Gun demand, calls for tougher laws increase after Newton tragedy
Gun control is on many Americans' minds in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14 that claimed the lives of 26 people in addition to the gunman, who carried out the killing spree with a military-style assault rifle.
As the debate continues in Lee County, many people — especially those wary of gun control — are taking more direct action.
A manager at Walmart, who asked to remain anonymous, said the store has seen increased gun sales all year long, but ever since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., demand has been heavy for assault rifles.
The store actually hasn't been able to keep up with the demand, she said Friday, and is completely out of stock after selling nine or 10 in the last week.
Similar increases in demand have been documented nationwide, with many observers attributing it to fear of a potential ban on such firearms. In 1994, an assault weapons ban was passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, but it expired in 2004 and no serious attempts to renew it have been made since.
However, President Barack Obama promised Friday to take a closer look at gun control and mental illness, encouraging citizens to call their Congressional representatives and voice their concerns. Locally, one of the people to whom the Newtown, Conn., massacre had personal and professional significance said he sees no need for gun control but could support measures addressing mental health and violence in pop culture.
Lee Christian School Administrator Stephen Coble, who was interviewed shortly after the shooting, said although he's in charge of a school that doesn't have a guard on campus, he doesn't support gun control. Coble said social and psychological factors are the root of massacres like the one in Newtown and are what people ought to talk about instead of guns.
"These people that put out the games and the violent television and literature, it gets into the minds of disturbed people and even people who wouldn't otherwise be disturbed," he said. "... We live in an age where violence is expressed not only toward adults, but to children, and human life is held pretty cheaply."
And while many do list mental illness as a key factor in many mass murders, some disagree with Coble, arguing that easy access to guns — especially high-powered ones like the Bushmaster .223 used in Newtown — makes it easier to inflict large amounts of damage in a short amount of time.
"I can't imagine anybody being even barely conscious of what happened last week not being terribly affected by it, and I would say that we just have far too many guns in our society," Ann McCracken, chairman of the Lee County Democratic Party, said Friday. "And it seems the least we could do is have a ban on these assault weapons — I have no idea why we allow guns to be sold that have nothing to do with hunting or self protection."
However, those weapons do seem to be what locals are looking for. In addition to the interest reported at Walmart, Scott Ferguson of Deep River Sporting Clays said the company has received many more calls since the Newtown shooting about buying an assault rifle.
Ferguson, who is the pro shop manager, said the calls haven't led to increased sales, though, because the business doesn't carry any assault rifles.
"There's been a lot of phone calls and interest, but we actually don't sell the kind of weapon that was used in that shooting, we mainly do shotguns," he said. The store also offers self-defense and concealed-carry classes, but he said there hasn't been a spike in people signing up for those, either.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right for Americans to own weapons, stating: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
In the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller — its very first case examining individual ownership of firearms — the court ruled 5-4 that people can own firearms, including handguns, even if they don't belong to a militia.
The opinion, which written by Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the court's more conservative members, also stated that there can and should be limits on gun ownership, although some have said it leaves wiggle room for future interpretation.
"Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited ... the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," he wrote. "... We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons.'"