published Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Connecticut school shootings focal point for gun debate

A protestor holds a banner during a march to the National Rifle Association headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. Curbing gun violence will be a top priority of President Barack Obama's second term, aides say.
A protestor holds a banner during a march to the National Rifle Association headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. Curbing gun violence will be a top priority of President Barack Obama's second term, aides say.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

"That guy could have run a car through a playground just as easily as he could have opened fire."

— Rusty Bridges, a Chattanooga resident who doesn't want to see gun restrictions

"You should have them [guns] where children are not able to reach them. All these kids are getting parents' guns, and I don't understand these parents."

— Chattanooga resident Jacquelyn McGowan

"I don't feel like anybody should be able to have [a gun]. I have seen too many people lose their lives."

—Antwone Broome, of Chattanooga

CHANGING POLL NUMBERS

Poll have found the public divided over whether shootings reflect broader societal problems.

2007:

• 46 percent of people polled after the Virginia Tech shooting said it reflected broader problems in society.

• 47 percent said it was an isolated act by a troubled individual.

2011:

• 31 percent of people polled after the Tucson, Ariz., shooting said it reflected broader problems in society.

• 58 percent said it was just an isolated act by a troubled individual.

July 2012:

• 24 percent of people polled after the Aurora, Colo., shooting said it reflected broader problems in society.

• 67 percent said it was just an isolated act by a troubled individual.

December 2012:

• 47 percent of people polled after the Newtown, Conn., shooting said it reflected broader problems in society.

• 44 percent said it was just an isolated act by a troubled individual.

Source: Pew Research Center

Could the Connecticut shootings be a tipping point in the national debate about gun ownership?

More people have died in other mass shootings -- 32 at Virginia Tech. Some victims of other shootings, too, have been children. Twelve students were shot to death at Columbine High School in 1999.

But Friday's slayings of 20 first-graders and six teachers and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School struck horror and fear into the hearts of parents everywhere, rallied gun-control advocates and shook even some staunch gun-rights advocates.

The right to bear arms is revered in the United States, and nowhere more so than in the South and other areas where hunting has long been a part of the heritage and where federal intrusion has always been unwelcome.

Talk -- some would say fear -- about gun control often has surfaced after mass shootings.

But this time, with the deaths of so many and so many of them our most precious innocents -- the talk seems to be turning into a groundswell.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama called for action against this type of violence, politics aside, and on Monday some Democratic lawmakers announced they would push for a reinstated assault weapons ban next year.

Television anchors are screaming at gun lobby members in prime time.

After days of silence, the National Rifle Association on Tuesday promised "to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

On Tuesday a private equity firm chose to sell the company that makes the gun used in the Newtown, Conn., killings.

And yet -- even as the bodies were still being examined and the funerals began in the small Connecticut town -- gun sales rose.

In Tennessee and Georgia, guns were flying off the shelves, and gun retailers say the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown created a "perfect storm" for gun sales.

"A Democrat re-elected president. Christmas coming up. And a tragedy," said Amiee Gregory, an owner of Shooters Depot, which owns stores in Chattanooga and North Georgia.

Last Friday there were 35 assault rifles in the store, and on Monday just two were left, Gregory said. Guns similar to the Bushmaster rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings start at $500, she said.

Some of the high-powered rifles will find their way under Christmas trees. Others will be added to collections. Many people who have come into the store say they are fearful that a ban on such weapons will be passed -- and passed soon -- under Obama, Gregory said. She said she expects some sellers will raise prices as demand and fear over gun laws increase. Ammunition costs could rise, too, she said.

She also believes gun restrictions won't curb this type of violence.

"It's like blaming the car manufacturer for someone getting drunk and driving. Let's not let anyone have a car. Put the blame where it needs to be. On the individual," Gregory said.

Poll
Do you own a gun?

A representative of the Chattanooga Rifle Club declined to comment, and he said the club has a policy of not speaking to the press.

Still, although some politicians and gun industry workers are staying mum in a region typically outspoken about gun rights, some gun owners have been emboldened as the anti-gun voices have gotten louder.

"This country was founded on the ability to shoot straight," said Ben Brandon, owner of On Target on Fox Mountain in Rising Fawn, Ga., and a National Rifle Association instructor. "They aren't going to be able to disarm tens of millions of people. I don't doubt they will try."

The military-style Bushmaster rifle is extremely popular. It looks ominous and is used for target practice, competitive shooting and makes people feel secure, he said.

Brandon said what many gun owners are saying. The conversation after the Sandy Hook slayings should be about mental health and societal problems, not guns. Authorities say 20-year-old Adam Lanza stole his mother's guns and carried out the killings in a state with some of the country's toughest gun laws.

Bad guys will always have access to guns, Brandon said. So, why take them away from law-abiding gun owners?

"Gun people are emboldened. Anti-gun people are emboldened. This is very polarizing. It makes people dig in their heels," he said. "The gun grabbers, they will publish pictures of the victims. ... The gun owners will be quiet but determined.

"I am over 60. When I was in school we had people bring guns to school for show and tell. There were no school shootings. Something has changed, and it hasn't been the guns."

Attitudes toward gun control: Before and After the Shots

Aurora, Colo.

• 45 percent of people said to control gun ownership before the shooting in April 2012.

• 47 percent of people said to control gun ownership after the shooting in July 2012.

Tucson, Ariz.

• 50 percent of people said to control gun ownership before the shooting in September 2010.

• 46 percent of people said to control gun ownership after the shooting in January 2011.

Virginia Tech

• 58 percent of people said to control gun ownership before the shooting in February 2004.

• 60 percent of people said to control gun ownership after the shooting in April 2007.

Columbine High School

• 57 percent of people said to control gun ownership before the shooting in December 1993.

• 65 percent of people said to control gun ownership after the shooting in May 1999.

Source: Pew Research Center

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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