Local gun owners react to proposed federal ban on assault weapons

Roseville gun store sees bonanza in sales
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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A new proposed federal ban on assault weapons is starting to take shape under the direction of California Sen. Diane Feinstein, and Placer County residents who own or sell weapons that may be targeted are speaking out.

Feinstein’s push to ban assault weapons comes on the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut. In that crime, the killer used a .223 Bushmaster, a fast-response, military-style semi-automatic rifle. Bushmasters are one brand of what’s more commonly known by gun enthusiasts as AR-15s.

For Mark Stein, owner of MSI Guns on Atlantic Street in Roseville, President Barrack Obama’s Dec. 15 remarks about “taking serious action” to prevent mass gun killings triggered an unparalleled sales frenzy for AR-15s at his store. 

“Obama made the comments on a Saturday, not long before we closed at 2 p.m.,” Stein recalled. “When we opened again on Tuesday we sold out of every AR-15 we had. Customers were coming in selling used ones and getting twice as much money as what a brand new AR-15 had cost just the week before. Every AR-15 manufacturer in the country is out of stock and back-ordering. The vendors we work with can’t even tell us when we’re going to get the next shipment … It’s mind-blowing.” 

On Dec. 19, Obama expanded on his earlier comments in a press conference, announcing the formation of a new gun control task force.

“I am betting the vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” Obama said. “… An unbalanced man shouldn’t be able it to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily.”

That same afternoon, Feinstein vowed to bring an assault weapons bill to the new Congress in January. 

Four days later, ex-convict William Spengler murdered his sister, started an arson blaze and then shot down four volunteer firefighters who responded. Spengler was reportedly armed with the same Bushmaster .223 model that Adam Lanza used at Sandy Hook Elementary. Two of the firefighters were killed in the ambush.

Feinstein has now released a number of details of her proposed legislation, which can be viewed on her official website: The legislation looks to outlaw the sale, transfer, importation, or manufacturing of 120 different firearms that will be deemed assault weapons. It will also ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, clips and drums that hold more than 10 rounds — a law that’s already in effect in California.

For Stein, the vague language coming from Feinstein so far brings back worries he associates with SB 249, a state law California Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco tried to pass last year. Stein charges that Yee made similar comments and then tried to sneak language into his bill that would have banned the majority of semi-automatic pistols throughout California.  

“My major concern with what Feinstein is saying right now is that, at the 11th hour, they’ll finally come out with specifics like what Yee tried to do,” Stein said, “which would classify everything that’s not a revolver or single-shot gun as an ‘assault weapon.’ That’s the genie in the bottle — what the definitions will be.”

While Feinstein is not yet elaborating on definitions, she is citing a study from the Urban Institute which found an assault weapons ban passed by Bill Clinton in 1994, which expired in 2004, was responsible for a 6.7 percent decrease in murders across the nation. Feinstein’s website quotes the authors of the study as concluding: “Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple wounds per victim, and police officers as victims.”

But on Thursday afternoon at the outdoor shooting range for the Lincoln Rifle Club, Placer County gun owners weren’t buying that correlation.

“Assault weapon bans are pointless,” said a Lincoln resident, who only gave his name as Cory. “Did Timothy McVeigh use a gun to kill thousands of people?”

Jerry Bailey, a Loomis resident who often drops by the range with his Korean War-era rifle, thinks there are bigger forces at play in the recent tragedies in the news than which guns are available.

“What guns they choose to try to ban, and the ones they don’t try to ban, doesn’t always make a lot of sense,” Bailey said. “But it doesn’t matter, because the horrible things that have happened lately are really about our culture. There are a lot of kids out there who have serious problems, and I don’t know how you get away from that. That’s where the danger lies, not with inanimate objects. You look at the movies kids are immersed in, and a lot of other things in our media, and they’re just getting desensitized to violence. And I just don’t how you stop that.”

But, according to Stein, at least one person he knows seems to have found a cultural bright spot amidst the emotional arguments and panicked gun-buying boom. Last week, one of Stein’s customers who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine came in with a used AR15 he had only just bought — prior to Dec. 15 — for $1,200. He turned around and re-sold the gun for more than triple what he’d paid for it.

“He’s a fan of our system of capitalization, and he found a way to capitalize on what was happening,” Stein said. “He looked at me when he sold it and said, ‘I love this country!’”