At the end of a gritty industrial strip here, sandwiched between a highway and a graveyard, the son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who claims to have conversed with Jesus and Moses, is making small pistols that pack a punch.
The Harvard-educated Kook Jin "Justin" Moon is the chief executive officer of Kahr Arms, whose products are viewed as finely crafted weapons by gun enthusiasts and as shameful symbols of hypocrisy by critics of the Rev. Moon's Unification Church, which preaches peace and love.
"To me it raises a serious question about the sincerity of the church's message," said Tom Diaz, author of "Making a Killing," a critical look at the gun manufacturing industry. "Is their message world peace, or is it about the ability to make a buck?"
Justin Moon, who declined to be interviewed but gave written responses to questions submitted by the Globe, said his company took root from his study of military history and his enjoyment of recreational shooting with family and friends.
"Like most tools, weapons are neither good nor evil," the 28-year-old Moon wrote. "That is determined by the user and the purpose for which he or she uses the tool ... My father is a clergyman, but that does not mean that my occupation makes a statement about the church."
Indeed, Moon and officials of the church founded by his father insist that Kahr Arms is independent of the Unification Church. A Virginia holding company for some of the Rev. Moon's businesses, One Up Enterprises Inc., said it does not release financial information and did not answer questions about whether it is affiliated with the gun factory.
But corporation papers and interviews with former members familiar with the Moon family's businesses indicate that Kahr Arms and its corporate parent, Saeilo Inc. of Blauvelt, N.Y., have been components of the elder Moon's far-reaching commercial network.
"While Moon's name does not appear on any business documents by virtue of his position as the 'messiah,' he has total operational control, especially in a business that's run by his son," said Larry Zilliox, a Virginia private investigator who specializes in the Moon organization and was the first to link it to the gun business.
"There's a lot of interlocking relationships."
Justin Moon's relationship with gun-making, ex-members said, fits into a familiar pattern of paternal indulgence by Sun Myung Moon, who built his religious sect into an international empire in the last 25 years. When one son expressed interest in rock music, his father bought him a New York recording studio, they said. When other children showed a passion for equestrian events, the Rev. Moon purchased a horse farm. "Basically, he indulged his children like a monarch," said Donna Collins, a longtime church member who knew some of the Rev. Moon's children before she left the organization in 1992. "They're considered to be the 'true children' without sin. Whatever they wanted, they got."
What Justin Moon wanted, after graduating Harvard magna cum laude in 1992 with an economics degree, was a career in firearms. He said he designed Kahr's first pistol prototype, holds six patents for features of its design, and leads a company that is "profitable and financially stable."
One former church member familiar with the financing for Kahr Arms said the Rev. Moon agreed to invest $5 million in the enterprise after a formal presentation from his son.
"Moon was very proud that his son created this gun," said the former church member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The argument was that it was going to be good money. And the father bought it."
Last month, Kahr acquired Auto-Ordnance Corp., whose signature weapon is the Thompson submachine gun - more commonly known as the "Tommy gun," used by gangsters to mow down foes during 1920s-era shootouts. "Our acquisition of the Auto-Ordnance line was a business decision intended to enhance the value of our company by enabling us to more efficiently turn over our assets," said Justin Moon, whose firm made 7,771 guns in 1997, according to the most recent federal firearms reports.
While he is preparing to enter the machine gun business, Moon already has made a name for himself in the gun world by manufacturing the pocket-sized 9mm and .40-caliber handgun. The "pocket rockets" are turned out here in a noisy cinder-block factory - a low-slung place of drill presses, cardboard cases, and green industrial drums.
Kerby Smith, handgun editor for the Los Angeles-based Handguns Magazines, called Kahr's product a quality firearm that is popular as a second weapon or an off-duty gun for law enforcement officers. "They are extremely well-machined," Smith said. "Its selling point is that it's not a cheap gun. For someone who has a concern about the ability to carry a concealed weapon, the Kahr serves that purpose excellently."
Those who study the gun industry - and the mortal effects of its products - say Kahr's line is helping to meet a demand for smaller and more powerful handguns.
With 30 states now allowing concealed weapons, gun makers have begun promoting large-caliber pistols that can fit in the palm of the hand. "Wound for wound, they're making a kind of gun that is more likely to do more serious damage than a smaller Saturday night special," said Dr. Garen Wintemute, a trauma surgeon and director of the Violence Prevention Research program at the University of California-Davis. But Moon, whose company employs about 200 people in five states, said his gun is for the good guys.
"Our firearms are designed primarily for law enforcement officers as a backup pistol and also for licensed citizens seeking a gun for personal defense against those who would criminally threaten them," wrote Moon, whose company's pistols range from $400 to $1,500. "We produce high-quality, precision firearms that have been tested and approved by US law enforcement agencies for use by their officers." Moon said it is no more ironic for a member of the Unification Church to run a gun factory than it would be for a member of a synagogue or a mosque to operate a defense company.
But critics of the church said Moon's gun business is another incongruity for an organization that often has not practiced what it has preached. Sun Myung Moon, the 79-year-old Korean evangelist, was convicted on federal tax-evasion charges in 1982 and spent 12 months behind bars.
"The gun business is just another example of this hypocrisy," said Herb Rosedale, a New York lawyer who for 20 years has been active in helping people involved with religious cults. "There is no concept of the necessity for consistency or accountablity."
Chris Corcoran, director of public affairs for the Unification Church of America, said any business founded by the Rev. Moon - which he said does not include Kahr Arms - has been centered around his goal for world peace.
"While some of our church members may be opposed to the manufacturing of guns, it is not inconsistent with church teaching," Corcoran said in a statement. "Unification doctrine teaches non-aggression while supporting the right to defend one's self and defend others against evil. In this sense, we hold in common with other faiths that it is not a violation of religious principles to invest in legitimate arms industries."
Steve Hassan [Warning: Steve Hassan is not recommended by this Web site. Read the detailed disclaimer to understand why.] of Somerville, a former Unification Church member who specializes in therapeutic intervention for cult victims, said the church's efforts to distance itself from the gun business while defending Kahr Arms are typical of its rationalization.
"They're still very deceptive, and they still have a very different agenda from what they tell people," said Hassan. "In this case, they now call themselves the World Family Federation for Peace and Unification and they're selling guns."
Justin Moon, in his written statement to the Globe, said he doesn't understand why his occupation should draw unusual notice.
"I am proud of Kahr Arms, our employees, and our product," he wrote. "I am, also, proud to belong to the Unification Church, and I do not believe there is any contradiction between my religion and my work."