Taking aim at gun safety, responsibility

In the cross hairs

Posted: Sunday, April 09, 2000

On the battlefield of gun legislation, passionate voices, fueled by experience, interest and profession, ring through the air. Some call for more laws. Some urge enforcement of existing laws. Others say laws are a dangerous step toward removing firearms from the citizenry.

Above the conflict is a unifying cry for a safe world.

Phillip Carpenter, of Nikiski, emphasized personal responsibility.

"My suggestions are to endeavor to return good morals and values to our nation," said Carpenter, a 22-year-old. "Stop blaming inanimate objects and start holding criminals responsible for their actions."

Carpenter said his firearms are for protecting his family. He also uses them for hunting and collects them as a hobby.

Robert Brown of Soldotna is a lifetime NRA member. In July 1998, his adult daughter and her companion were murdered by Robert Freeman in Kasilof. The weapon used to take their lives was a gun.

"As far as the guy that murdered my daughter, it wouldn't have made any difference if you had 10,000 laws," said Brown. "A guy like this will always have a gun."

Brown said increased safety awareness, rather than additional laws, is a key.

"The more safety can be stressed, the better we'll be" he said. That notwithstanding, Alaska's unintentional deaths by firearms from 1993 to 1995 numbered eight times the national average, according to data from the National Safety Council (See table, this page).

"As far as making more laws, we can't enforce the ones we have now," said Brown.

On the Kenai Peninsula, even fishers are known to rely on firearms.

"Commercial (fishers) that fish for halibut carry firearms because it's not uncommon to shoot a halibut before bringing it on board," said Bill Sullivan, treasurer of Cook Inlet Drift Association. "Some people do that. Some people think it's a waste of time and counterproductive."

Law enforcement's role gives Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner another perspective.

"What we deal with in law enforcement is the irresponsibility and senselessness of violence and how it changes people's lives forever," said Warner. "It's the emotional side we deal with.

"And so we're here to enforce the laws that are on the books and do everything in our power to make sure (guns) don't get into the wrong hands.

"We can try to ensure that, but we don't really have any control over it."

Gun shop owners share a similar challenge. David Thornton, of Brown Bear Gun Shop and Museum in Kenai, outlined steps required by law to sell a firearm:

n Buyer needs to be able to pay for the gun.

n Buyer is required to provide permanent ID.

n Buyer completes a Firearms Transaction Record provided by the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Completion of the form is part of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

n Seller calls the Federal Bureau of Investigation and provides the seller's name, federal firearms license number and a code name that identifies the seller to the FBI.

n Seller provides the FBI with information on the buyer from the NICS form.

n The FBI enters the information into a computer that performs a criminal background check of the buyer. Once the check is complete, the FBI will give one of three responses: proceed, denied, delayed. If delayed, the FBI must provide additional information within three days. If no response is provided to the seller within three days, the seller has the option of selling the firearm to the buyer.

n The FBI provides the seller with a seven-digit combination of numbers and letters, uniquely identifying the transaction.

Like Chief Warner, Thornton pointed out that although he does his part, it doesn't stop people from obtaining firearms by other means.

"This (process) is only for honest people," said Thornton. "I do everything to prove that I'm an innocent person, but that doesn't stop the criminal from lying and getting guns from other sources."

Thornton said additional laws would only serve to give government more control.

"My greatest fear about all of this is that improper governments can come in and take your weapons away from you and confiscate them in the name of government," said Thornton. "I have great fear of the direction that our nation is being taken because of these laws."

Jerry Carlson buys and sells guns at his Kenai and Soldotna pawn shops. He also voiced concern that increased legislation will lead to loss of constitutional rights.

"How many of our relatives have given up their lives to preserve our rights?" asked Carlson. "Who am I to back down now? That would be pretty weak. If (government) gets our guns, things will really change. The only thing stopping that is a gun in every home."

Ray and Susan Carr have channeled their commitment to firearm safety into R&S Protection Services. They offer NRA-certified firearms instruction, concealed weapon training and also offer NRA's Eddie Eagle safety program for young people. The program's seven-minute video for children 6 to 11 years of age stresses four steps youngsters should take if they find a gun:

n Stop;

n Don't touch;

n Leave the area;

n Tell an adult.

Rod Christopher, owner of Peninsula Weapons Academy in Soldotna, is a certified NRA personal protection instructor and a federally certified range officer. He's also certified by the Alaska Peace Officers Association to provide law enforcement instruction in rifle, pistol and shotgun, and he's a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Inc.

Since 1993, some 500 people have attended the academy. Christopher also offers classes in firearms safety for children and adults through community schools.

Kenai attorney Phil Nash provides answers to legal questions of firearm ownership and use at the Carrs' and Christopher's concealed-carry classes. He's also commanding officer of the Alaska State Defense Force's Company A, Second Battalion, 49th Civil Support Brigade on the Kenai Peninsula. This defense force exists by authority of Alaska statute to assist in emergency situations.

"We've had people activated for emergencies every year starting with the 1995 Kenai River floods," Nash said.

Company A consists of 30 peninsula men and women with a variety of backgrounds, including paralegals, social workers, home health aides, parents and grandparents.

From his involvement with Alaska's association of police chiefs, Kenai Police Chief Dan Morris gave a statewide perspective.

"We definitely have a right to possess firearms," he said. "And that (attitude) is especially strong in Alaska due to the rural nature (of the state)."

That may explain why, on Friday, the Alaska House of Representa-tives passed House Joint Resolution 35, asking Congress to repeal the Brady handgun law, which requires background checks of gun buyers (See related story, page A-5).

Meanwhile, in the wake of strong public support for increased gun control measures, Massachusetts recently toughened its gun regulations and manufacturer Smith and Wesson adopted gun safety measures.

And on Mother's Day, a "Million Mom March" is planned in Washington, D.C.

"We, the mothers, are calling on Congress to enact common sense gun control legislation by Mothers' Day 2000," said the march's Web site. "Come May 14th, we mothers will go to Washington, D.C., either to celebrate sensible legislation or to protest bipartisan ineptitude."

Nash's comments on the march bring the responsibility back to individuals and parents.

"In some respects, I see (the march) as a real loss in direction," said Nash. "A mother marching on Washington is saying that she hasn't done her job. She hasn't taught her children how to handle themselves."

Referring to a quote found on the Internet, Phillip Carpenter added a sobering note:

"You may not like guns and chose not to own one. That is your right.

"You may not believe in God. That is your choice.

"But when someone threatens your family, the first two things you will do is: 1- call someone with a gun and; 2- pray that they get there in time."

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