man.”
Raymond says that as an adult, he’s come to appreciate the Quaker philosophy. “I disagree with certain principles—like nonviolence,” he says. “Sometimes, in the end, you’ve got to fight. Turning the other cheek will get you only so far. But they are good people.”
He was a mediocre student, he acknowledges. “When you’re young, you’re more interested in girls and all the drama and social aspect of high school. I didn’t apply myself,” he says.
Raymond’s parents met at the District’s police training academy. His mother, Susan Calder, retired from the Montgomery County Police Department, his father, Thomas Raymond, from the Metropolitan Police Department in the District. His father bought Raymond a lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association when he was born, and his mother, whose political views were and are far to the left of Raymond’s, rescinded it.
When Raymond was growing up, his father, who died in 2006, would take him shooting—not hunting—twice a year to a friend’s place in West Virginia. “My dad would sit there, drink beer, throw the can in the air and shoot it,” he recalls. He says those weekends, which started when he was 8 or 9, were mainly about spending time with his father.
As Raymond got older, his father let him walk around the woods behind the firing range with a .22-caliber rifle. “It was a lot of fun, though in retrospect it was pretty dangerous,” he says.
Calder describes her son as a complex person. She says he got his “great intellect and love of history” from his father. In college at the University of Maryland, Raymond was exposed to Joseph Conrad, the late 19th- and early 20th-century author, and read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim.
His mother thinks he could have done more with his intelligence—she had hoped he would become a prosecuting attorney. “That opportunity is long since gone,” he says. “When I was in college, I partied a little too hard. These things follow you, so there is certain stuff I just can’t do.”
Raymond switched majors several times and dropped out after three years. “Some of the smartest kids I know got degrees in philosophy,” he says. “I value it because it builds intelligence. You can be a criminal justice major, regurgitate stuff, but it doesn’t make you smart. What makes you smart is the ability to interpret, to be critical of things.”
Today, Raymond spends two or three hours a day reading history entries on Wikipedia. Recent favorite books include Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, an investigative look at covert U.S. wars, and The Gun, a book about the AK-47 rifle developed by the Soviet Union.
Raymond says if he were a millionaire, he would take interesting classes all day. “That would be a great way to live,” he says.
RAYMOND STILL doesn’t hunt. He shoots only at targets, and, due to his workload, only a couple of times a year. But he does collect guns. He owns so many—he won’t give an exact number—that he says he’d need a house to keep them all in one place. So he stores most of them at his shop.
Shooting for him is a Zen experience. “It is meditative,” he says. “Everything else fades away when you’re focusing simply on your bearings, site alignment, target.”
He likens shooting to riding motorcycles, something he used to do. “I’d get on my bike at 2 in the morning, drive out to Potomac. Everything else you forget about,” he says. “That’s what guns do. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy it.”
But Raymond is not naive; he’s seen the darker side of guns many times. When it turns out that a gun used in a crime came from his store, Raymond says he stresses out about it and hopes that all the paperwork was done correctly.
One sale was linked to a murder-suicide. A woman purchased a Ruger handgun from him. A year later, she used it to kill her son and herself.
“We had one where a guy wouldn’t give his phone number because he said, ‘My wife will flip out,’ ” Raymond says. A lot of Raymond’s customers tell him their wives would get upset if they knew their husband was buying a gun, so he didn’t give it much thought.
The man asked Raymond to call him a cab, but Raymond offered to drive him home. “We talked about his whole life, the Air Force, double-dipping, grandkids. He’d been married 50 years. I felt totally comfortable with him. He said all the right things.”
The man ended up using the gun to commit suicide.
“I’m not cruel or anything,” Raymond says. “I don’t want people to do that. I’m here to talk. I’d do whatever I can, contact whomever I could to help them. First and foremost, I’m a person.”
One of his first transactions was the sale of a small Smith & Wesson revolver to a woman in her 70s who lived in Leisure World. She wanted a gun, she told him, because she thought the neighborhood was changing. “I chalked it up to an old person seeing a Mexican gardener and thinking the whole world was going to hell,” he says.
“She went home and shot herself,” Raymond says. “That’s something I haven’t forgotten.”
Eugene L. Meyer is a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine. To comment on this story, email comments@bethesda magazine.com.