Locals divided on gun issues after Florida shooting

Staff Writer

The national debate over gun control -- particularly the AR-15 and similar assault-style weapons -- that has saturated national news and social media in the wake of last week's Parkland, Florida, school shooting has not snared local gun dealers.

But that doesn't mean local residents aren't paying attention, according to a random survey of people on the street.

"We really haven't seen a spike of any kind locally. It's something you usually don't see as much in smaller communities like this area. It's more a reaction you see in Huntsville or Memphis," said Gary Dedeaux, owner of Gary's Gun and Pawn in West Point and Columbus.

"There's been very little talk. That might change this week but through the weekend, we hadn't seen or heard much in the store," added Dedeaux. "What usually causes the spike in sales is any serious talk of gun control, that gets people concerned."

Student survivors of the Parkland shooting, where 17 people were killed by a former student at the high school, have been outspoken in calling for Florida legislators, Congress and President Donald Trump to take action to ban the AR-15 and similar weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

It's been the weapon of choice in a number of the mass shootings in the last three years, including Las Vegas, Newtown, Conn, a Texas church, San Bernardino, California, and other locations.
Some students have been especially critical of President Trump for a series of tweets during the weekend in which he linked the shooting to the FBI's role in investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

The AR-15 and similar weapons were among the weapons banned by a 1994 law passed by Congress. But the law included several loopholes that allowed the weapons to get around the ban. President George W. Bush and Congress allowed the law to expire in 2004.

Since then, the AR-15 has been labeled "America's most popular rifle" by the National Rifle Association. Others have called it "America's killing machine."

Some question whether it's too late for a ban, noting that thousands, if not millions, now are in homes across the country. Getting them off the street would be next to impossible.

Even as social media and national news outlets were taking up both sides, the AR-15 was sparking debate and controversy in towns across the country. Kids in Neosho, Missouri, are selling raffle tickets for a chance to win one of the guns. The money goes to support their baseball team.

By contrast, South Lyon High School in Michigan cancelled a football team fundraiser that featured a chance to win the gun.

It goes even higher than youth sports. A candidate for the Maryland Legislature raffled off one of the weapons at a fundraiser Saturday night, just three days after the Parkland shooting. Congressional and U.S. Senate candidates in Kansas and Missouri have used similar fundraising techniques in recent days.

Dedeaux says many of those who criticize the gun don't understand it. For instance, he says he takes his young relatives shooting with it because it teaches them to be more precise, its stock can easily be adjusted for children, and it is designed not to have a recoil like most other rifles and shotguns.

"You'd be amazed at the number of people who take it out and shoot just for fun," Dedeaux noted.

"And it is a prime hunting gun," he added in response to those who relate it to the military and suggest it has little serious use for hunting.

"We can't keep trying to blame everyone. Finding answers to stop these senseless tragedies is going to take us all together," the business owner continued.

"We have laws in place that would go a long way to helping identify some of these people in advance if doctors and law enforcement would make sure to report concerns," he said, referring especially to cases involving mental illness.

"We didn't get in this situation overnight and we aren't going to fix it overnight," Dedeaux concluded.

A random sample of convenience and grocery store shoppers found mixed views. And while most were anywhere from saddened to outraged by the mass killings, few had any easy answers.

"It's just so sad. It seems like we never get a break from (mass shootings). I wish there was an easy answer but if there were, I figure we'd have done it by now, even as divided as everybody seems to be," said Clay County resident Michelle Stevenson.

"It's not just those kinds of guns. It's families, broken families, single-parents, no accountability, the list just goes on and on," stated Starkville resident Frank Clarkson, wondering out loud how the shooter got in the Florida school when the vast majority of schools in north Mississippi have limited access.

"Ban them, that seems overly simple. I don't like them and don't see a need for them. I don't buy the hunting argument. But we have so many out there now, what do you do? That's just one small part of the problem," Clay Countian Angel Armistead said.

"I just shake my head, that's all I can do. I know states with lax gun laws like ours have more gun violence, but we also have more poverty, lower education, lots of things that are factors in all this," stated Lowndes County resident Susan Collins. "But we'd better start doing something or this is going to happen so often we will become immune to it. That'll be a sad, sad day."