Owners of military-style weapons defend their guns

By KEN LEISER | St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT | Published: December 21, 2012

Jerry Scherrer uses his semiautomatic rifle in shooting competitions.

Marc Perez takes his AR-15-style rifle target shooting, and occasionally to hunt deer.

Jack B. bought his Sig Sauer semiautomatic rifle a couple of years back as an investment, knowing it could double in value if the U.S. ever banned so-called assault weapons again.

Since the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., military-style weapons are indeed being targeted again for a potential ban. But owners — like those three interviewed at random — defend the rifles and the high-capacity ammunition magazines that some legislators want to prohibit.

“These weapons that they want to outlaw are not sufficiently high in power,” said Karl Schoenbeck, owner of On Target gun store and shooting range in Valley Park. “What they’re trying to do is, they are outlawing the lowest power of rifles.”

Criminals could still acquire more-powerful rifles that would remain available under such a ban and could be modified to deliver rapid-fire damage, said Schoenbeck, who owns four of the semiautomatic rifles.

President Barack Obama this week called on Congress to reinstate limits that expired in 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has promised to introduce a measure once Congress reconvenes. The National Rifle Association is expected to weigh in today.

A statement on Feinstein’s website says her updated proposal would stop the sale of more than 100 weapons and exempt more than 900 hunting and sporting weapons. It also would ban magazines, strips and drums that hold more than 10 rounds.

The statement did not say specifically how the bill would change from the 1994 version. That one prohibited the manufacture and importation of 19 specific weapons.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has avoided direct answers to reporters’ questions about a new ban. He has said, “Whatever we have to do, we have to do it consistent with the Constitution,” referring to his support of the Second Amendment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in a mailing Thursday, referred to banning assault weapons and limiting the rounds in magazines as “commonsense proposals.” She said too many legislators worry about their scores from the NRA, and asked her supporters to sign a petition urging the organization to partner in efforts to prevent mass murders of children.

“The constitutional right to own guns is not the issue,” McCaskill said. “The issue is commonsense laws that respect that right, but prevent the mass slaughter of innocent Americans.”

Owners of military-style rifles come from all walks of life, Schoenbeck said this week while taking a break from the busy retail counter. Lawyers. Surgeons. Blue-collar workers.

The real problem is keeping the guns out of the hands of people who are mentally deranged, critics of a ban say. Legislation won’t necessarily do that.

The Bushmaster rifle that gunman Adam Lanza, 20, used on Dec. 14 to kill 20 children and six adults in Connecticut apparently belonged to his mother — a former stockbroker. He also killed her, and himself.

Schoenbeck said banning assault weapons and high-volume magazines would not protect the public from disturbed people bent on killing. A gunman could still reload with a series of magazines containing fewer bullets, without taking much time.

He predicted that an assault weapon ban would not likely curb random gun violence. He held up a gun that was legal under the 1994 ban, largely because it was built without a flash suppressor and a bayonet mount.

“Every time they’ve tightened up, they have not stopped a single thing,” Schoenbeck said. “There has been another instance that came up. I think it is horrible. But I think we’ve got to be a little more realistic. ... We cannot legislate morality. This is an inanimate object.”

In the meantime, he said, a proposed ban has touched off increased demand for semiautomatic weapons.

Scherrer, a construction worker who lives in Fenton, owns a Rock River semiautomatic rifle, not for self-defense but for shooting competitions. He uses an M-14, as well.

He said the 1994 ban “didn’t work the first time,” adding, “All it did was jack up the price of rifles.”

Perez, a retired nurse anesthetist who lives in Wildwood, said the rifles are not in themselves assault weapons.

“There’s nothing assaulting in a firearm unless someone engages in an assault,” he said. “Most firearm owners are law-abiding citizens who use them for target or sporting purposes.”

He said people use the military-style rifles because they are accurate and reliable. Ammunition is easy to acquire and affordable.

Perez, who occasionally uses his gun for deer hunting, said the proposed ban is little more than “political posturing.”

Missouri permits hunters to use the military-style rifles so long as they have no more than 11 rounds — one in the chamber and 10 in the magazine, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Jack B., of Ballwin, who would not give his whole name, said he has never fired his Sig Sauer rifle. While he does keep a handgun for protection, he said, he bought the rifle as an investment.

Should a ban be reinstated, he expects it to increase in value. At some point, he intends to sell it for profit.

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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