Connecticut shootings spark local sales, Second Amendment debate

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Marcus Schmidt, owner of Als Gun Shop in Verboort, demonstrates how to quickly change magazines in a 15-clip semi-automatic Glock by letting the first one fall while jamming the next one in. Some people are proposing to limit magazine capacity to 10 clips, said Schmidt.Kurt Mueller’s callers didn’t even wait for President Barack Obama to mention gun control. Hours after 20 young children were gunned down in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, the phone began ringing in Mueller’s H&K Gun Shop in Forest Grove: did he have any semi-automatics to sell?

The callers — all strangers who’d found H&K in the phone book or online — were anticipating an assault-weapons ban, said Mueller, who specializes in single-shot rifles and gunsmithing, not automatic weapons.

A mile north in Verboort, Al’s Gun Shop owner Marcus Schmidt felt the statewide gun-buying panic four days after the Newtown shootings, when he sent background check requests to the Oregon State Police, as required for every store-bought gun purchase. The 15-minute online procedure was suddenly taking three to four hours. Schmidt began telling his customers not to wait in the store as usual, but to go home and come back the next day.

At the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, requests for concealed weapons permits have more than tripled, from an average of 12 a day to 42, said Public Information Officer Bob Ray.

They went up a little after the movie theater shooting in Colorado, then again after Obama’s reelection in November, Ray said — but really soared after the Newtown shootings. And that’s not counting the huge influx of applications to renew expired permits, he said.

“We’re so overloaded we’ve had to bring on more staff just for concealed weapons permits,” Ray said.

On the other side of the spectrum, many people hope the Newtown tragedy will spark gun restrictions, such as a ban on assault weapons or on the large ammunition clips that feed them. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici is cosponsoring such a proposal.

Schmidt rolls his eyes at such an idea. People don’t need assault weapons to kill lots of people quickly, he said, insisting that an experienced shooter can get off 12 shots in less than three seconds from a simple six-shot revolver.

But Bonamici notes the Newtown shooter "fired anywhere from 50 to 100 rounds. One child was shot 11 times. A ban on high-capacity magazines might not have stopped this vicious act altogether, but it may have saved the lives of one or more children by slowing the rate at which bullets were fired," she said. "If it's your child's life on the line, you hope for any break in the spray of gunfire."

She added that high-capacity magazines are only one part of the discussion and she is considering other ideas, such as increased access to mental health NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - I addition to the guns lining the wall behind the counter at Als Gun Shop in Verboort, owner Marcus Schmidt has posted a tiny Barack Obama photo with the caption Salesman of the Year.

While the debate rages over assault weapons, local gun owners suggested other relevant changes they consider reasonable. Here are four:

Require all semi-automatic military-style guns (not sporting guns) such as AR-15s to be stored in a locked safe. Right now, locked safes are required only for fully automatic weapons such as machine guns, said Marcus Schmidt of Al’s Gun Shop. Semi-automatics have no storage requirements. Stricter storage requirements wouldn’t keep people from owning semi-automatics, but would reduce the chances of them being stolen or misused by mentally unstable family members. Schmidt’s suggestion won’t earn him any money, because his shop is too small to carry such safes. But he said there’s a nice selection at Coastal Farm and Ranch in Cornelius, where prices range from $500 to $4,000--a cost which can be offset by homeowner's insurance discounts.

Require background checks and national registration for every gun purchase, including private transactions. “To me it’s a no-brainer,” said Tom Epler, who used to host a fast-draw club on his buffalo ranch just south of Forest Grove. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which runs the National Criminal Instant Background Check System (NICS), nearly 1 million gun purchases have been denied since Nov. 30, 1998. Epler has waited for background checks and submitted gun-registry information while buying rifles and pistols from licensed dealers. But he was surprised 10 years ago, when he bought a gun privately and those steps were not required. According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, 40 percent of all gun sales are conducted through such private transactions with unlicensed sellers, who don’t require background checks. In 44 states, this includes private sales at gun shows. Oregon is one of six states that has closed what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” A White House committee headed by Vice President Joe Biden is considering background checks and registration for all sales.

Enforce the gun-control laws we have by treating them more seriously. Don’t plea-bargain away penalties. “It’s not uncommon at all to come across stolen weapons in traffic stops or during arrests and searches,” said Cornelius Police Chief Ken Summers. “That’s a huge, huge concern for us.” Police take firearms offenses seriously because their lives may one day be threatened by a stolen weapon or a weapon in the hands of a felon. These are both federal crimes, yet Summers is frustrated by the number of times he has seen firearms charges "negotiated away” during a deal to get a defendant to plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for dropping others.

Focus on the troubled people who commit such massacres. “First you have to have somebody who’s going to take care of the mentally ill,” said Kurt Mueller, owner of Forest Grove’s H&K Gun Shop. “They have a problem that is causing them to act out.” Mueller is not alone in his focus on mental-health care. Schmidt thinks mentally ill people are being released from in-patient care too soon, before they have truly recovered. His friend and customer, Graylan DeBertrand, questions whether anyone is monitoring to make sure mentally ill people take their medications. The National Rifle Association supports the more specific idea of keeping weapons away from people with a mental illness.

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