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Breathing fire 

click to enlarge SEAN CAYTON

From Mel Bernstein's perspective, people like the Washington, D.C. sniper ruin the fun for the rest of us.

Bernstein's Dragon Arms gun emporium in eastern Colorado Springs comprises a vast 240-acre landscape of paintball battlefields, overturned cars riddled with bullet holes and an 18,000-square-foot, $2-million war museum.

Bernstein, aka the Dragonman, is gearing up for a Nov. 10 Veteran's Day party that is expected to draw as many as 2,000 men, women and children. "Just the sound of the machine gun brings back old memories," said Bernstein.

The Dragonman is the only dealer in El Paso County with a Class 3 weapons license that lets him sell machine guns and assault rifles. His record and reputation among federal and local law-enforcement officials is stellar.

"A lot of people think I'm bad because I sell these machine guns, but everything I do is legal," he said. "If everyone was like me, we wouldn't need a police department."

In a normal weekend, Bernstein expects to sell perhaps three .223-caliber Bushmaster assault rifles, the type used by the Washington sniper. Last weekend, he chinged the cash register 13 or 14 times until his supplies ran out. The manufacturer reported a backlog of orders for more.

"Whenever something happens with the gun issue, they always run to the gun store and buy guns and ammo," Bernstein said. "It's too bad what happened, but it's good for business."

As for the Washington sniper's weapon of choice, Bernstein scoffs. With its 16-inch barrel, the Bushmaster was entirely substandard. Longer barrels, at least 22 or 23 inches, are far more accurate. "He wasn't smart anyway because look at what he did," Bernstein said.

-- story by Cara DeGette,

photo by Sean Cayton

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