I’m still picking buckshot out of my hide from gun-rights advocates — I didn’t say “gun nuts” — who hated my March 31 column about how easy it is to buy an assault-style rifle with 30-round magazines.
Many readers even accused me, and The Blade, of breaking federal law by making a straw purchase of the AR-15 assault-style rifle I bought at a gun show last month. They also asked what the hell I planned to do with it.
To clear the air, it was my gun — not The Blade’s — though the company reimbursed the $1,200 I paid for it. Last week, I donated the weapon to the Toledo Police Department, handing it off to Sgt. Tom Kosmyna and Officer Roger White at the police range in the Scott Park District station.
I didn’t want to sell the gun, even to a dealer with a federal firearms license. Neither did The Blade’s publisher, John Robinson Block. That wouldn’t feel right, after I argued hard for an assault weapons ban. And we sure didn’t want the rifle to end up at a crime scene.
I thought the column was fair, and I pointed out that I own a handgun myself. But most of the more than 100 people who contacted me about the piece called me a fool, a liar, or worse.
I’m sticking to my guns on this issue. But I asked DeeDee Liedel, manager of Cleland’s Outdoor World, a family-owned gun and knife store and indoor range in Monclova Township, to serve up another view. She thought the column included some bad and misleading information.
Cleland’s has enjoyed a good business for years, but its sales took off after politicians started seriously to debate gun-control legislation after the horrific massacre last December of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school by gun-toting Adam Lanza.
Prospective buyers can expect long waits for many guns — three months or more — and Cleland’s has had to limit some ammunition sales. “Everyone’s got the fever right now,’’ one staff member said.
Fever, of course, can make people a little crazy. Some folks are buying up guns and ammunition that Congress isn’t even debating.
But let’s lose the stereotypes for a minute. We’re all too quick to label people, then use those labels to demonize them and dismiss their views.
Not all gun owners are into conspiracy theories, nor does the National Rifle Association represent the views of all, or even most, of them. Calling anyone who owns a gun — or opposes more gun control — a “gun nut” is off target.
Which brings me back to Ms. Liedel. She doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of a nut.
Ms. Liedel owns several guns, packs a concealed weapon, supports the NRA, and enjoys target shooting. But she’s also a wife, a mother of two children, an attorney, a breast cancer survivor, and someone I enjoyed shooting the breeze with for an hour.
Ms. Liedel said I failed to distinguish a semi-automatic — or self-loading — firearm from a fully automatic one. Fully automatic guns continuously fire rounds, like a machine gun, while the trigger is pressed and held.
A real assault weapon, she said, is fully automatic, generally reserved for military use, and already highly regulated. She called the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle I bought a sporting weapon. “Assault weapon,’’ she said, has become a political term used to mislead people and “vilify the (gun) industry.”
The vast majority of gun dealers and owners are responsible, she said, adding that unlicensed and unregulated private sellers are not dealers. In other words, there are no “private dealers.”
Cleland’s doesn’t sell guns to people who smell of alcohol or marijuana, or who appear overwrought or highly emotional. Salespeople also stay alert for possible straw purchases.
Say a couple comes into the store and one of them, typically a man, handles the gun and asks the questions. But the other person, typically a woman, tries to make the purchase. That’s a no-sale, she said.
Ms. Liedel, whose son is 15 and daughter is 11, started teaching her kids about guns when they were four years old.
“Some people criticized me for that, but I want them to be safe,” she told me. “I guarantee that if my son walks into a house and there’s a gun around, he’ll walk out alive because he knows what guns can do.”
Not surprisingly, Ms. Liedel opposes more gun-control laws.
“There are 20,000 gun laws out there,’’ she said. “It’s not law-abiding people who have caused the problem. Enforcing the laws should be the primary step. I can’t think of one law they’re going to create, or pass, that would have changed anything that happened.”
My view is different. I still believe in much stronger gun-control laws, including an assault weapons ban, and I hope Congress has the stones to act this time.
States with tougher gun laws generally have less gun violence than other states. Same with nations.
The massacre in Connecticut, along with other high-profile mass murders, triggered new efforts to control guns. But I remember someone society seems to care a lot less about — a single mother on Detroit’s east side I interviewed eight years ago.
Her 8-year-old daughter, Brianna, was killed with an AK-47 while she slept. A drug dealer who was beefing with another dealer fired on the wrong house, spraying the home with two dozen rounds. One ripped through the front porch and found Brianna in her bed.
No doubt, it’s people — not guns — who kill. But guns, especially high-powered rifles with high-capacity magazines, give people a far greater ability to murder and maim.
A lot of smart, decent people, like DeeDee Liedel, disagree and make legitimate points. Most of us would agree that America’s problem with violence is far deeper than easy access to guns. And with so many guns already out there, including as many as 4 million assault-style rifles, a ban won’t do much.
Still, it’s a start and, somehow, we have to agree to do something. Maybe if we stop screaming at each other, we can find some common ground on guns.
You’re right. I am crazy.
Jeff Gerritt is deputy editorial page editor of The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6467. Follow him on twitter@jeffgerritt.