Local gun shop owners speak out on safety

With the increase of mass school shootings around the country, it seems as though everyone is on notice. Portage County is no exception to this.

With legislation pushing for stricter gun control, local gun shop owners are affected by this. Whether it be a change in sales, stricter regulation on who they sell to or having to offer more safety courses, they feel this impact.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that my sales have increased or declined,” owner of Top Shot Firearms in Ravenna, Mark Rollin said. “But we’re definitely seeing a change in buyer behavior.”

Top Shot Firearms in Ravenna, Ohio.

While there have always been CCW courses and other safety measures, Rollin says that people are looking into it now more than ever. He can’t pinpoint exactly whether this is just an increase in personal interest or a response to the shootings, but notes that it is prevalent. 

“I’ve definitely been seeing  more people come through these doors,” a gunsmith at Arlans Gun and Ammo Shop in Kent, Rick Lemke, said. “Most are to get their gun working in proper condition and, if I had to guess, I’d say that’s for their own personal safety.”

Lemke has a FFL (Federal Firearms License) which allows him to deal in the handling of interstate firearms. This tends to bring more people through his small business and causes him to be more cautious of everyone he sells to.

“I used to be able to sell guns with a clear conscience,” Lemke said. “Now, I always worry. You never know who you’re dealing to or what they got going on in their head. Business is up, I just don’t know if it’s good or bad yet.”

While it cannot be certain whether these sales are a good or bad thing just yet, there are preventative measures being taken by the community to ensure that people are prepared for the types of attacks that have been seen recently.

Owner of Blue Target Firearms in Cuyahoga Falls, Sean Gordon, said that “there are more classes now than ever. Whether it’s just the basic operations of a handgun or shooter prevention, they’re out there.”

Blue Target Firearms in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Blue Target Firearms holds classes for Carry Concealed Weapons Training and Advanced Weapons Training. Neither of these offer the shooter prevention training that Gordon spoke of, but those classes do exist in the area. 

Sponsored by the Mental Health & Recovery Board and the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, there is Crisis Intervention Team Training. This training is offered to law enforcement professionals as well as school personnel. Ranging from handling incidents with people who suffer from mental illness, to de-escalation techniques, this crisis intervention can do a lot of good.

“I love that people are stepping up and doing this,” Lemke said. “People like us, the small business owners, can’t afford to do this type of training but it needs done. The answer isn’t taking away the guns, it’s making people more safe and comfortable with them.”

The business owners all agreed on that: gun laws do not need to change.

“Should they be stricter? Maybe, but I don’t see that happening any time soon,” Rollin said. “For me to make my living, I need to be able to sell guns. Not everyone is going to have great intentions but it is their right to own one. All I can do is hope that they get proper training.”

Though some push for this more restrictive gun control, that cannot be the only thing that needs to change. In a recent story by GQ profiling Dylann Roof, the shooter of a church in Charleston, it is said that he lied on his application to purchase a gun and the FBI did not deny it in the three day period. It was not until two and a half months later, just 12 days after the shooting occurred, that the FBI said there had been a mistake and the gun should not have been sold.

While some responsibility surely falls onto the owners of these gun shops, the FBI needs to be held more accountable as well. These mistakes are literally costing the lives of innocent people and there is nothing that the business owners can do.

“The laws are in place for a reason,” Lemke said. “The application goes in, the government checks it and a gun gets sold. At that point it’s really out of anyone else’s hands”

It seems like a fairly quick and simple process, but that could be the issue.

“I think it all just happens too fast,” Gordon said. “Obviously they’re struggling to get to all the applications if guns are getting sold to people they shouldn’t be.”

Gordon also said that if they need to make the time frame a little longer to save lives that they should. Three days is not enough time to go through someone’s background when there are people all across the country applying for this at the same time. 

With an increase in general safety interest and training for both the handling of weapons and what to do in a crisis, things seem to be moving in the right direction.

“We’ll never be able to stop all the shooters,” Lemke said. “It’s just not possible. But there are still good people out there who use guns the right way. They should be able to do that and I think things are looking up.”

“People are starting to get serious about safety and that’s the first step,” said Rollin. “I just hope they apply it.”