On the rack of guns for sale at Johnson’s Gun Shop in Marathon, a flat black AR-15 was first in line of about 10 rifles.
When Deron Johnson, owner of the shop, was asked if he plans to follow Dick’s Sporting Goods’ and several other companies’ action to stop selling the weapon, he scoffed at the question. “Absolutely not.”
It is a position shared by other small gun shop owners. They also oppose suggestions to raise the age to purchase a gun.
In reaction to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which resulted in the death of 17 people, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced last week the company would no longer sell assault-style rifles, such as the AR-15, and no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21 years old. In New York you have to be 21 years old to by a handgun, but just 18 years old to buy a rifle or shotgun.
Several other companies began doing the same as Dick’s, while others, like Walmart, are just raising the minimum age for purchase.
“I disagree with Dick’s and Walmart,” said Jamie Arnold, owner of Boltworks Tactical Firearms of Dryden, who plans to continue selling AR-15s and will not raise the age minimum for purchasing a gun. “It is your constitutional right (to buy a firearm and at the age limit set by law).”
The AR-15 rifle, and other assault-style rifles, have attracted more attention in recent years having been used in shootings such as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 26 people were killed, the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed and this year’s Parkland shooting.
Gun shop owners condemned the shootings, but don’t believe the AR-15 and other guns like it should be banned.
“I can’t stress enough people doing those things are doing illegal things and committing illegal acts,” Arnold said. “Criminals are criminal, they’re going to do what they do.”
For him, the focus should be more on the people committing the crime, rather than the gun because people know what is legal and not legal before they do something. He compared the situation to people driving while intoxicated and killing someone.
They know it is illegal to drive drunk, but did it anyway.
Johnson said the problem is a “mental illness thing, not a gun thing.” He used the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which left three dead and hundreds injured, as an example. He stated the two men who planted the homemade bombs — made using pressure cookers — were troubled people. The attention was put on them, not banning pressure cookers, he said.
“We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem,” Johnson said.
He understands there are varying opinions about gun regulations, but the politics of it bothers him, he said. He does not have a problem with people having opposing opinions, but wants to see people have more constructive conversations.
“Come to the table presenting facts,” Johnson said. “Maybe we can sway each other.”
He doesn’t believe gun laws would stop criminals. Like Arnold, Johnson said he believes criminals are going to commit criminal acts no matter what. His example of that was methamphetamine and heroin are illegal, yet people still use them.
The AR-15 are not a big part of Johnson’s sales, about 10 to 15 percent, he said. For Arnold’s overall sales he said the model accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of his sales. But for sales to law enforcement officers, it accounts for about 40 percent.
With the news of stores stopping of the gun, Arnold said there has been a recent urgency in people wanting to purchase an AR-15. One customer drove 4 1/2 hours to his store to buy one recently, he said. A similar occurrence happened in 2016 after the Orlando nightclub shooting. Due to rumors of politicians looking to ban the AR-15, Arnold said in 2016 he had about 20 to 25 residents putting in a back order form to purchase the gun; just in case it did get banned.
“People are afraid they will be taken away,” Arnold said.
Johnson said he has seen an increase in AR-15 sales, due to the larger companies ending sales of the gun, but has heard people say they are going to boycott stores refusing to sell the gun.
Most people who buy an AR-15 use them for competition or varmint hunting, Arnold said. Out of all the semiautomatic rifles on the market for competition, he said the AR-15 is the most popular.
Both Arnold and Johnson said they will continue to follow all federal and state laws on firearms.
“That is important to us,” Johnson said.