Colorado killings put guns front and center

Colorado killings put guns front and center

August 5th, 2012 by Joan Garrett McClane in News

Chattanooga Police Sgt. Mark Haskins lectures on some of the difficulties in traveling with a firearm during a handgun safety class Tuesday. Haskins led the gun safety class at Shooter's Depot.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

PERMIT HOLDERS BY STATE

* Tennessee: 366,403

* Georgia: 436,739

* Alabama: 350,000

* North Carolina: 240,000

Source: GeorgiaCarry.com, LegallyArmed.com

HAMILTON COUNTY GUNS

• 16,253 permit holders were counted as of the end of July.

• This is an increase of 119 people since the last count in June.

• The county ranks No. 4 out of 95 counties for the number of active handgun permits.

Source: LegallyArmed.com

In this room, no one is gun-shy.

An off-duty police officer stands before a mismatched crowd: an old man in glasses, a businessman in a button-up, college men in T-shirts and a baby-faced woman with braids in her hair. The outline of a human target is stuck to the wall behind him.

Gun laws are the topic of Tuesday's handgun carry class at Shooter's Depot off Highway 153. Mark Haskins, a Chattanooga police sergeant and former SWAT officer, drills the laws into their heads.

Guns are for personal safety. Deadly force can be used if there is the threat of serious bodily harm or death.

"Deranged people are everywhere," says Haskins. "Churches. Bars. Bowling alleys. It's sad but true."

And movie theaters.

A lot of thought has been put into the issue of guns in the two weeks since 24-year-old James E. Holmes allegedly entered a Colorado theater on July 20 wearing a gas mask and body armor and used an assault rifle to kill 12 people and injure 58.

There is talk about locking guns away or arming up.

In Colorado, concealed handguns are outlawed in movie complexes. But if someone else in that theater had a gun, could he or she have stopped the mass murder?

Some people wonder whether the kind of gun used in the shooting spree, an AR-15, and other assault rifles should be outlawed.

GUN VIEWS BEFORE AND AFTER MASS SHOOTINGS

Aurora, Colo. (July 20, 12 killed, 58 wounded)

Position April July

Control guns 45 percent 47 percent

Protect ownership 49 percent 46 percent

Tucson, Ariz. (January 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is wounded and 6 are killed)

Position Sept. 2010 Jan. 2011

Control guns 50 percent 46 percent

Protect ownership 46 percent 49 percent

Virginia Tech (April 2007, 32 shot to death at Virginia Tech University)

Position Feb. 2004 April 2007

Control guns 58 percent 60 percent

Protect ownership 37 percent 32 percent

Source: Pew Research Center

Or whether they should buy one themselves.

"It should be harder to get guns in America," said Nick Guertin, a 20-year-old Chattanoogan who had thought about getting a gun when he turned 21. "I won't buy one. I'm not scared. I'm not scared enough to kill someone. I don't feel like I'll ever be put in that situation."

But while the Aurora, Colo., killings have rattled some, they didn't appreciably change Americans' views about gun control, according to a national survey done by the Pew Research Center.

In April, 45 percent of those polled said they thought controlling gun ownership was more important than the right to own guns. A week after the Colorado killings, slightly more -- 47 percent -- said controlling ownership was more important, Pew reported. The poll was taken July 26-29 among 1,010 people age 18 or older.

John Martin, who owns Shooter's Depot, said overall gun sales at his store didn't spike after the Aurora shooting. They have been rising over the last two years, a 17 percent jump since 2010. Training classes have been packed since October, he said.

It's not just the July 20 Colorado shooting, he said. There was the attack that wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords and killed six last year. The shooter who killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009. The one who murdered 32 at Virginia Tech University in 2007. And the bullets that have flown in Chattanooga, leaving nine dead so far this year and a 13-year-old bystander in a coma since she was struck in the head in March.

Since the start of 2011 there have been 60 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign has been pushing for years for Congress to ban military-style semiautomatic assault weapons along with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

A federal ban on assault weapons expired in the fall of 2004, according to the Brady Campaign website.

Martin said Shooter's Depot had a rush on $1,000 semiautomatic weapons the day after the Colorado shooting. People were afraid that a backlash to those killings could lead to a ban on such weapons. The shop sold more than 50 magazines the same day, he said.

The number of concealed-carry permits for handguns also is up since the shooting. In early June, 363,499 Tennessee residents had permits. As of July 25, 366,403 had permits, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Still, no one knows how many were spurred by the Colorado shootings.

"People come in, they say, 'I've never owned a gun. I never thought I'd have to. But I'm afraid. My car got broken into. My house got broken into.' I hear that seven or eight times a day," said Martin.

Daniel Cruz, 30, who lives in North Alabama, said he was never pro-gun until his life was threatened because of a decision he made on the job last year. If someone broke into his house or angrily approached him, he was unprepared, he said.

After the Colorado assault, he signed up for the first training class he could, he said.

Jim Murphy

"I don't really think you can stop a crazy person."

Nick Guertin

"It should be harder to get guns in America. You can get them at Walmart. That is insane. ... There is the risk of being shot up anywhere."

Janis Wilkey

"I don't like the anonymous ease of online purchases. It makes it too easy (to buy guns). ... I wouldn't get a gun. My husband has one but it doesn't make me feel more safe."

Bruce Weiss

"I like the idea of the Second Amendment. You can't take that away. (Shooters) are out of control. When the economy is bad it gets worse. People are strung out."

When he went to see the latest Batman movie in a Chattanooga theater he made sure that his friend with a permit carried his gun inside his shirt. The two men sat at the top of the theater so they could see who entered.

"It's comforting to know you could defend yourself," he said.

Haskins said he knows many stories of citizens stepping in with their guns, saving the day. Some can react quickly.

How fast?

"They can pull it that fast," he said, snatching a concealed handgun from his pocket.

"Pow. Pow. Pow," the sound of a gun in the firing range blasts in the background.

The shooting rampage in Colorado "wouldn't have happened" in Chattanooga, he said.

But other gun owners say they aren't so sure what their response would be in a moment so terrifying.

Local restaurant owner Bruce Weiss said he sleeps with his gun nearby and plans to get a concealed-carry permit. Still, if the moment came, he doesn't know if he could pull the trigger. What about the collateral damage? What if someone else was shot accidentally?

"Can I shoot someone? Maybe I could. I don't know," he said. "You don't know until it happens, until you're in that situation."