The outcry has been massive, calling for restrictions on military-style rifles or defending ownership rights, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.
Even compared to recent horrifying incidents such as the Colorado theater shooting that killed or injured some 70 people, or the shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, the slaughter of elementary school children has touched a fraying nerve.
The public stir has supporters of stricter gun controls talking about a changing public mood.
At the same time, sales are surging for the AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle used in the shootings, prodded by people’s fear of losing their ability — their right — to buy them.
Individual comments and the social media deluge suggest that some people on either side of the issue are changing their minds, while many others are even more galvanized in their position.
David McSweeney of Mount Pleasant is the father of two boys, ages 7 and 4. He is a sportsman, a hunter, and he owns a handgun to protect his family.
But the Newtown shootings have been something of a tipping point for him, not just about changing gun laws but concerning the culture of violence in general.
“I think we really need to look at ourselves,” he said. The violence in the nation “is such a sickness that is pervading everything. Enough is enough. I don’t have the answers, but it’s certainly not irresponsible to say something needs to be done. No more lip service (by politicians). That’s a bunch of malarkey.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley wants to examine whether current laws are strong enough to stop guns from getting into the wrong hands. He signed a letter Tuesday along with the mayors of New York, Boston and other cities asking Congress to crack down on the gun-show loophole that allows sales with no background checks, straw purchasing and the sale of high-capacity magazines.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said now is “an opportunity to have a reasonable discussion” on what the right to bear arms entails.
Also Tuesday, a White House spokesman said President Barack Obama supports reinstating the federal ban on “assault weapons.” He also supports closing a loophole that allows limited scrutiny of firearms sales at gun shows.
Some gun owners warn against making hasty decisions.
Brian Mathis of Summerville, the father of two boys, ages 5 and 2, wants people to be able to protect themselves and their loved ones. He has a handgun carry permit, and he favors training at least a few people at each school to carry guns.
A gun ban in schools “means that if somebody wants to go there and do something crazy, there’s nobody to stop him,” Mathis said.
“I understand (people who are calling for gun restrictions). They’re hurting; they want to do something, and this is what they’re trying to do. But maybe it’s not necessarily the right thing to do,” he said.
People willing to lay down their lives to hurt someone else are terrorists and will find a way, he said.
“You’re not going to prevent them from doing it. You have to stop them. I don’t necessarily want my children to go to a school where they carry guns, but I want my children to be safe.”
The Newtown shootings exposed just how sensitive the issue has become in public consciousness.
For instance, a reporter speaking with a couple outside the Trader World Gun Shop in North Charleston Tuesday was pulled into the store and told to leave the premises or the police would be called.
The National Rifle Association shut off access to its Facebook page and Tuesday released its first statement since the shootings: “The National Rifle Association of America is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters — and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods announced Tuesday that it was suspending “modern rifle” sales nationwide and removing the rifles from display at stores closest to Newtown.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook. Schuyler Kropf contributed to this report.