Gun-toting classes fear return of restrictions


The National Rifle Association and its supporters do not believe Barack Obama's assurances on gun control, writes MARK HENNESSY in Chantilly, Virginia

EARL CURTIS'S staff in the Blue Ridge Arsenal gunshop hurried to and fro on a Saturday afternoon coping with the rush of customers that has emerged in recent weeks since people realised that Barack Obama was heading to the White House.

"The rush started about three weeks ago, and it hasn't stopped," Curtis tells The Irish Times. "People are afraid that we are about to go back to the days of the Clintons, except that it will be worse."

The same sales peak is evident throughout the US - in states such as New York and New Jersey with more restrictive gun laws to places like Colorado and Tennessee where curbs are light.

During the election campaign, the Democrat sought to reassure the National Rifle Association that he would not act to interfere with Americans' rights under the Second Amendment to bear arms, but few, it seems, believe him.

In the Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virginia, where customers could be heard testing out their new purchases in the firing range at the back, Glock automatic pistols sell for less than $600, while Heckler and Koch semi-automatic rifles go for under $2,500.

"Do you have anything with a smaller handle," asks a woman in her 20s, accompanied by her boyfriend, as she runs her hands over a series of pistols laid out on a row on the counter.

People are afraid, said Curtis, that the incoming president will restore the restrictions on the sale of 30-round magazines that existed during the Clinton era, leaving them with 10-round magazines instead.

"This is about target practice. It isn't about going around attacking people. When they are on a range they want the 30-round magazines so that they don't have to reload all the time," says Curtis.

Such fears would explain the jump in ammunition sales, but not the sale in guns, which were up by 14 per cent nationally in October, while the Colorado Bureau of Investigations handled more background checks on buyers on Saturday than ever before.

The suspicions held by gun-lovers are fuelled by President-elect Obama's choice of Joe Biden as vice-president, since he piloted the Clinton restrictions through Congress in the early 1990s.

Saying that Obama's campaign slogan of "the audacity of hope" should be retagged "the audacity of deceit", the National Rifle Association on Saturday claimed that the Democrat was preparing to renege on promises to leave them alone.

In particular, the NRA, a vocal and powerful lobby, is afraid that he will try to reimpose a federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004 amid claims, says the association, that "it would bring about the end of civilisation".

Since then, the murder rate, according to the NRA, is "lower than at anytime since the mid-1960s", while federal researchers have been able to find no evidence that "gun prohibition or gun control reduces crime".

Guns affected by the federal ban were "used in only a tiny fraction of violent crime. About 35 times as many people are murdered without any sort of firearm (knives, bare hands, etc), as with assault weapons.

"Obama says that 'assault weapons' are machine guns that 'belong on foreign battlefields'; but that is a lie; the guns are only semi-automatic, and they are not used by a military force anywhere on the planet," said the NRA.

Apart from concerns that he will try to block sales at gun shows, the NRA is particularly outraged at demands that guns are made "child-proof", which would, it argues, impose "impossible or highly expensive" changes to weapons.

"While no one opposes keeping children safe, the fact is that accidental firearm-related deaths among children have decreased 86 per cent since 1975, even as the numbers of children and guns have risen dramatically," says the Association.

Back in the Blue Ridge Arsenal, Earl Curtis's staff check customers' identification before selling weapons: "No sir, you need something that shows your address: like a voter's card, or a blank cheque," an assistant told one customer.

"Listen, you're Irish, right? Guns don't cause crime. People do. Did banning bombs stop people in Belfast blowing each other up? No, it didn't," said another, as he stood outside for a quick cigarette break.

However, a policeman, who would identify himself only as Gary and who had called to purchase a new weapon, was not quite so sure, pointing out that some legal sales end up being passed on to criminals.

"Law enforcement don't like 30-round magazines being in the hands of anyone other than ourselves - for understandable reasons," he said, adding that a lot of guns are bought by people who have little idea what they are doing.

"A lot don't have the first clue. Sometimes, people get too cocky when they have them, or panic when they hear something in the middle of the night at home and end up shooting their son coming in late," he said.

Sometimes, it is the sons who do the shooting. In St. John's, Arizona last Wednesday, an eight-year-boy used a .22 calibre rifle to kill his father and another man. He is now to be tried as an adult for first-degree murder.