Local gun sales boomed following the re-election of President Barack Obama in November on fears the federal government would attempt new regulations. A school shooting in Newtown, Conn. has put the issue of gun control on the front burner again, and the debate has become a hot-button topic.
David Wilson, owner of the Lebanon Gun Shop, said since the Newtown incident, where 27 people were killed by a lone gunman at an elementary school, guns, some have proposed banning or at least making more difficult to get, are flying off his shelves.
"Sales have gone through the roof since the talk began about gun control following the Connecticut shootings," Wilson said.
He said there are a lot of proposals as to what might be banned, and a lot depends on the language of each proposal. He also said some of the language is misleading with people interchanging the terms semi-automatic and automatic.
"A semi-automatic weapon is one that fires every time you pull the trigger," Wilson said. "There are a lot of misnomers out there with people calling them automatics. With a full auto weapon, it keeps shooting as long as the trigger is depressed."
He said acquiring an automatic weapon is difficult and has been since the passage of the Title 2 Firearms Act of 1934, when the federal government made machine guns and short-barreled shotguns hard to get in response to notorious Depression-era criminals, such as John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. Wilson said that legislation was a knee-jerk reaction.
"It was hyped in the press as a way to get guns out of the hands of criminals, when it really only got those guns out of the hands of good people," Wilson said, adding since the 1934 firearms act anyone wanting an automatic weapon has to submit to an FBI background check and buy a $200 "stamp" in order to make the purchase.
"In 1934, $200 was like $2,000 today," he said. "It put those guns out of the reach of most Americans. It was a big deal then, and it's a big deal today."
A big deal, because some of the proposed gun laws would put the same restrictions on buying semi-automatic weapons as well. Wilson also said today, only a sale between two individuals is exempt from background checks. This is the so-called "gun show loophole."
The gun store owner also said this latest push for gun restrictions has changed people's motivation for buying firearms. He said before Newtown most people bought guns for personal protection and because they feared that society might suffer such a breakdown they would need to defend themselves in the ensuing chaos.
"Now they are buying them because they fear in the future they won't be able to buy them," Wilson said.
Wilson thinks "anti-gun" liberal-leaning politicians, such as California Sen. Diane Fienstein, are using the fear generated by the Connecticut shootings to take a stab at more gun control than most people want.
"She wants all of them," Wilson said. "Because they're in power, they want to take our guns away from us."
Wilson fears things may come to the point the federal government might even try to confiscate guns from individual owners.
"I'm concerned that may be attempted, in a worse-case scenario," he said, adding bumper sticker philosophy espousing the only way someone will give up their guns is when the government pries it from their "cold dead hand" sounds good, but usually doesn't work for real people with real lives.
"In reality, a person has a wife, kids, a house, a job and a mortgage, and he's not going to give these up," Wilson said.
He said gun regulations may be irrelevant because gun supplies could be a victim of lowered manufacturing levels, since many gun producers are holding off on production until the dust settles on changes in the law. While lowered supply increases demand and costs, Wilson could be making a lot of money selling the guns he has at a higher price, but he said he refuses to gouge his customers.
"If I sell a $1,200 gun for $2,000 and then prices return to normal, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of my customers," he said. "I want to build long-term relationships with my clients. That's what a small business has to do."
In an earlier interview, Wilson noted problems with existing laws concerning people with diagnosed mental illnesses being allowed to buy guns. He said the state and the Federal Bureau of Investigation forbid gun sales to anyone who has been declared by a court to have a mental illness in the past 10 to 15 years.
In light of Newtown, where a man with diagnosed and recognized mental issues shot 26 people, 20 of them first-graders, he seems prophetic.
"The mental issues database needs to be updated. Twenty states haven't even contributed to it," he said, adding the American Civil Liberties Union protests psychologists from reporting patients who might be a threat.
Wilson thinks many people don't understand the Second Amendment. He, and several legal scholars, maintain the amendment was put in the Bill of Rights to ensure citizens have a way to protect themselves from an overreaching government, such as the one they had just fought a revolution to escape.
"The founding fathers recognized the first law of nature - the right to protect yourself," he said.
Wilson thinks the idea that Americans have the right to protect themselves from crime and, if necessary, from their own government, is in keeping with the thinking of the founders - and that is what makes politicians nervous.
"That's why the government wants the guns," he said.
In the midst of this gloomy debate, Wilson thinks the country will return to an even keel.
"I believe this will clear up, and the panic buying will subside," he said. "In the long run, I'm betting things will come back to normal."