As the outspoken front man for the heavy metal/metalcore band “All That Remains,” Phil Labonte is known for colorful interviews and his genuine support for the Second Amendment. Labonte took time from his hectic touring schedule to sit down with Shooting Illustrated and chat with us about his favorite gear, pro-gun tattoos and sincere efforts to advocate for the Second Amendment in and around the music industry.
SI: So, how does a guy originally from Massachusetts get into guns?
PL: Well, the first time I ever shot a gun, there was a family friend. He had a bunch of guns and he went to high school with my dad, and he is still a friend to this day. He just took me out. One day we were shooting—my mom is from South Carolina so she grew up, you know, in a rural area on a farm and stuff, so she was familiar with it. My father had a gun, a .22 rifle, for as long as I can remember. He didn’t really go shooting much. But then I joined the military, the Marine Corps. And after I got discharged, when I came home that same guy who took me shooting the first time got me my first real gun of my own. It was an SKS, all done-over. Beautiful gun. I still own it. I decided I was going to buy my first real AR-15 and I got an old pencil-barrel Colt. Then, I think I bought a Heckler & Koch USP for my first handgun, and then I started to pay more attention to, you know, the gun world and what’s going on. And I was like, if I move to New Hampshire, I can get a can, I can get NFA stuff. All the guys I hang out with in New Hampshire, or a vast majority of them, are transplants. You know, if you are a [gun] guy like us, and you live in Massachusetts, the only thing you want to do is get the [expletive] out of there.
SI: While we’re on the subject of getting out of Massachusetts, what is the first non-MA-permissible item you got when you moved out?
PL: A short-barrel rifle (SBR); I still have it. The first thing I did was buy a Yankee Hill SBR—it’s the first SBR that I got—I have a couple others. I have a .300 BLK upper, other calibers on order, and then I got a can for it, a 5.56 can. I’m waiting on my paperwork for my .30-cal. can now. I’ve only got a couple NFA items, just because, the 5.56 can works for the .223 and 5.56, and the .30-cal. works for almost anything else. Maybe I will get a 9 mm can for a handgun. But, other than that, I’m not a “stamp collector” as some people claim to be, so there is no reason to sit there and throw money at the government. Especially when, you know, I have an FFL, so if I want to shoot something, I can go to the shop, get it out of there and go shoot. It’s not a big deal.
SI: We understand asking which is your favorite gun is like asking which child is your favorite, but what is your favorite gun?
PL: My favorite gun is my SBR. That is the one gun I keep in my room, you know, in case something goes bump in the night. It’s got a can on it. It’s not a Daniel Defense, but it’s got a laser and it’s got IR and all the doohickies and toys, and if I ever had to use it in the house, it’s got a can that is going to make sure we can still hear if I have to shoot.
SI: Do you have a CCW permit?
PL: Yep, I’ve had it since I moved to New Hampshire. The first thing I did after moving north was I went and got my roommate to give me the papers that confirmed that I lived there. Went down to the DMV, got a driver’s license. Went and registered to vote, that way I could tell Massachusetts to [expletive] off. And then I went down to the police chief and said I need to get my pistol permit. Seven days and $10 later, I was carrying a pistol. Massachusetts at the time would not give me a carry permit; they deny you your rights, straight up. I went to the officer, and said, "I want to get my permit to carry." I remember his name, Officer [redacted] said to me, “We don’t give them out.” This was after DC v. Heller.
SI: What sort of feedback have you gotten from your fellow musicians pertaining to your support of the Second Amendment?
PL: There are two things that happen. One, people don’t say anything, or two, they say [whispered] “I agree with you.” Unless they are really liberal or something, they are like “I love shooting and stuff, it’s fun.” It’s an enjoyable thing and even people who are really, really left-leaning like this stuff. There’s a producer who’s a pretty left-leaning guy. He had some guys who were from Nashville and he was out in Nashville with them. They took him out shooting, as he had never shot a gun. And he was like “I loved it; it was the greatest.” It was like [finger snap] “I get it now. You know, I get it now.” And that is what all of the criminals, safety, security, defense against tyranny, and all the other reasons aside, it’s just like, “I get why people like this, and it’s fine.”
