Wednesday January 16, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his proposal to Congress this afternoon asking legislators to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, many people are wondering if there will be anything left of the Second Amendment.

Tom Decker, owner of Pete’s Gun Shop in Adams, said the proposal, which could eliminate the sale and civilian ownership of assault weapons, limit the number of bullets in a magazine, and prevent the purchase of more than one gun a month, is a violation of everything the United States stands for.

"If the government doesn’t trust us with our guns, why should we trust them with theirs?" he said. "Outlawing firearms isn’t the solution. We need to enforce the laws we already have."

It’s unclear what exactly the president plans to propose, but most agree it will include a mixture of gun control legislation and possible executive actions identified by Vice President Joe Biden after he met with gun-rights groups, retailers and video game manufacturers in the past weeks.

Biden also provided the president suggestions for improvements to mental health care and how to address violent images in video games, movies, television and the media.

The pursuit of stricter government control over firearms comes in the wake of last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn.


Advertisement

, and last fall’s shooting spree at a Colorado movie theater -- incidents that are always fresh on the minds of gun enthusiasts like Decker.

"It’s an absolute tragedy. I know I speak for every gun shop owner when I say we’d all give back the firearms we’ve sold to get those kids back, but it just can’t be done," he said. "I’d give up everything I own if it meant those children could have lived. There’s nothing more valuable than human life."

Stricter gun control isn’t going to prevent future incidents, Decker said.

He said the problem won’t be solved until there’s better training and facilities for those suffering from mental illness and the ability to track their access to firearms and ammunition.

Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners’ Action League, a Massachusetts-based group focused on the protection of gun rights, met with dozens of local supporters in Pittsfield on Tuesday.

Wallace believes President Obama fully intends to bypass a Congress that’s been very vocal about its opposition to a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

"Why are we allowing the erosion of our civil rights?" he asked the crowd gathered at Zucco’s Family Restaurant. "We need to prepare for the fight that’s coming. This isn’t just about the Second Amendment. People are in the way and we need to stay in the way."

Wallace said that if the government wanted to address the increased gun violence, it should do so by eliminating gun-free zones.

"Gun-free zones are targets of opportunity for deranged individuals, who are for some reason, seeking to do harm to society," he said. "The movie theater in Colorado that was attacked was the only one in a 20-mile radius that advertised being a gun-free zone. They made themselves targets."

In the aftermath of the shootings in Colorado and Connecticut, gun sales have skyrocketed to near-record-setting levels.

Both Wallace and Decker agreed the reason is fear based.

"People are scared to death the guns are going to be outlawed and they won’t be able to buy them ever again," Wallace said.

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Decker said, sales have increased 500 percent and he’s been fielding calls from across the country of people looking for various firearms.

The most popular seems to be the AR-15, or modern sporting rifle, which according to Wallace and Decker, is being mislabeled as an assault weapon.

"It’s a frenzy," Decker said. "If you tell people they can’t buy something it’s the first thing they’re going to do. It’s human nature. But if this passes it’s just a slippery slope and pretty soon we won’t be able to have pointed sticks."

To reach Josh Stilts:
jstilts@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @JoshStilts