In heated gun debate, two sides speak different languages

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To many gun enthusiasts, though, these numbers have nothing to do with guns themselves.

 

With so many guns in circulation, they say, people intent on killing will always find a way to do it. Nor do they fault high-capacity magazines, because it can take only seconds to reload a standard 10-bullet version.

 

Some even say the solution to gun violence is more guns – to deter, and to fight back against the bad guys.

 

“The easy, lazy conclusion is that (gun violence) has to do with firearms,” said Sam Liberto, a business consultant shopping in Big Buck with his two young sons. “We should look at the root cause: parenting or lack thereof, mental illness, video games. The underlying forces are probably far more important.”

 

Liberto does think gun laws could be tightened, to track and collect more sale information. He’s against an assault weapons ban but expects one to happen soon, as a first step to outlawing even more guns.

 

So after Newtown, Liberto hustled to buy the same type of semiautomatic rifle used by the school gunman. On his iPhone was a photo of his weapon’s handiwork: an Osama bin Laden target that featured a face full of bullet holes.

 

“It’s a target item,” Liberto said of his purchase. “Unlike a hunting rifle or a sport shotgun it has less kick, a lighter weight. It’s designed to be carried. It’s just nice, a nice gun to shoot.”

 

Liberto and Riddle, the Big Buck salesman, are officers of the Millvale Sportsmen’s Club, where target shooters and hunters enjoy their pursuits. Riddle knows many people who enter competitions with the type of AR-15 used in Newtown.

 

The gray-bearded Riddle has been around firearms since he was born in rural Pennsylvania. To him, guns are no more dangerous than an axe or a bat.What would he tell people who want more gun control?

 

“Let’s go out and shoot a little bit,” Riddle offers. “I’d take `em out, introduce them to firearms, show them the safety aspects of it. I’d just go out and start shooting, have some fun. Shoot some paper targets, some cans. Shooting guns is a lot of fun, it really is.”

 

That’s incomprehensible to Pittsburgh resident Valerie Dixon, whose law-abiding 22-year-old son was killed in Pittsburgh a decade ago by a neighborhood thug with an illegal .357 Magnum.

 

“The original purpose of the Second Amendment was not a sport,” she said. “I do think the laws need to be looked at. Look at lifestyles as they are today, as opposed to when they created the Second Amendment.”

 

Dixon doesn’t only blame guns for her tragedy. She said better parenting and education are among many other factors that need to change. But still: She says her son’s killer was able to obtain the fateful gun within two hours.

 

“I believe in the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but I believe there’s a responsibility with our rights,” said Dixon, who does not own a gun.

 

How to draw the line? That would require consultation and cooperation. Those who don’t own guns might have to learn things from those who do. People who like to shoot military-style weapons might have to sacrifice some of their recreation.

 

Or sacrifice some of their way of life.

 

Over the Christmas holiday, James and Jennifer Shafer shot guns with their parents and young kids at their ranch an hour north of Pittsburgh. The Shafers feel the pain of parents who have lost children. The Newtown killings left them shaken. But the response scares them, too.

 

“You can’t take away our right to protect ourselves,” said James Shafer, a former Marine who has called his congressional representatives to voice his opposition to laws that limit guns.

 

“We’re not going to give them up, that’s plain and simple,” he said.

 

“I don’t know how to get on the subway in a big city,” said his wife, Jennifer. “I’ve heard bad things about it, and I’m scared of it. But the subway is normal for other people . guns are the thread of our culture.”

 

James’ cousin, Erik Shafer, started buying guns a few years ago after he returned to his rural home and found it ransacked by burglars. Police took 20 minutes to arrive.

 

After listening to conversations about Newtown, “I honestly don’t think there is a middle to meet in,” said Erik Shafer, a small business owner with a wife and two young daughters.

 

Then what does the future hold? He sees no end to gun violence, no matter what laws are passed.

 

“How do you prepare yourself for an infinite way that people can be shot and killed?” Erik Shafer responded. “It’s tough. I really don’t know what the answer is.”

 

AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report. Follow Jesse Washington on Twitter @JesseWashington

 

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