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Government and Politics

Northeast Ohioans divide over gun rights and gun control
Many look for balance among the needs of hunters, schools, law enforcement and mental health

Kabir Bhatia
Brian "Pigman" Quaca hosts "Pigman: The Series," and says he's in favor of waiting periods and background checks if the government does not try to impose capacity restrictions.
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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In The Region:
Concealed carry permit applications have jumped in Northeast Ohio since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut five weeks ago.
Debates over the Second Amendment, school security, background checks and mental health have kept the issues of gun rights and gun control in the headlines. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports.
(Click image for larger view.)

Hunting-dog demonstrations were a big draw at the I-X Center’s outdoor show over the weekend. The simulated ducks and rifles were among the booths catering to hunters. A few feet away, Brian “Pigman” Quaca was greeting fans of his TV show, “Pigman: The Series,” which follows him as he handles the often-troublesome hog population in Texas.

Quaca makes his living with firearms and does not like calls by President Obama and others to limit certain types of guns and high-volume ammo clips.

“It’s important that we don’t lose our Constitutional rights. Capacity-wise, a magazine ban don’t make any sense. A guy can go out and buy 20 seven-round clips, which is what’s going to be legal. You can buy a standard hunting rifle that’s a semi-auto that has a seven-round clip. And you can buy a number of clips.
"I make my living doing what I do: I eradicate hogs in the state of Texas. And there is some benefit to having a 20-round magazine. You don’t have to reload as much.”

Capacity not the issue
Like many of the hunters at the show, Quaca views magazine restrictions as skirting the bigger issue in the face of mass shootings like the one in Newtown.

“I can go in and buy a gun because I have been run through every government organization to check my background. And I don’t have a speeding ticket. But if you have any mental health issues – if you’ve ever lied on any form – you should not be able to have a gun. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way it needs to be handled, not (with) bans on law-abiding citizens who have these type of guns to protect themselves and their property.”

Quaca has held a concealed weapon permit for eight years in Texas, which had issued more than half a million permits even before the Newtown shootings. 

Applications for concealed-carry in Ohio are up, too. Cuyahoga, Stark and Portage counties have seen an average 18.5 percent increase. Portage County Sheriff David Doak attributes that to personal safety and a concern over potentially tougher gun control laws.

Gun rights and school safety
A Reuters online poll of roughly 1,500 people last month said nearly 70 percent support concealed carry permits or the use of guns for protection. But just as many want stronger limits on gun ownership. Soon after the Newtown shootings, the NRA suggested arming school personnel as a way to prevent similar tragedies in the future. 

Carl Kotheimer has four kids, all of whom went through Hudson schools, a district with many similarities to Newtown. He comes from a military family and his professional background is in public policy. In a letter to the editor of his local paper, he suggested another way to increase school security.

“What happens is you hear teachers and their students taking refuge in a closet or under a desk because they’re basically backed into a corner in their classroom. They can’t get out but one way. So a logical step is to give them another way out. So you have an escape hatch or an escape door or something that permits them to exit.”

Kotheimer says, with more guns than people in the United States, the issues of capacity or semi-automatic versus assault weapons are just as important as education and background checks.

“The mental health issues are extremely complicated, potentially extremely expensive. The confidentiality issue becomes huge. I say, 'You can’t have a gun,' and it’s publicly posted – is that libel or slander?”

Schools on the defensive
Kotheimer argues that the cost of trained, armed guards is prohibitive for many schools and the probability of shootings at schools is statistically low.

That hasn’t stopped some districts from going on the offensive. Orrville has allowed a science teacher – and part-time police officer – to carry his weapon in school. North Canton is installing radio communication equipment and bulletproof glass. And Stow is upping the number of security cameras in its buildings.

That all sounds great to Rodney Niehaus of Stow. He’s a psychiatric RN who enjoys taking his sons to a shooting range for fun. And he feels more limits on semiautomatic weapons and ammunition clips, background checks at gun shows and other controls would not have prevented Sandy Hook. 

Protecting kids
“If you look at everything… you can’t go into a concert; they’ve got armed guards. You can’t go into hospitals, any kind of events, they have armed guards. It is sort of ridiculous that you have kids in school and they are the most precious thing we have," Niehaus says, yet they have less protection.

He notes that some schools, including  Stow High School, have a resource officer. And he dismisses the suggestion that limits on certain types of guns and magazines will make schools safer.
"You’re not going to stop it by banning weapons. If you were gonna go in and hurt someone, you can do it with a 9 millimeter. You can do it with a .22. For all that, you can do it with a knife.” 

Niehaus spoke after leaving a gun show in Cuyahoga Falls last month. He and others said prices at the gun show seemed artificially high in response to the threat of tighter gun control laws. He went home with just a few holsters.
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