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Gun dealer, police chief give reactions to president’s plans

Published 11:30am Thursday, January 17, 2013

A local gun shop owner and Albert Lea’s police chief shared mixed opinions Wednesday of President Barack Obama’s $500 million sweeping gun proposals.

The proposals call for bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, requiring people to pass universal background checks before purchasing any gun and improving school safety, including putting 1,000 officers in schools.

Obama also enacted 23 measures that did not require approval of lawmakers, such as ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks, appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and directing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence.

“I think this is a knee-jerk reaction,” said Hart Bros. Weaponry owner Milan Hart. “I think he’s absolutely on the wrong track.”

Hart, who is the highest volume independent gun dealer in the state, said there is evidence people still want to purchase military-style firearms as he has seen by his gun sales in the last few weeks.

He said sales of military-style firearms have “exploded,” noting that typically he has between 200 and 300 military firearms in stock but now only has two to three because people have been coming in to buy them out of fear they may be banned.

Hart said while he agrees with having better background checks, he thinks more focus needs to be on mental health.

Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels agreed.

“I think we’re still missing the boat on the problem, and it needs to go more toward mental illness and instability,” Winkels said. “We did away with a lot of the support systems that are out there for people.”

He referenced a threat Tuesday evening in which a man claimed there was a bomb under his car. The man was ultimately taken for a mental evaluation at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.

The police chief said he thinks it is “ridiculous” that automatic background checks aren’t required at gun shows now and said a check would not prohibit a law-abiding person from obtaining a firearm. He noted, however, that many criminals are getting guns through other means and are thus bypassing the background check.

He said he does not see a problem with limiting high-capacity magazines, noting that unless people are sports shooting, they wouldn’t have a need for them.

Requiring the proposal of putting 1,000 police officers in schools, Winkels said he would like to see the data about whether having an officer in a school would prevent an attack.

He said while having an officer on the property can deter illegal activity, it would not stop people who plan shootings because the shooters would likely just shoot the officer first before moving on to the rest of the school.

He also questioned how the 1,000 schools would be selected and some of the funding.

The proposals came one month after a gunman opened fire at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, killing 20 students and six adults.