Brisk trade for gun shops in shadow of Navy Yard shooting

DC area gun owners say firearm regulations will not prevent future tragedies: 'You can'€™t legislate away evil.'

A customer browses at a gun shop in Chantilly, Virginia.
Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Landov

LAUREL, Md. -- Above the counter at Constitutional Firearms in Laurel, Md., an excerpt of the Constitution is painted in bold letters here: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

At Atlantic Guns in nearby Silver Spring, a sticker by the door proclaims, "Crime Control Not Gun Control."

Both stores are doing a brisk trade, if the number of customers passing through their doors Wednesday was anything to go by. Just days after a mass shooting at the Washginton Navy Yard left 13 people dead, including the suspect, gun owners continued to stock up on firearms at shops bordering the capital. And most shoppers were of the same mind: Shooting tragedies are a problem that federal gun laws can't solve.

"You can't legislate away evil," said Maryland lawyer Richmond T.P. Davis, who was visiting Atlantic Guns Wednesday.

The District of Columbia, where the shooting happened, has tough rules for owning any kind of firearm, and until just a few years ago handguns were banned completely.

But in Virginia legislation is more relaxed, as it is in Maryland -- for the time being, at least. A new law tightening gun control in Maryland is set to come in on Oct. 1. The looming change has been sending the state's gun enthusiasts to stores in droves.

At Constitutional Firearms in Laurel, shoppers were skeptical that mass shootings could ever be curbed through changes to the law.

"No legislation will ever stop what happened in Newtown or any other place. It's sad, it's unfortunate, and I feel very bad for the kids and families that were injured by it. But you're not going to be able to change the fact that gun bans don't stop that from happening," said James Alexander, 28.

"There's no foolproof method," added the gun owner, who said he collects firearms as a hobby and is starting to hunt. "There's never going to be a foolproof method."

Monday's killings at the Washington Navy Yard were allegedly carried out by a mentally troubled 34-year-old former Navy contractor, Aaron Alexis, bringing the chaos and terror of an "active shooter" situation to legislators' backyard.

Alexis bought his gun legally in a D.C. suburb in Virginia, but was prevented from buying a potentially more deadly AR-15 by a state law barring out-of-state buyers from purchasing assault rifles,The New York Times reported.

Still the prospects for tighter gun controls appear grim. Legislation mandating a universal system of background checks failed to gather momentum in Congress this spring despite gun control advocates impassioned pleas for new laws in the wake of massacre in Newtown, Conn., where in December 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza, who also killed his mother, committed suicide.

Even those among the gun community who are open to greater controls on firearms appear resigned to the belief that stopping mass shooting is unlikely.

Andre Esser, 41, believes that people who want to own an assault weapon should have to go through the same process as those who seek concealed carry licenses. He says that the current background check system is insufficient.

Esser carries a concealed weapon and had to have an interview with a law enforcement official before he was given a permit. He says he started carrying a gun after robberies at stores near his and that he was once shot at by an angry customer.

"I'm a gun collector, but I think there should be background checks. If you take any kind of psychiatric medication, you should not be allowed to own a gun," said Esser, a Maryland resident and the owner of Redline Motorsports, a motor scooter dealership in Takoma Park.

He believes current standards for background checks are too lax.

"It's a joke," he said. "As long as you're not a criminal, they give it."

As for mass shootings, Esser remained pessimistic. "Realistically, there's nothing you can do. There are so many people and so many guns."

A rush to gun stores

On Wednesday, a hearty stream of gun owners and enthusiasts came into stores in Maryland, many of them griping about the impending legislation when dealers explained the terms of the new law, which will include mandatory training classes for handgun purchasers.

"F--- you, Maryland," one buyer grumbled. He then asked staff how long the new rules will be in place.

"Forever," the store assistant replied.

Owners at three stores Al Jazeera visited were either unwilling or unavailable to sit down for an interview. In the case of Atlantic Guns, its owner was too busy with the flurry of purchases.

But many gun owners were eager to talk about the new Maryland law, the Firearm Safety Act, which prohibits the sale of assault weapons and mandates handgun training. Introduced by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, it has riled Maryland gun owners. Every gun owner Al Jazeera spoke to expressed some level of displeasure with the measure.

Richard Cooke, 43, of Fulton, Md., an air conditioning engineer said that the provisions in the law prohibit some assault rifles and not others in an arbitrary way. He said one assault weapon, the one used in Newtown, will be prohibited, but a very similar one, the higher caliber AR-10, will be allowed.

"What’s going to happen is that all these black guns you see up here that are .223 AR-15s, the day after the first (Oct. 1) you're going to see that they're going to be AR-10s," Cooke said.

"The problem is that the laws were made by people who know nothing about guns," he said.

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