“It’s terrible what happened. It’s just plain evil,” Richard Merritt said on the steps of the gun shop after browsing assault rifles with a thought to buying himself one for Christmas to supplement the handguns and hunting rifle he owns.
“But there’s people trying to use that to say I’m responsible because I own a gun. Where’s the connection? The only people making one are doing it for political ends because there’s not one of these massacres would ever have been stopped by a law that takes my gun away. But now they’re talking about doing that again, I think this may be the time to buy,” he said.
Durkheimer is sick of gun owners being painted as the problem. Like many, he feels demonized and vilified for the crimes of a few because he enjoys hunting and shooting at ranges. That puts him on the defensive when groups campaigning for tightened gun regulation might be better off trying to win him over with assurances that their calls to restrict the sale of assault rifles and magazines that hold large numbers of bullets will not end with the confiscation of handguns and hunting rifles.
“It’s just another thing that will drive a wedge between us. Instead of the United States being a melting pot it’s more polarized,” he said.
It is a common claim among gun owners that states with the greatest restrictions on weapons are facing rising crime while gun crime is falling in those with the loosest laws, such as permitting the carrying of concealed weapons. A study by the Center to Prevent Gun Violence in California found the opposite to be true: that seven of 10 states with the strongest gun laws, including Connecticut, are among those with the lowest rates of deaths from guns.
Then there is the conventional wisdom among gun owners that if only someone at any of the recent massacres had been armed, they could have put a stop to it. That was the position of Gun Owners of America, which said that if teachers at the Newtown school had been armed, the killer could have been stopped.
Its director, Larry Pratt, went so far as to say: “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.”
However, just down the road from Durkheimer’s shop, at least one person carrying a gun during the shooting at a shopping mall last week decided not to fire it at the man who murdered two people before shooting himself. Nick Meli told the Oregonian that he trained his weapon on the killer, Jacob Tyler Roberts, but did not shoot because he was worried about hitting an innocent bystander.
There is one area of common ground for Durkheimer. Demands by some political leaders for greater gun control have been accompanied by calls for increased scrutiny of the all too common role mental illness plays in massacres, and what that means both for better treatment and for weapons sales. Although that is not exactly how Durkheimer sees it.
“The black and white is the guy in Connecticut’s a very sick person. What kind of a person will do harm to his mother?” he said. “I believe this problem, this tragic event in Connecticut, shows we have a huge mental health and social services problem. The do-gooders in society think it’s unfair to institutionalize people so we’re going to make a concerted effort to integrate them into society. And then they are loose.”