I’m often contacted by readers curious about one thing or another in the city. Many times I don’t know any more than the person asking. I recently had a reader ask if I’d noticed business signs in the Old City on a particular building. I hadn’t, but the reader made a surprising statement, connecting the Old City Business to the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings. She reminded me that it was a Knoxville company that supplied the ammunition. I had a vague memory to that effect, but couldn’t imagine they’d be operating in the Old City. I let it go for a while, but just couldn’t shake the idea.
I walked down to the Old City and saw signs posted on the doors at 126 Jackson Avenue for “Group West.” The sign said deliveries would be taken a couple of doors down at John H. Daniel. All of which seemed odd. I wondered what kind of business Group West was and were they the new tenants for the building or had they been there all along and we’d just never noticed.
I started by searching for and finding the original article tying Knoxville to the Aurora shootings. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I found it here. Published first in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the article detailed the search for the source, not of the weapons, but the of the 6,000 rounds of ammunition accumulated by the Aurora shooter. The trail seemed to lead to St. Louis, but that turned out to be the first of several bogus addresses used by a company operated from Knoxville called LuckyGunner. The purchases were made legally and the shipment was from a company named Bulkammo out of Atlanta. The AR-15 he used that night was loaded with special steel-core bullets designed to pierce multiple surfaces which results in more widespread deaths in a situation like Aurora.
While Missouri had no record of the company, Tennessee did. The paper found that Bulkammo is actually the same company operating under a number of names including Luckygunner.com, Ammoforsale.com and Ammo.net. Each are covered by the umbrella of Luckygunner, LLC which is owned by Jordan Mollenhour and Dustin Gross, both UT graduates and former operators of a real estate development business called Mollenhour Homes. They shifted from real estate to ammunition sales when they founded Luckygunner in 2009. Jordan’s father Mike Mollenhour is a local attorney who writes a blog called Virtual Militia. It’s a strong gun rights advocacy blog which, according to the Dispatch article, encourages people to arm themselves and practice headshots. The article also states that Mike pushed for the repeal of the ban on guns in parks.
All of which is very interesting, but what does it have to do with Group West? LuckyGunner has a very active, extensive website and they do not appear to have changed their name. So who is Group West? I finally found a bit of an answer here. The state of Tennessee keeps an online listing of businesses. At that link, Group West, LLC is listed and I noticed a tab for “Registered Agent.” The registered agent listed for Group West, LLC is Benton Bryan and his address is listed as 120 W. Jackson, which is John H. Daniel’s address. I had no idea who he was or how this added up, so I search further.
I found this video on WBIR, in which Mr. Bryan discusses John H. Daniel business, of which he is a third generation owner. It made sense given the shared space and shared delivery duties, but it didn’t really tell me the nature of the Group West business. I found another article in which it was reported that Mr. Bryan and his father purchased a working army tank, and that seemed to fit someone who would be interested in guns, but didn’t really prove anything else.
I searched for “Benton Bryan Guns” and this is the top entry:
The blog covers a lot of territory, but it is actively pro-gun. The person who writes the blog only uses a screen name. I can’t say for certain what the connection is between Mr. Bryan and the blog, although I would guess from the above he is the operator. Perhaps not, but I can tell you there is a connection between the blog and Luckygunner, LLC. Once again, according to the St. Louis Dispatch, LuckyGunner received some hostility from this blog because the author found out they operated under several names, giving the appearance of competing with one another when, in fact, they were (as noted above) the same company. The paper also indicates the author of the blog lives in Knoxville.
So, some pieces are converging, but there is still no explanation for the type of business conducted by Group West, LLC. But then I found this. Tradesparq is a web site reporting customs shipments and it reported three shipments left the port of Bremerhaven, Germany this past spring, traveling to Charleston, S.C. and were ultimately delivered to 126 S. Jackson Avenue, Knoxville. According to the site, the shipments averaged 18,386 kilograms or 40,534 pounds each. That’s heavy, but what is in those shipments? According to the site, each shipment contained 740 to 1183 “Wooden Boxes Cartridges For Weapons, Innert Prpojectile.” Ammunition. Literally tons of it and the site indicates there were other shipments not listed.
I still had questions, so I decided to knock on the door. No one answered, but inside John H. Daniel I asked to speak to someone about Group West and a very well dressed gentleman introduced himself. I asked to see a list of what Group West had for sale, indicating that I could not find such a list on the Internet. He helpfully explained that Group West sells both ammunition and guns to distributers, not to individuals. He asked and I told him I was not a distributer. He said they sell ammunition by the pallet, though they do have a local outlet for their guns, which is the Predator Custom Shop on Papermill Dr. He indicated the guns are vintage European rifles. A check of the predator site reveals photographs of rifle such as this one:
I also had the nagging question of whether Group West was taking over the building or has been there all along. Could one part of the family be selling the building to another part of the family for use as Group West? He said Group West will move out if and when John H. Daniel moves and that the sale of the building, while still pending, is on track. So, Group West will likely not occupy the spot for the long term.
After all this work, I struggled with whether to write the article. Obviously, while all parts of the business are legal (the NRA backed legislation in 1986 that reversed previous laws preventing such large sales), as far as I know, the owners generally try to be as close to anonymous as possible. While I write about downtown businesses frequently, was it really necessary to write about this one? The original premise – that it was somehow connected to Aurora – proved to not be true to the best of my knowledge. If anything, it appears there may be bad blood between the two and they are competitors in a sense.
But then, there was this: Is it safe to have many, many tons of ammunition in a residential area? What if there was a fire in the building? Does the city know that this business is operating on Jackson Avenue and storing that kind of fire-power? Are there no ordinances that would prohibit this in a residential area? Perhaps some of you know the answer to those questions. No matter how you feel about gun and ammunition sales of this sort, I think we can all agree that this isn’t a neighborhood business. Hopefully it will move operation to a safer location, soon.