Since the horrific mass shooting in Connecticut that claimed the lives of twenty children, there has been a renewed gun-control debate in Colorado -- along with a record-breaking number of residents looking to buy guns. Now a Littleton business that offers gun classes says it's seeing unprecedented interest in lessons and training, with more than quadruple the typical number of inquiries.
The gun violence in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a shooter entered an elementary school and killed twenty children and six adults, has sparked much debate and outrage in Colorado, which faced its own mass shooting on July 20 at an Aurora movie theater.
On the policy side, Governor John Hickenlooper has said that the time has come to consider new legislation on guns and President Barack Obama has set up a gun-violence task force, his boldest move yet on the matter.
At the same time, more people in Colorado are making efforts to purchase firearms, completely overwhelming the background-check system. As the Denver Post notes in a story on the surge, the wait list for the thousands of customers seeking background checks is now at least 100 hours long.
Today, we caught up with Tina Francone, the founder and owner of Straightforward Shooting, a business based in Littleton that offers a range of classes in basic pistol shooting, concealed handguns, concealed carry and more. And interest in those classes has really increased, says Francone, a National Rifle Association-certified instructor who lives in Littleton and has run the business for several years: "What I'm seeing is an urgency in a lot of people: 'I need to take it. I need to take it now. Do you have a class at 4 o'clock today?' It's definitely a feel of urgency. 'I want to make sure that I'm trained, because I want to be able to purchase my firearms and know how to use them.'"
Over the past two weeks, her website has had more than 700 hits -- about quadruple the amount of traffic she usually gets around this time of year, which is always her busiest. And she says she's getting close to a hundred calls a day and as many e-mails from people interested in signing up for courses -- which is also around four times the usual number of inquiries.
Her classes are now booked solid through the middle of February. While there have been some delays in the past, she says, for the first time she's now putting people on waiting lists -- because they are asking.
"When I say the next available is the middle of February, they say, 'Can I get on a waiting list? If anything opens up, will you call me? I'll pay you extra,'" she says, adding, "My phone continues to ring all day long. And as quickly as I can clear my inbox, it is full again."
From her conversations with interested customers, she says it's clear that people are worried about stricter gun laws and want to make sure they can get the firearms and the training they need before it becomes more difficult. And, she adds, people are also just very upset about such a horrible tragedy and want to take precautions.
"A lot of people will say it's because of the election [of Obama] and I tend to think that's true. I saw a little bit of a bump," she says. "But as these mass murders occur, people are concerned.... They feel that they need to be able to protect their own family. It's a sense of personal responsibility...not that they feel any disappointment in law enforcement...but a lot of people are saying, 'How can I protect myself in the event of a criminal attack before the police get there?'"
She saw a small jump in business after the shootings in Aurora, but nothing like what she is seeing now.
"People are starting to see that gun-free zones are really just the grounds for these types of tragedies to occur...and also because it was a school, it was little kids.... It just breaks your hearts.... It's just a feeling of horror that these small children were slaughtered and nobody had the ability to do anything about it," she says.
Francone's comments echo those made at the controversial press conference that the NRA held last week in which Wayne LaPierre said guns are not to blame for this kind of tragedy and schools need armed guards.
In Colorado and across the country, those who support stricter gun policies are criticizing the NRA and its backers, arguing that sensible laws that limit access to military style weapons and high-capacity magazines would help reduce the risk of such horrific massacres. They say that the answer is not more guns and that there are ways to enact reasonable policies that in no way violate people's rights to bear arms.
But Francone says calls for gun control are sparking fears in gun owners and those who want to become gun owners -- which, in turn, has increased interest in her courses.
"The common comment is, 'I want to take it before it's too late. I want to but a gun before I'm not able to do that. But I want to take a class before I buy it,'" she says. "As a citizen, I don't like the idea that my firearms could be taken away from me. I think the Second Amendment guarantees my right.... As an instructor, as a mother, I worry."
Gun-control advocates frequently note that their recommendations would not violate the Constitution, but would simply provide for better regulation. But their opponents disagree.
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"I don't know that there is one simple solution, but I don't believe that restricting firearms from citizens who legally possess them is the answer," Francone says. "But frankly, I don't what is."
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