In Ohio, momentum favors gun rights movement

December 11, 2013

It doesn’t take long to realize that Jim Majoros is passionate about his job, as he ponders the hue of a new hunting rifle he’s working on.

“I’m going to call it ‘Persephone,’ ” he said, referring to the Greek goddess. “It’s going to be light green in color, you know, more soft, but for women who want to hunt.”

Business is brisk for gunsmiths such as Majoros, who repairs and customizes firearms in this small Lake Erie beach town east of Cleveland. This year, more than 82,000 new concealed-carry weapons licenses were issued in Ohio through September — more than any full year since the system was enacted in 2004 — meaning a steady stream of customers for Majoros.

“Given the nature of our business, it’s pretty much busy all year around,” he said.

Ohio is not alone: By the end of October, 11 states had exceeded the number of background checks for gun purchases conducted in all of 2012, according to data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. More states are on track to meet or exceed last year’s numbers by the end of this month.

The surge is one indication of the strength of the gun rights movement, which has helped block major gun-control legislation in Congress and elsewhere in the country since the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were slain by a gunman last December.

“It’s a barometer for where the gun rights movement is, to some degree,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland who writes on gun policy. “So when people are buying more guns or getting more permits, that’s one barometric indicator of greater mobilization in a gun rights community.”

Jennifer Duey, who teaches a concealed-carry class at Majoros’s gunsmithing shop, thinks the increase in gun ownership is because of heightened media attention early this year.

Duey said there was high demand for her ­classes during that time. Most of her students were not familiar with guns, she said, but feared that lawmakers were going to limit their ability to own them.

“I would say probably 75 or 80 percent had no experience with firearms or training,” Duey said. “I always start off my classes with: ‘Tell me why you’re here.’ A lot of them led off with: ‘I’m concerned about my Second Amendment right and whether I want to get grandfathered in before the government takes that right away.’ ”

Ohio’s gun lobbying group, the Buckeye Firearms Association, has also had a busy year. The organization is less than 90 memberships from becoming the National Rifle Association’s top recruiting club this year, having signed up more than 1,200 people.

In Columbus, the Republican-controlled legislature has considered, but not passed, a range of gun-related bills, including universal background check legislation and a measure that would allow state officials to carry guns in public buildings. A “stand your ground” law, which would make it easier for property owners to use deadly force, passed the House of Representatives last month and is awaiting action in the Senate.

A proposal backed by gun-control advocates would require firearm owners to secure their weapons when minors are in the home. Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the Newtown shootings, testified in favor of the measure Tuesday in Columbus.

Yet most of the momentum in Ohio in the past year has clearly favored gun rights forces. “It’s been historically difficult for the gun-control side to effectively not only mobilize, but sustain that effort across a long period of time,” Spitzer said. “It’s kind of the asymmetry of this issue.”

But Linda Walker, chair of the Buckeye Firearms Association and an NRA board member, says gun-control groups are much-better funded and organized than before.

“I wouldn’t say the anti-gun side is being quiet,” Walker said, pointing to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s large contributions to political candidates who support gun control. “He’s spending a significant amount of money in multiple states.”

On the other side, Toby Hoover, founder of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said a lack of education on gun laws stands in the way of mobilizing support for restrictions. “They really don’t know what’s out there now, and so, therefore, they think everything’s been done that can be done,” she said.

But Hoover said she remains optimistic that federal gun-control legislation will continue to advance. “I’m still very hopeful that they will pick that back up in 2014,” she said.

Colvin is a freelance journalist based in Cleveland.

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