Business has seen quite a spike of late at Center Target Sports in Post Falls.
Sales at the gun shop have jumped 30 percent in the past several days, said owner Ed Santos, with people crowding the counter to buy firearms from open to close.
The concealed carry classes have been booked solid.
“Our classes are filled to the limits and gun sales are higher than ever before,” Santos said. “This is happening across the country.”
This isn’t the holiday rush.
This jump to arms has followed the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Santos said.
“I think the number one reason (sales are up) is people are afraid they’re going to lose their ability to purchase firearms,” Santos said.
Meaning, they fear gun control is looming.
They might have good reason this time.
The massacre of 20 children with an assault rifle seemed to be the tipping point to kick start a new national debate on gun control. At the federal level, there’s already promises to restore an expired assault weapons ban. President Barack Obama has announced plans to make gun control a central issue of his second term.
Stats and rhetoric are also popping up everywhere about growing gun violence in the U.S. Like a report by D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, showing gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 10 states in 2009. Or a study showing 60 percent of homicides in the U.S. occur using a firearm, reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Gun stores across the nation, like Center Target Sports, are reporting swift climbs in sales as people respond in a panic about gun availability.
The question is worth asking of whether Idaho lawmakers will pursue gun control, too.
And some, like Santos, are also asking whether it would do any good.
“Look at cities that have gun control, like Chicago,” Santos said, arguing that violence is still high in such areas. “Gun control doesn’t work.”
Sen. John Goedde, first elected in 2000, doesn’t remember gun control ever coming up at the legislature before.
“We’ve had several bills that have been promoted by the National Rifle Association that have passed, expanding gun owners’ rights,” said Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.
There are relatively few restrictions on procuring a firearm in Idaho.
Under Idaho statute, the sheriff is charged with issuing concealed weapons permits.
There is no requirement for qualifications or training to own a gun in Idaho.
There are also no restrictions on what kind of firearms individuals can possess, including assault weapons.
All individuals over 21 in Idaho are eligible for a weapons permit, unless they meet certain criminal or mental conditions. Those include being convicted of a crime punishable by over a year in prison, being a fugitive, an illegal drug user, an illegal alien, lacking mental capacity, being dishonorably discharged by the armed forces, or being convicted for one or more crimes of misdemeanor violence.
Minors can’t legally possess any weapon or be sold a gun without written permission from a guardian.
The state does restrict where people can tote their firearms.
A licensed individual cannot carry a concealed weapon into a courthouse, juvenile detention facility, jail or school in Idaho. Doing so is a misdemeanor.
It’s also a misdemeanor in Idaho to possess a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon while on school property.
Threatening violence on school grounds is a misdemeanor.
Adding more gun control laws wouldn’t be supported by Idaho’s conservative population, Goedde believes, noting that residents here “value their ability to defend themselves.”
He doesn’t think the requirements for a concealed weapons permit require improvement, either.
“I think the process is a good one,” he said.
Legislative changes unlikely
Other state legislators feel likewise, and don’t seem likely to budge.
It’s unfair to say guns are the culprit of tragedies like at Sandy Hook, said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene.
“It’s a simplistic mindset that if we control guns that violence will go away and children will be safe,” Malek said. “That’s just inaccurate.”
He believes gun control can be part of the legislature’s conversation on cracking down on mass violence, but he wouldn’t support any form of gun control, he said.
That includes banning assault weapons, he said.
“I just don’t believe that the government is responsible for controlling weapons,” Malek said. “Taking guns away will provide safety for tyranny, but not for individuals.”
He believes the nation should take a closer look at issues like mental health, he added, to prevent more shootings.
When he worked for the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office, Malek recalled, he saw Medicaid funding for mental health drop while cases increased.
“I think that this discussion to be focused on gun control is far too narrow,” Malek said. “We are facing a major problem with society.”
Rep. Frank Henderson said he does expect gun control to be discussed this session.
But like Malek, Henderson also feels that targeting mental health, not restricting gun rights, will do more to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook’s.
“Gun control is not the answer,” The Post Falls Republican said. “Control of mental health and those who need assistance is a solution.”
Rep. Kathleen Sims said she was shocked like the rest of the nation when she heard about the attack on elementary school students.
“I’ve lost a daughter. I know the pain,” Sims said.
Even with such fierce sympathy, however, the Coeur d’Alene Republican said she is just as devoted as ever to ensuring gun control doesn’t happen.
“I think the second amendment gives us rights, and I won’t fool with that in any way,” Sims said. “I think Americans have obeyed their last gun law.”
She might be open to tweaking state law, though, to allow teachers to carry guns for protection, she said.
“Most shooters are attracted to where they think there will be no opposition,” Sims said.
Rep. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, pointed out that strict gun control in other countries hasn’t stopped gun violence completely.
“I don’t think that does anything to keep those kinds of weapons out of the hands of the people who really want one,” Vick said.
Gun control unpopular
Gary Riekena stood in line at Center Target Sports on Wednesday with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the last one in stock.
“I planned to do this earlier, but now the rush is on,” the Post Falls man said of anticipated gun control prompting a fast buy. “I went to all the stores. They’re flying off the shelves.”
An owner of various shotguns, handguns and hunting rifles, Riekena is adamantly opposed to gun control, he said.
Mass shootings at schools is “more of a people problem than a gun problem,” he added.
“As far as schools go, a better solution would be put an armed guard in schools,” Riekena said. “If somebody is standing there with one of these, nobody’s going to do that stuff anymore.”
George Colgan was grabbing the store’s last remaining clips for his stock at home. He has been accruing guns and ammo for years, he said, in preparation for gun control.
“It’s a constitutional right, not just personal protection against the tyranny of the government,” the Hayden man said of gun ownership.
He added, “I’m kind of a hawk, overall.”
Implications of the recent shooting were felt elsewhere.
Christa Hazel, parent of two children at Bryan Elementary in Coeur d’Alene, said she saw noticeable police presence around multiple school buildings this week.
“Not one parent complained,” Hazel said. “I heard every parent say, ‘Thank goodness they’re here.’”
She wants to see action to prevent more tragedies, she said. She wants a dialogue about safer school buildings, about mental health support, parent support and school resource officers.
But she doesn’t necessarily want to see gun control.
“If we were to have more gun laws, I wouldn’t necessarily feel safer with my children in their school systems. I don’t correlate the two,” Hazel said. “I think we need to have more conversation and dialogue about it. I don’t think there’s going to be a quick fix.”