By Marisa Demarco
—As President Obama announced a task force to evaluate gun control, business was booming at Ron Peterson Firearms on east Central.
Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to evaluate national gun laws after the Newtown, Conn. mass shooting that left 27 dead. “Our business in the last two days has gone crazy,” says Ron Peterson. “All over the country now, people are concerned they won’t be able to buy guns.”
Peterson’s been selling firearms for five decades, with most of those years spent under the Gun Control Act of 1968 signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The law regulates the sale of firearms across state lines and requires record-keeping, among other things. “All it’s succeeded in doing is creating a bigger and bigger federal bureaucracy,” Peterson says. “It has not made any difference in crime or anything else.”
The only thing that works, he adds, is the concealed and carry program that allows licensed individuals to pack heat. “It means people who are going to pick on other people don’t know who to pick on, because they don’t know if that person is armed or not,” Peterson says.
Pat Davis also enjoys guns. He spent nine years in law enforcement—on the police force in D.C. and the University of New Mexico Police Department—through 2009. He’s also the executive director of liberal group ProgressNow New Mexico. He says assault weapons have no place in responsible hunting and that Second Amendment rights can be protected while strengthening gun control. “We might have gone too far in trying to protect our Second Amendment rights,” he says.
After every mass shooting—at a Colorado movie theater, a Wisconsin Sikh temple and a Connecticut elementary school, among 13 total in 2012—the country is shocked, Davis says. In the wake of each tragedy, a national conversation starts about what can be done, but the rhetoric fades. A lack of political courage is to blame, he says.
Davis acknowledges the issue is complicated, and the mental health system in America needs work. “Had we done something post-Aurora, perhaps Adam Lanza’s mom would have had a better resource. Without anything in place, this is going to continue to happen.”
In the West, guns are a part of our heritage, Davis says. “People still have a connection to people who’ve fought with weapons for land grants. But nobody has a historical connection to an assault riffle other than marines in combat.”
That sure isn’t stopping folks from buying out AR-15s around the country. The Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle was the primary weapon used in the Newtown attack. Belinda Gallegos owns ABQ Guns, which has been open for two months. She cannot keep AR-15 magazines on the shelves, she says, and the gun itself is sold out. “It’s just nonstop,” she says. “I’ve been getting nonstop calls for ARs, and my vendors can’t get them. I have one on its way. It will be bought as soon as it gets here.”
There’s a panic going on, she says. Stricter gun laws only affect law-abiding citizens. “Criminals are going to get their guns no matter what.”
Among the reforms being discussed by Obama’s task force is one she agrees with. As things stand, people who buy guns at trade shows from individuals aren’t subject to the same background checks as folks who buy firearms from a store. “I’m not opposed to people having to have paperwork done or forcing them to buy from a dealer,” Gallegos says.
Gallegos and Peterson agree that teachers should be allowed to carry concealed firearms and say it could have prevented the deaths in Connecticut. “I teach at a community college,” says Gallegos. “If I were allowed to carry a concealed weapon, I would.”
Mark Horst held a candlelight vigil the day after Newtown shooting. At Tiguex Park in Old Town, mourners lit 26 luminarias on a circle in the center of the playground. About 60 people attended, Horst says, and spoke about gun control and safety. The rules must be strengthened, says Horst. “If you couldn’t shoot off a hundred armor-piercing bullets in a matter of minutes, certainly there’d be greater opportunity for intervention,” he says.
The gun lobby has been ridiculous, he adds. “The idea that constitutional rights prevent us from discussing gun safety is preposterous.”