You get to be outside, it’s fun and you are testing what you can do. The more you learn about it, the more you realize that if you really want to hone your skills, you can start shooting up to six hundred, a thousand, fifteen hundred yards, if you practice. That kind of challenge where you can really, really push yourself, it’s for people that are into disciplines. It’s appealing to a lot of different people in a lot of different levels.
SI: What does the rest of the band think about your Second Amendment advocacy?
PL: There is another guy in the band, our new bass player, joined last fall. He owns guns. One of our guitar players wants to own a gun but hasn’t gotten around to it. There are only a couple of us who actually own guns. And I am just incredibly vocal and outspoken about things I believe in so, I can’t help but, you know, run my mouth. Especially considering it is so rare in music. It is so infrequent that you hear of someone, I mean there is Ted [Nugent] and then there is me. There is no one bridging the gap, the kind of voice out there, saying “Look, this [shooting] isn’t just OK, it is good." This isn’t just something people should do. Everyone should take responsibility for himself. Everyone should be able to protect themselves. Everyone should be able to take care of their family. And if the extent of taking care of your family is calling 911, you are not taking care of them. You are subsidizing, you are letting the government take care of them.
SI: What’s the oddest thing that had happened as a result for the support of the Second Amendment?
PL: I get a lot of [expletive] on the Internet, a lot of criticism, because I am so active on social media. You see all the dumb things people say and their dumb assumptions. I can’t really think of anything in particular, but you get pigeonholed and you get stereotyped. Actually, one example: I was out in Los Angeles last week working with a writer and we had a few beers. I made a mention about guns and he was like, “You really are the redneck stereotype.” I said, “Well, I am, but you are definitely calling me a stereotype?” “But I didn’t mean to,” he said. Well, it didn’t matter if he did or not.
It surprises me when people respond to someone saying “I support the second amendment and I won’t vote for this person,” with “They’re not going to come take your guns away.” I was talking to a guy just the other day and he asked Trump or Hilary? I said if it comes down to either of them then I would vote for Trump. I would never vote for Hillary. She supported an assault weapon ban that actually happened and for 10 years you couldn’t buy a new one. She admitted that she still supports a ban and will be actively working toward another. That right there disqualifies her. To be honest with you, I don’t know why it doesn’t disqualify her in the minds of a lot of people.
The point of a right is you’re not allowed to freakin vote on it. That is why it is a right. You can’t vote to take it away from someone. You have to change the Constitution. So all this crap about restricting this or restricting that, it’s all a lie, it’s all just misdirection. Everyone in the gun world has heard some politician say, “If we could, we would take it away.” So then someone says to me, like what Barack Obama says on TV, “We’re not going to take your guns,” it’s like [expletive]. You’re already showing your hand. You already tried to pass these laws, they failed but don’t sit there and expect me to be a pickled brain moron. I know your agenda. When they mention “Australia” and say it’s a model for America and then expect me to buy it, well… Do you understand that I know what happened in Australia and it’s not going to be a buy back where you give people the “value” of their stuff? It’s not like you’re looking to take the guns, you’re going to take guns from people. That’s the intent.
I saw a meme that said, “If I have 10 guns and the government comes and takes them or takes nine, how many do I have? And they answer is 37. I lied about the 10 part.”
SI: Let’s talk about the tattoos. You’ve got “Molon Labe” and “Join or die”—two favorites.
PL: [Rolls up sleeve to show large flag tattoo] You will notice that it’s the original 13 colonies flag, not the standard “Liberty.” Straight back to colonial times. The first one I got on my arm was my dad’s name—he passed away in 2000. I figured if I’m going to have more tattoos, I wanted to get something that matters to me. So then I went with the flag. Then I got Massachusetts and the colors of the leaves falling. Eventually I am going to put a small "3" in here, just real small.
Then, obviously, "Molon Labe" I got here specifically, but it didn't quite work out the way I wanted. I wanted it so that when I hold a rifle, it would be seen.
SI: Last question: Why did you join NRA? What would you tell someone who supports the Second Amendment, but is on the fence about joining NRA?
PL: I joined last fall, basically because there’s no one talking to the young guys. These guys want black rifles and are interested in self-defense. I joined because I wanted to help bring more people in.