At that moment the issue of gun control became a national crisis and ignited into public pressure for lawmakers to do more to legislate who can legally own a firearm and what else can be done to remove firearms from someone who is no longer mentally stable. It was in this explosive environment that Ben Vincent and his business partner, Charlie Himschoot, opened Gun Works in Cleveland.
Vincent, who served in the U.S. Marines in field artillery from 1995 to 2002, said, “We were scheduled to open the store the day Sandy Hook happened. That was a sad day. The fact that I got into the gun business when that mass tragedy happened made me second guess what I was doing. Then I realized the kid that did all of that had mental health issues. It wasn’t the gun. It was the person.”
The 38-year-old Athens native who was in the reserves in Mike Battery in Chattanooga said, “Gun control is not the issue. People control is the issue. Yes, guns are violent, but everything is violent. Cars are violent. Drinking and driving is violent, but no one is banning alcohol. My philosophy is that gun ownership is a good thing if it’s held by responsible people. I think the rules they have in place now are perfectly acceptable.”
Despite all of the controversy surrounding firearms after Sandy Hook, the FBI released new statistics from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System showing 2013 gun sales actually hit a new record.
The total number of background checks conducted for gun sales in 2013 added up to 21,093,273, beating the previous 2012 record of 19,592,303. The message was clear: Firearms in America are as popular as ever. The need, therefore, to differentiate between a good guy purchasing a gun and a bad guy buying one is receiving more attention.
According to the official FBI website at www.fbi.gov, the NICS is “used by Federal Firearms Licensees to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase. More than 100 million such checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials.”
“Yes, I think they should have more mental health regulations in background checks,” Vincent said. “I think that is a good thing. When we run a background check, we run your driver’s license through the Tennessee check system. It goes through a state and federal background system. If you’ve had mental problems it should be tagged into that. It flags you. You can’t buy a gun for mental health reasons.”
Since access to a firearm is the only common denominator in every firearm-related death or injury, analysis of the psychological factors, social circumstances and cultural factors that lead to gun violence is also being considered by health professionals as a way to prevent deaths and injuries associated with firearms.
Dr. Clinton W. Anderson, associate executive director with the American Psychological Association, said, “Some have argued that we need to focus on policies that prosecute criminals and prevent those individuals who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm. While these policies have merit, they are clearly not fully effective, and do not address the roots of violence in our society.
“With our jails and prisons already overflowing, we need to create programs designed to prevent incidents from escalating to violence in the first place, and to ensure that those in crisis are not afraid to seek help. No one policy can prevent violence; it will take a multi-faceted approach.”
Anderson concluded, “There is clearly no silver bullet for preventing gun violence, but the only way forward is to learn more about the phenomenon in all its diversity and to use this knowledge to evaluate and promote preventive interventions. Otherwise I fear we will never succeed in reducing the tragic harm from firearm violence that we have seen occur in recent mass shootings, and in daily unpublicized incidents of gang shootings, intimate partner violence, impulsive suicide and child accidents.”
For Vincent, the problem is less complicated. The gun store owner said, “We’ve had a few mentally unstable people to come here. But we have the right in this business to deny anybody a transaction if we don’t feel comfortable with it. We can deny them right then and there if we don’t feel comfortable. It’s pretty much a judgement call. We’ve had to deny a few sales. We’ve had a few people who came in who had suicidal tendencies. Another person wanted to buy just one bullet. We’ve had to call the police once.
“I just think most of the shootings that happen in this country are not by responsible people. They’re by people who have gotten guns illegally or by felons who are not supposed to even have guns. Yes, guns are abused a lot. I realize that. Most of the people we deal with are responsible gun owners. For many it’s a hobby. They collect them.”
When asked what advice he would give to youths or beginners interested in firearms, Vincent, who said he was 7 or 8 years old when he first fired a gun, said, “I would stress gun safety as the most important thing. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded. Keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to shoot. Never point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot and keep your weapon on safe until you intend to fire. Most people I see don’t check to see if the gun is unloaded before they handle it. You’d be surprised.
“When we go to gun shows — even though our guns are zip tied and made safe — people will still pick up a gun and put their finger on the trigger! They’ve actually pulled the trigger without ever checking to see if it was loaded! Gun safety is my biggest thing. The sign outside (the store) says, ‘Keep it holstered.’ That’s for people who have a permit, which I’m all for, to come into our store. Keep it holstered and make sure it’s safe for everyone around you.”
Although he owns firearms, Vincent admitted, “I’ve never hunted for sport. That’s not my thing. I like to target shoot. It’s relaxing. I like the challenge of target shooting — of hitting the bullseye. That’s why we opened a gun shop. This is a hobby. I think gun ownership is a great thing for families. It teaches a lot of things — No. 1 — to be safe.”
According to Dr. Anderson, there are more than 30,000 firearm fatalities each year and more than 80,000 non-fatal firearm injuries requiring emergency medical care or hospitalization.
“Clearly, we need research to identify factors that both cause and protect against gun violence,” he said.
President Barack Obama stated, “Today there is still genuine disagreement among well-meaning people about what steps we should take to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in this country.”
While a number of lawmakers, including several advocates for gun rights, have agreed it is time for the nation to take a closer look at its gun control laws, others feel this could lead to the government interfering with their right to keep and bear arms as protected under the Second Amendment.
“There will always be those people who think the government is going to try and take everything they own,” Vincent said. “I’m not 100 percent on that bandwagon. In the United States, yes, people buy a lot of guns. They love their firearms. I don’t see a need for change right now.”
The U.S. currently has the highest gun ownership rate in the world with more gun-related deaths than any other developed country.