Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 16, 2013

Locals weigh in on president's gun plan

Record-Eagle staff writers

— TRAVERSE CITY — Pointless. That’s how Hampel’s Gun Shop salesman Jack Fellows described President Barack Obama’s proposed ban on large-clip magazines.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Fellows said. “There are hundreds of millions of them in circulation. No point in legislating them out of existence. There is no way they’ll ever be recalled.”

Obama’s proposed 23 executive actions and legislative proposals in the wake of increased national gun violence include banning high-capacity ammunition rounds and military style weapons, as well as expanding background checks for would-be gun buyers.

The measures were announced mid-day Wednesday.

Local residents said they like some of the proposals, but some feared a weapons ban would lead to a slippery slope of tightening controls.

Fellows said the Traverse City gun shop’s customers, anticipating tighter rules, snapped up military rifles the day after a gunman’s murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary, along with ammunition and magazines.

“It’s now at a point where people are buying stuff that’s not going to be on the hit parade, even .22 ammunition,” Fellows said.

Fellows contends the real answer to gun violence in the United States is not more gun control, but instead to improve social connections.

“Is it a parenting problem? Is it an educational problem?” he asked. “If we were serious, we’d be looking at that.”

‘The right direction’

City resident and former Grand Traverse County Commissioner Ross Richardson said he wasn’t entirely familiar with the package of proposals, but likes what he’s heard.

“I think it’s definitely a start in the right direction,” he said. “If it cuts the danger to the general public ... that’s a good thing.”

Michael O’Shea and Jerry Baumann, both sports shooting enthusiasts, chatted about Obama’s proposals while at J&S Hamburg downtown. O’Shea, a local deejay, said he agrees with some of the measures.

“I can’t understand why anyone would want an assault rifle,” O’Shea said. “And I think stiffer background checks is a great idea. But I worry that once they get their foot in the door, they’ll keep taking and taking.”

Neither liked the idea of ammunition limits because they go through a couple thousand rounds for a three-day trap shoot. Obama’s proposal would require photo identification at the time of purchase that effectively would limit buying unlimited amounts of ammunition on the Internet.

Ammunition dealers also would have to report bulk sales of bullets to law enforcement, according to published reports.

Baumann, a local retired school administrator, said he doesn’t oppose limits on magazines. But he suspects more rules won’t keep guns out of criminals' hands.

Suttons Bay Public Schools Superintendent Michael Murray called Obama’s effort a good step, particularly limits on ammunition.

“In the situations where school personnel were able to disarm the shooter, it was because they were stopping to reload,” Murray said. “That’s one thing that makes it safer.”

He said there are no simple solutions to a complex problem. The entertainment industry, for example, de-sensitizes humans to killing each other.

‘Slippery slope argument’

Todd Davison, 29, who recently moved to Traverse City, said he is a hunter, target shooter, and has owned guns his whole life.

“I support gun control, but I don’t support the banning of any weapons simply because it’s the slippery slope argument,” Davison said. “As far as background checks for all firearms, I completely support it, and I think you’ll find most people do.”

Jazmine Gonzalez, a Traverse City waitress, worries about gun legislation boundaries.

“Gun control will just get out of hand,” said Gonzalez, 21. “Once you make a certain rule, it will make more controversy of what’s right and what’s wrong in our society.”

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich is concerned about the headlong rush into stricter gun control laws. Tightening gun regulations might not be the answer if other root causes of gun violence aren’t examined.

“It’s an anti-gun movement, rather than an anti-dumb behavior movement,” he said. “Some people are prone to abuse things, and we need to look at the root causes.”

He and Grand Traverse Sheriff Tom Bensley agree that mental health records need to be more accessible during background checks.

The focus on assault weapons doesn’t make much sense, Borkovich said. The definition isn’t clear, and doesn’t really matter, anyway.

“Anything is an assault weapon if you point it at someone,” he said.

Local attorney and gun rights activist David Bieganowski said he’s not surprised Obama proposed gun violence measures in the wake of Sandy Hook.

“It’s opportunistic for the gun control lobby,” he said. “The people who don’t like guns, they look for things like this to exploit.”

Bieganowski believes guns aren’t the point.

“When the Sandy Hook incident happened, people automatically focused on the gun, which is the how this knucklehead killed people, instead of the why,” he said. “Depraved people do weird things.”

Bieganowski agrees that mental health records need to be a bigger part of the background check picture.

“A focus in that area, I think everybody is going to agree on that,” he said.

Restricting round amounts or other measures also isn’t likely to do much good,

“A 10-round or 30-round magazine wouldn’t have changed a bit in Connecticut,” he said. “And it doesn’t hurt to repeat that criminals don’t follow the law.”