Gun debate hits home

Published 11:14 am Monday, January 14, 2013

Escambia County Sheriff’s deputy Sidney Thomas works at both Escambia County High and middle schools as a school resource officer.

At State Line Pawn Shop, the shelves have been cleared out of guns and ammunition.

At local schools, new safety measures are in place.

And in many local homes, residents are wondering what will happen if lawmakers sit down to debate new legislation on guns.

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Since last month’s tragic mass school shooting 1,200 miles away in Newtown, Conn., the ripple effects are still being felt even in Atmore.


Teresa Martin, who works at State Line Pawn Shop said, in the weeks following the shooting in Newtown, local customers have cleaned the store out of guns and ammunition.

“We’ve sold a lot,” Martin said. “All we have left is long guns and black powder and with handguns, there’s hardly none left.”

When did gun buying increase for the shop? “Right after the shooting,” Martin said. “They’re really coming in to buy ammo too. A lot of people are buying it in bulk and stockpiling it because they are worried about the legislation that might pass.”

Martin said the buying increases have included weapons like 223 rifles, the same model used in Newtown. “People are buying in bulk, like the 223 and nobody has any of it.”

Atmore Police Chief Jason Dean said he is not surprised by the buying trend.

“I know that traditionally in the South there are more arms, and it’s predominantly because of the sport of hunting, but right after (Newtown) happened, I know that a lot of people went and bought everything they can,” Dean said. “I know from talking to people they are buying a lot of ammo too, because people are afraid they’re going to tax it so high that no one will be able to afford it.”

Dean said he understands that new legislation concerning gun control will be tricky for legislators, but added, in Atmore, there is very little trouble from gun owners who obtained their arms legally.

“I know they want to restrict what they can without infringing on people’s rights and that’s a fine line,” Dean said. “There are always exceptions, but the way I look at gun control, it’s the people behind the guns that are a problem. A lot of the incidents we have are with guns that are stolen. We have very few cases of problems with people who have obtained a gun legally.”

School safety

Regardless of what lawmakers decide when it comes to gun control, local schools are also taking action after Newtown by beefing up security.

John Brantley, principal at A.C. Moore Elementary School, said the school has revamped their safety procedures, but added in today’s world, he feels more comfortable keeping the specifics of the new measures quiet.

“We have really went back over and looked at our safety plan,” Brantley said. “We have made some changes. We have added some safety procedures. We’ve done some things to beef up security.”

Brantley said some of the measures are not new, but are just good common sense procedures that have been in place for some time.

“We are requiring anyone who comes on campus to sign in and to sign out and then to report to the main office before going anywhere on the campus,” he said.

Greg Shehan, principal at Huxford Elementary School, said they too have amped up their security on campus.

“One thing we are doing after speaking with the county is every classroom will remained locked all day long,” Shehan said. “The halls are already locked, but now the classrooms are to, so if we ever have to go into lockdown, we don’t have to take time to lock everything.”

Shehan said another concern for HES is the fact that the school is located in a rural area, farther away from emergency responders than other schools.

“It’s a concern,” he said. “But the sheriff’s department is great and we’ve been really blessed to have Poarch right down the road. They’ve assured us they would respond quickly if there is ever a problem.”

New legislation?

Since the Newtown killings, President Barack Obama has pledged to formulate better gun control legislation, with or without the help of Congress and local residents are sounding off on the issue as well.

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden met with several stakeholder groups to try to come up with a list of proposals he is expected to give Obama as early as Tuesday.

Responding to a Facebook post by The Atmore Advance on the topic last week, Eva Tew McInnis said she is worried the president will take new gun control legislation too far.

“I am worried that the president will impede on our country’s Second Amendment rights,” McInnis wrote. “Our neighborhoods and country are safer because of our right to bear arms. There are, of course, some people who shouldn’t qualify for this privilege but anything Obama does regarding ‘new legislation’ is a real concern to me and numerous other people I know. This man should not be trying to change our constitutional rights.”

Sherry Schindler-Bloodsworth said she believes the president is trying to protect citizens, but is also worried about the cost of that protection.

“A little of both,” she said. “Suppose it depends on the decisions he makes in order to protect us from ourselves. I do not agree with taking away our right to bear arms for food and our own protection.”

At the state level, legislators are also clamoring to decide what changes need to be made in areas such as gun control, school safety and mental health. A week before the shooting in Newtown, a bill aimed at strengthening Alabamians’ rights to bear arms was pre-filed by Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, in order to, he said, make Second Amendment rights a fundamental part of the state’s constitution.