Bridging the divide? Obama’s call for gun laws finds some support

Scott Hornsby, the manager of Carolina Rod and Gun in West Ashley, said he has shot semi-automatic AR-15s competitively and considers them sporting arms, and he opposes their outright ban. He does favor background checks for any gun sale. Buy this photo

The sweeping changes in gun laws that President Barack Obama set out Wednesday have one pivotal aspect: Even people who support gun rights could agree with at least some of them, if Lowcountry reaction is anything to gauge by.

Whether that makes any difference in the polarizing debate, much less in public safety, remains to be seen.

Obama signed orders or called for a range of reforms that included re-establishing a ban on “military-style assault weapons” and ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds, a “universal” background check for all public or private gun sales and allowing schools to use federal grant money to improve safety.

On stage with four school-age children who had written to him with their gun concerns, Obama opened and closed with reminders of the mass killings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and other recent gun violence.

“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged,” Obama said, adding later, “We live in a society, a government of, and by, and for the people. We are responsible for each other.”

In the Lowcountry — where gun and ammunitions sales surged to unprecedented levels after calls for restrictions in the wake of the Newtown shootings — his measures brought immediate, intense reactions from both sides.

But even for many who oppose restricting gun ownership, at least some of what Obama said made sense.

“Parts of it, as far as education, school security, I agree with,” said Richard Wright of Awendaw, who adamantly supports gun ownership. A lot of what Obama called for didn’t take into account the “different mindset” of Southerners who grew up with firearms as essential tools, he said.

Strengthen the laws on the books already, sure, Wright agreed, but he said he also wants a gun to protect himself.

Both sides of the debate have people for whom the announcement changed little, if any, of their resolution.

“It certainly makes sense to me,” said Kathy Larson of Summerville. Her father hunted, and she doesn’t agree with restricting all gun ownership, just military-style weapons and ammunition. “Who needs a huge (ammunition) magazine?”

Tom Clark, also of Summerville, agreed with other gun owners who said the emphasis on controlling guns rather than the people shooting them is wrong.

“Generally the attack should be against the people in whose hands guns are used as part of a crime; and of course, measures to identify those who are in need of mental health treatment and making sure they get it,” he said.

Gun-rights supporter Seymour Rosenthal of Mount Pleasant said “straw purchases” should be outlawed — guns bought to sell to people who wouldn’t be able to buy them. He also thinks even private sales should be limited to licensed dealers, and more substantial penalties should be added for crimes committed with guns.

But he said, “Assault weapons are not automatic weapons. Military-style means nothing but the furniture on the outside of the firearm for holding accessories to the rifle.”

Scott Hornsby, the manager of Carolina Rod and Gun in West Ashley, said people he talked to expected Obama to call for reclassifying semi-automatic firearms into a stricter-regulated category like machine guns, not an outright ban.

He doesn’t like either idea. A competitive marksman, he has fired AR-15 semi-automatics in competition and considers them sporting arms.

He does believe that background checks should be made for any gun sale, pointing out that gun sellers uncertain of a buyer come to Carolina Rod and Gun to make a sale through the dealer, where a background check is required.

Better tracking of guns would make tracing them easier for law enforcement investigating crimes, Hornsby said.

Banning guns won’t make a difference, he said. Laws that regulate them are at least a gesture. There are laws against murder or drunk driving that make a difference, though they still occur.

Obama’s moves “are political posturing,” Hornsby said. “But I think there’s some good ideas that he can implement with the stroke of a pen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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