— By SALLY SEXTON
Firearms have always been a hot topic of conversation.
But in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., some are taking aim on firearms and whether new regulations are needed.
“My father was a homicide victim through gun violence, but I also have children and grandchildren,” Bobby Whitehead, owner of Uncle Joe’s Pawn and Jewelry, said. “What disturbs me the most [about the shootings] is the way and how the media has taken this tragic event and is turning the issue completely around.”
The sales and availability of certain types of firearms – specifically so-called assault rifles – are being questioned by some as a result of recent mass killings in schools and other public places. In response to the events, many organizations and political figures, including the National Rifle Association, are speaking out.
Whitehead said there are more than 300 million firearms owned in the country, with around 45 percent to 47 percent of all households owning guns, the majority of those having more than one firearm.
Several locations in and around Weatherford have firearms for sale, including select pawn shops and large retail outlets such as the Weatherford and Hudson Oaks Walmarts.
Both Walmarts sell rifles and shotguns, but no handguns, to the public.
Weatherford Walmart sporting goods sales clerk Jerry Borden, who has been with the store almost 15 years, said there has been an increase in firearms sales within the last month.
“We’ve sold quite a few, but we always do every December,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people seem to buy for Christmas.”
Before a purchase is made, gun vendors, including both Walmart locations as well as pawn shops in the area, use the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.
Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched in November of 1998 by the FBI, NICS is used by federal firearms licensees to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Prior to ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or other designated agencies to insure the potential buyer has no criminal record or is ineligible to make a purchase.
According to the FBI’s website, more than 100 million checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials.
“If you look at the situation with the guy who shot up the elementary school, the Connecticut gun law worked for him,” Texas Cash and Pawn owner Gene Burks said. “He went to two places and tried to purchase a firearm and was denied both times. That’s when he went home and found his mother’s guns.”
Burks, a gun owner himself, has been around firearms all of this life, and has passed on the knowledge of shooting and hunting to his daughters.
“I was neutral on the gun control issue until a few years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit,” he said. “I heard about the raping and the pillaging of the hurricane victims, and the government couldn’t take care of it.
“I got my concealed handgun license about five years ago, and I think everyone has the right to protect themselves.”
In an attempt to prevent future massacres in schools or other public places, several ideas have been thrown around, including the presence of armed guards at every school, as suggested by the NRA.
Earlier this month, representatives from the NRA called for armed police officers to be posted in every American school to stop the next killer “waiting in the wings.”
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA lobbyist Wayne LaPierre said.
Burke said the issue should be determined at the local level as to whether or not to have armed staff on hand.
Last week, U.S. Army veteran Marcus Britt voluntarily took a position outside Crockett Elementary School, to serve as a protective and calming presence for children, staff and parents.
“We already have armed security in schools,” Whitehead said. “We have school resource officers at almost every campus and some districts have their own police force. I don’t see anyone having a problem with that.”
As organizations such as the NRA call for presence of armed forces in schools, others are speaking out on the ban of gun sales, specifically on high-powered assault rifles.
Representatives for President Barack Obama have said the president supports the reinstatement of a federal ban on all assault weapons, a position he took in the 2008 campaign.
“It does remain a commitment of his,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week.
But other political figures oppose the ban, backing statements by the NRA.
“We need real solutions to a significant problem in our country, and I’m not sure passing another law in Washington is going to actually find a real solution,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, told Fox News on Sunday.
Leonard Scott, a sales associate for the Hudson Oaks Walmart, said the sporting goods department was unlikely to sell assault rifles in the future.
“This situation is just horrible, no matter what firearm was used,” Whitehead said. “No gun law in the world could change what happened unless you ban guns completely.”
Burks said that the majority of assault weapons purchased in the area were primarily used for hunting purposes rather than protection.
“In the cases of purchasing SKS’s, AR’s or AK’s, they’re mainly used for hog hunting because the ammo is much cheaper,” he said. “So what we’re selling around here is being purchased for a legitimate reason.”
Last week, Obama urged Congress to vote on measures banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The package or proposals is expected to include new restrictions on guns, particularly assault weapons and magazine, but may also include mental-health initiatives.
Obama reiterated his support for the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms but said the country’s leaders need to find ways to keep “weapons of war” out of the hands of the irresponsible few.
“In 1994, when they had the last ban with similar laws, it simply banned domestic manufacturing and importing, but didn’t make ownership of the weapons illegal,” Whitehead said. “My grandfather gave me a Remington .22 rifle that he had when I was younger. My 20-gauge shotgun is considered a semi-automatic rifle. Could it kill somebody? Well yes, but can you shoot it across a parking lot and hurt someone?
“If the government takes this position and outlaws these guns, that’s going to be a big, big problem. I just don’t want to see some knee-jerk reaction that isn’t well thought-out or not productive.”