Local opinions vary on gun control

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

SALISBURY — Brandon Cupp had five AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles on his shelves at Cerberus Firearms Wednesday. He doesn’t expect them to last the month.
Cupp, owner of the Jake Alexander Boulevard gun store, said he specifically targeted the guns for purchase after a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last month. Distributors have stopped shipping firearms and ammo. They’re waiting to see the new legislation, he said.
After President Barack Obama’s proposed gun control measures Wednesday — which included a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — Cupp’s store filled with concerned customers.
His rifles may not last the week.
The president is “using high emotions of what happened in Connecticut to push along what his ultimate goal was five years ago: getting rid of assault weapons,” Cupp said.
But he doesn’t disagree with everything.
The former law enforcement officer said he doesn’t mind the plan to require background checks for all gun sales, including private sales and gun shows — which previously weren’t required.
“I’m not against that. That’ll keep a few guns out of people’s hands that don’t need them,” he said.
Cupp is concerned about many of the other 23 executive orders signed into law — as well as his increasingly low stock.
“Right now, I can’t get ahold of any inventory,” he said. “My shelves are bare.”
After Obama’s address Wednesday, the Post asked U.S. representatives, law enforcement officers and local gun enthusiasts to delve into the divisive issue of addressing U.S. gun law.
Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins and Rowan-Salisbury School System Superintendent Judy Grissom could not be reached for comment.
Obama’s $500 million gun violence package was announced at a media conference Wednesday afternoon.
For politicians and local residents, opinions varied:
• Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) told the Post the President’s proposal was “disappointing,” but not unexpected.
“The laws alone are not going to prevent the violence,” Hudson said. “It’s just something I can’t support.”
Hudson, a National Rifle Association member, said he would support no changes proposed to the current U.S. gun law.
“If you’re trying to prevent the violence let’s look at the root causes of it,” Hudson said.
The Congressman said the President’s plan to require background checks on every gun sale, including private sales and gun shows — both of which previously didn’t require a check — infringed on the rights of law-abiding gun enthusiasts to purchase firearms.
Citing the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, where 26 people were killed, including 20 children, Hudson said the shooter didn’t purchase the guns.
“Not a day passes that I don’t think about the Newtown community and question why the horrific tragedy occurred; however, I believe a more thoughtful and extensive conversation is warranted to prevent this from happening again,” Hudson said in a statement.
He also added constituents could count on him to vote against measures he viewed as attacks on the Second Amendment.
“I would tell folks they can count on me to stand up for their rights,” he said. “I believe the majority in congress agrees with me.”
• Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) said in a statement released Wednesday he couldn’t react “any way other than positively” about the proposal.
“I am extremely pleased that President Obama has acted quickly to charge a Task Force headed by Vice President Biden to formulate a responsible, yet prompt, response to the senseless shootings that took place in Newtown, Connecticut,” the statement read. “I am also pleased that the President has acted to come forward today with what appears to be a comprehensive and common-sense series of administrative and legislative proposals.
“While I have not yet had the opportunity to study the parts of the President’s proposal that will require congressional action with the degree of care that will be required before we can act, I see nothing in my quick review that causes me to react in any way other than positively. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I will be among those who have the responsibility for reviewing these proposals carefully from both a common sense and constitutional perspective and I pledge to do so. The President has done a great service by coming forward with a comprehensive set of proposals. It is now time for us to do our part.”
• Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) offered a more reserved statement than Hudson — but showed her displeasure with the proposal, citing applicability.
“Just over one month has passed since the devastating tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut that cost the lives of twenty-six innocent people.
“Our national response must not be shortsighted as constitutional liberties are at stake,” Foxx said in the statement. “New laws will do us no good if they burden responsible gun owners and small businesses but fail to stop sick people before they turn to evil.
“But if bipartisan ideas are considered in Congress, per the separation of powers, and are carefully scrutinized for their effectiveness and constitutionality, I am hopeful we can arrive at a solution that protects the most innocent and vulnerable among us while honoring the foundational Second Amendment rights of millions of law-abiding American citizens.”
• U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) also released a statement criticizing the Obama’s plan.
“I will fight any effort to further infringe on the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, whether it is legislation or executive action by the President. I am open to having a conversation about ways in which our nation can address mental health issues and reduce violence, but I will not stand by while the President and others try to restrict the rights of law-abiding American citizens,” the statement read.
• Although he hadn’t yet seen Obama’s speech or read the proposed measures, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said shortly after the President’s address he wanted better access to mental health records for those conducting background checks.
Auten also said citizens should be 21 years old to purchase firearms.
“Unless they’re active military they need to go to 21 on everything,” Auten said.
The sheriff didn’t address questions about the proposed weapons bans, but said experience has shown him state laws need to be amended to include harsher penalties for firearms offenses.
“Let’s look at penalties for stealing firearms,” Auten said.
He also said sentencing is too soft at the state level for convicted felons found with guns and those found with stolen firearms. Suspects charged federally are given harsher sentences, he said.
“There is absolutely no reason we should rely on the federal government to prosecute people we catch here,” Auten said.
But Auten said background checks for private sales is a good idea. The sheriff stressed the difficulty remains, though, in accessing mental health records for gun buyers.
• Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook also issued a statement to the Post in response to the U.S. gun debate.
“It is the job of the legislature to create the laws, and it is the duty of our office to prosecute those who choose not to follow the law.
“We were all moved by the tragedy in Newtown and certainly no one wants to see another incident like that occur here or elsewhere. Having said that, I recognize there are numerous responsible, law-abiding citizens who own firearms, as provided by the Second Amendment.
“In order to reduce gun violence in our community, our office participates in Project Safe Neighborhood, which is a federal initiative and collaborative effort among federal, state and local law enforcement and community partners to create strategies to reduce illegal gun, gang and violent crimes.”
• Dr. Pam Cain, superintendent of the Kannapolis City school system, said she was “pleased” at the President’s executive order giving schools flexibility to use federal grant money to improve school safety, such as by hiring school resource officers.
“I’m really pleased because our No. 1 priority is to keep the schools safe,” Cain said.
The district began brainstorming ways to improve security at schools, Cain said, even before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Since the incident, she said the district has formed a group to look at security needs.
“We’re not having a knee-jerk reaction, but we are definitely reacting,” Cain said.
The group will examine access points at schools through the district and seek out holes in current crisis procedures.
“They will also examine even deeper issues such as mental health,” she said. “We are taking a very comprehensive approach because it’s a very complex issue.
“Our citizens expect it and we expect it of ourselves,” she’s said.
One of the main issues the district plans to tackle is communication.
“It’s all about time,” she said. “How can you get the word to a classroom, how can you get the word to a school fast enough.”
The solution could be an intercom system or another type of technology, Cain said.
“We continue to take a look at that,” she said.
Cain said Obama’s decision will help the district put into place solutions to some of the key issues found by the group. But that doesn’t mean the they’ll rely solely on the use of federal grant dollars.
“As a local district we have to be willing to put in some money too,” she said.
• Former Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly said he found several aspects of Obama’s plan promising.
“In terms of a ban on automatic weapons, background checks, limiting the capacity of magazines — I’m in favor of all of those,” Kenerly said.
The former district attorney said he thought penalties should be more severe for convicted felons found with guns, but said it had to be on a case-by-case basis.
“I’m not a believer in mandatory punishment,” he said.
Kenerly, a former NRA member, said he left in 1968 when the organization opposed any gun law changes in the wake of the shooting deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
“They opposed all forms of gun control at the time,” he said. “That’s been 45 years ago.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.