The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 16, 2013

Talk of tightening gun laws results in rush to buy guns

By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press

MANKATO — The aftermath of the massacre of Connecticut school children and the anticipated attempt by the Obama administration to tighten U.S. gun laws has had one undeniable impact: more people are in a rush to buy guns.

Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson presumes that it's not so much that people are looking to enhance their personal protection following the Dec. 14 fatal shooting of 20 children and six adult staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. It's more about concern that their opportunity to buy certain weapons and ammunition clips might soon be restricted.

"My guess, it would be more the talk of gun control than Sandy Hook," Peterson said.

The sheriff's office handles applications from all Blue Earth County residents for permits to carry a firearm and applications from the entire county other than Mankato for permits to purchase a gun. Mankato police handle the applications from city residents for gun purchases.

For the 46 days prior to Wednesday, the sheriff's office had received 104 applications to purchase and 40 applications for permits to carry a weapon, according to records specialist Kim Madsen. In the same Dec. 1 to Jan. 15 period a year ago, there were 43 applications for permits to purchase and 22 for a permit to carry.

The permits to purchase, granted after the applicant passes a background check, are the first step for those wishing to own a new gun. And when it comes to military-style semi-automatic rifles -- which were once banned under federal law and may be again if Obama's gun-control initiative passes Congress -- the affordability and availability of the weapons may be a whole different challenge.

"If you watch the web sites, gun dealers around the country, everything's gone up," Peterson said.

Obama proposed limiting the capacity of ammunition clips to 10 rounds, and the price for higher-capacity clips has skyrocketed from as little as $8 to as much as $35, according to Peterson. Another sheriff Peterson talked to recently said an acquaintance bought multiple high-capacity clips before the rush and is selling them for $100 on eBay.

Many of the guns and accessories that people believe might be banned simply aren't available.

"They're on back-order," Peterson said. "They might have it in two months. They might not."

 State Rep. Tony Cornish, a Good Thunder Republican and perhaps the House's most vocal gun-rights advocate, said he was at Cabela's recently and would-be rifle buyers were stacked up behind the counter -- peppering the clerks with questions.

Cornish said he was looking at AR-15s, a semi-automatic version of the military's well-known M16, and the exhausted clerk said he'd been swamped all day. Cornish asked if sales were brisk.

"He said, 'They'd be even better if we had any more to sell,'" Cornish said.

For all the demand by gun enthusiasts, public opinion polls show that most Americans support more restrictions on gun sales -- particularly the military-style weapons and the high-capacity clips. Cornish said he holds a "more guns, less crime" philosophy and believes gun control proposals would be counterproductive.

So he will be pushing forward with legislation to allow teachers -- and probably other staff -- to carry concealed weapons even if a school's principal or other school administrators don't approve. Teachers, presuming they meet all other state requirements for carrying a weapon, would only need to inform school administrators. Current law requires permission from the administrators before a teacher can bring a weapon to school.

Cornish will also be making another attempt to require public colleges to allow students to carry handguns on campus if they have the applicable permits. He said Public Safety Committee Chairman Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, promised him a hearing on both bills later this month.

Cornish doesn't expect either bill to pass the DFL-controlled Legislature (nor does he expect stricter gun-control legislation to be approved), but pushing the legislation will give him time to present his case for a more-guns approach to reducing gun violence. And he wants an opposing voice to be heard when Paymar presents his gun-control proposals.

"What I hope to accomplish is anti-venom for these bills Michael Paymar is going to bring up," Cornish said.

Peterson said he's undecided about Cornish's suggestion that teachers be allowed to carry concealed handguns at schools. And as the gun-control debate continues in St. Paul and Washington, Peterson said his deputies are working with schools in St. Clair, Lake Crystal and the Maple River district to fine-tune their planned response should any gun violence ever come to their facilities.

The work involves looking for holes in security and lock-down procedures, coordinating plans between schools so that law enforcement would face the same scenario at each, and gathering building blueprints so they'll be easily available for tactical response teams.

"This was in place before Sandy Hook," Peterson said of the effort. "So we've been working on this for a while."