N.H. gun owners doubt that restrictions would reduce shootings
Lars Hgblom, owner of Umlat Industries LLC in Concord, fields phone calls from customers while tending to business at his store on December 20, 2012. The television is flipped on to Fox News Network, which like many news networks in recent days, broadcasts a discussion regarding gun violence and potential policy change around automatic weapons.
(ANDREA MORALES/ Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
The AR-15 is a model that is come under close scrutiny in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Photographed at Umlat Industries LLC in Concord.
(ANDREA MORALES/ Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Lars Hogblom has three kids, all under 8. He also sells semiautomatic rifles – like the kind used in last week’s Connecticut shooting – at his Concord gun shop, Umlaut Industries.
Since the killings and President Obama’s call for a ban on assault weapons, Umlaut’s sales have spiked 300 percent, Hogblom said.
Customers want to buy before those guns are outlawed or for protection, he said. And while some of Hogblom’s friends have told him those sales contribute to gun violence, he doesn’t think so.
“It makes sense that any American who faces a tragedy like this is going to want to find a solution to fix it,” he said. “And of course, they will look at guns first. I don’t think a ban (on assault-style guns) would have made a difference. If someone is determined to do evil, they will do evil.”
In the week since Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 elementary school children, seven adults and himself, the responses have been many.
Yesterday, the National Rifle Association called for armed security guards in every school. Vice President Joe Biden is leading a new task force charged with reducing gun violence. Obama has called on Congress to ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips and require background checks for all gun sales. He also wants easier access to mental health care.
Gun owners are paying close attention – and responding in a variety of ways.
A Keene man, who described himself as a liberal Democrat, stopped at Umlaut Industries on Thursday to pick up parts for hunting rifles that he had ordered before the Connecticut shootings.
The parts were going to be Christmas presents for his sons, 13 and 15, so he and they could build their hunting rifles together. He’d been taking them hunting since they were 3 and described building their rifles as rites of passage and a chance to remind them of the responsibility and power they have as gun owners.
Given the Connecticut killings, the man was struggling a bit with his purchase and didn’t want to be named.
“In light of (the shootings), you have to step back and think hard,” he said. “I thought I might not pick these up. But I think people who hunt realize that part of hunting is that something is going to die. I think it teaches them responsibility and that (guns) have a place, and a purpose.”
His kids now won’t get the gun parts until after Christmas, he said, so the focus will be on responsibility and not Christmas cheer.
The man shares the desire to find a solution to gun violence but isn’t convinced a gun ban or tighter regulations would be especially effective. There would still be millions of guns on the streets, he said.
He’d rather focus on the shooters than the guns.
The man said he suspects these shooters share a sense of powerlessness and isolation and perhaps mental illness. He recalled a report that said millions of Americans don’t get mental health care until they commit a crime and said he believes the better answer is improving mental health care.
Even the most vocal gun rights activists agree.
When the state Legislature considers bills restricting gun access, attorney Evan Nappen of Concord is always there to testify in opposition. He’s written a book on New Hampshire gun and knife laws and focuses his practice on helping people keep their rights to possess firearms.
But like the man from Keene, Nappen thinks the state and the country could do a better job of keeping guns out of reach of people with mental illness. Anyone buying a gun from a gun shop in New Hampshire must fill out a form that asks whether they have been committed to a mental institution.
A background check that follows is supposed to check for mental illness, but there’s really no way to do it accurately because mental health records are not public. And, Nappen noted, people who buy guns privately, outside a gun shop, don’t have to fill out the form or go through a background check.
Nappen said there is federal money available for New Hampshire to remedy this, but state officials haven’t pursued it. He was happy to see the NRA call for a national mental illness database yesterday. Without one, there is a loophole in gun safety laws that “you could drive a tractor trailer through,” he said.
Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat just elected to the Executive Council, began hunting about three years ago with a rifle that had been handed down from an uncle. He hunts birds, often accompanied by his dog, because he enjoys being outside and the sport of hunting.
When he learned of the Connecticut shootings, he thought first of his young son. “It was physical,” he said of his reaction. In the days since, he’s thought more about gun violence and having a gun himself.
Van Ostern said he supports a national conversation about guns that includes reinstating a ban on assault weapons. “But I hope it’s a broader conversation than that,” he said.
School safety should be on the list, he said. So should the recognition that Americans have a constitutional right to have firearms – a right reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tom Flynn began hunting at 8 and hasn’t stopped. Now 48, he hunts ducks, deer, bear and turkeys. Flynn hunts with a bow. He also hunts with a semiautomatic rifle, but you wouldn’t know it because his rifle isn’t tricked out to look like a military assault weapon.
Flynn, of Alexandria, struggles with the message those assault-looking guns send. While his semiautomatic rifle can shoot like the AR-15 weapon the Connecticut shooter used, his isn’t going draw the same attention or strike the same fear in most people, he said.
Those assault-looking weapons are popularized by violent video games, Flynn said. And the younger generation, not his generation, is making those guns the most popular firearms in America, he said.
A non-gun owner sees that type of gun, thinks it’s a machine gun and conflates responsible hunters with “gun freaks” who kill people, he said.
On the other hand, Flynn doesn’t believe more gun regulation will cut down on gun violence. Felons are not legally allowed to have guns, but a felon could easily buy a gun in a private sale, especially if the seller didn’t know about the buyer’s record, he said.
Flynn would rather see the regulations in place better enforced. “Banning guns is only going to punish the responsible gun owners like me,” he said.
Rep. Kyle Tasker, a Republican from Nottingham, carries a concealed gun just about everywhere he goes. He made news earlier this year when he dropped his gun at a legislative committee hearing. No one was hurt.
Tasker said his earliest memories of guns are from the summer he was 12. His father gave him a rifle and a box of .22 caliber bullets, which are a little bigger than a Good N’ Plenty candy. Tasker, now 27, shot up soda cans until he’d gone through about 700 rounds.
“It was cheap entertainment back then,” he said. When his father made him pick up all the empty shell casings, he said it was sobering to see how fast he went through so many bullets. A few years later, Tasker took a hunter’s safety course and at 17 or 18 shot his first buck.
Tasker is a gun enthusiast, in the woods and out of it. His wife is a teacher who also carries a concealed gun, and he wishes she could bring it into her classroom for safety.
When he head the NRA called for armed security in schools yesterday, Tasker was thrilled. He said he’d even support giving teachers a 5 percent pay raise if they agreed to take gun safety training and keep a gun in school.
The Connecticut shooting has stuck with Tasker, too. It has reinforced his belief that citizens should exercise their right to bear arms.
“I think anyone who carries is going to have to be more diligent in doing so,” he said. “If something like that ever happened on their watch (and they weren’t armed), they would never be able to forgive themselves. There would have been a possibility that the situation could have ended differently.”
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmaretimmins.)