Stores divided on assault rifles

Two national chains to halt sales; local guns shops continue

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Lorrie Stirling, owner of Pioneer Gun Sales in Juniata, handles one of the many assault-style rifles her store carries.

While a pair of major U.S. retailers said Wednesday that they will stop selling assault-style rifles, local gun shops won’t follow suit.

Dick’s Sporting Goods said it immediately would stop selling assault-style rifles in its Field & Stream stores, and Walmart announced it would no longer include assault-style weapons on its website. Both companies said the change in policy was the result of the killing of 17 students and educators in Parkland, Fla., two weeks ago.

Dick’s had stopped selling assault-style weapons in its sporting goods stores after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But sales had resumed at its Field & Stream stores, like the one in the Sierra North Plaza.

Walmart stopped selling assault-style weapons in its stores in 2015, citing weak sales.

Nicholas Cruz is accused of using a semi-automatic rifle in the deadly attack.

Some local gun shops said, however, they will continue selling AK and AR semi-automatic rifles. Shop owners said many people use them for competitions, as well as predator and small game hunting.

“We will continue to sell them. It’s not a gun issue; it’s the person using it,” said Mike Harris, owner of Allegheny Trade Co. in Duncansville.

Customers fill out firearms transaction forms issued by the federal Department of Justice that ask about mental institutionalization or whether the buyer has been adjudicated as mentally defective. Attempts to lie on those forms are supposed to be weeded out through state and federal checks, Harris said.

The suspect in a Florida school shooting bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the attack legally.

“Gun bans won’t change anything. They need to look into mental health issues,” Harris said.

According to the Miami Herald, the suspect answered “no” to questions about whether he had been adjudicated for mental illness or whether he had been institutionalized for mental health illness.

Lawyers for the gun shop that sold him the weapon said their understanding is the suspect answered the form appropriately.

“I feel they should ban any military style weapons,” Cynthia Anstead of Colver told the Mirror in the parking lot of Dick’s at the Logan Town Centre.

She’s hardly alone with that sentiment.

Polls from Politico and the Morning Consult state 70 percent of voters support a ban on high-capacity magazines, and 68 percent want to ban assault-style weapons. However, those same pollsters say voters are pessimistic that Congress will pass stricter gun legislation proposals in the next year.

“I hunt. I go to gun raffles, but if we win an assault rifle, we take the money instead. Why do people need them?” Anstead said.

Pioneer Gun Sales in Altoona has been in Lorrie Stirling’s family for about 60 years.

Now the current owner, she said she understands how Dick’s can afford to halt assault-style gun sales because it’s only part of their sales, but her shop relies on guns.

“My own father was shot with an AK-47. My younger brother was murdered. I know about murder. But I also don’t blame the gun for those things,” she said.

Stirling said she supports legislation that would prohibit selling ARs to people under 21. She also said the problem with background checks isn’t the checks themselves, but the holes in the mental health system that leave people untreated or undocumented.

“I have great empathy for the families of the victims, but guns don’t go off by themselves. These are people with mental illness who are left untreated. The police, his (the suspect’s) mother and the FBI all dropped the ball in Florida.”

In addition, she said she sees a frightening trend with children that falls on parents.

“I see parents come in and their kid points to a CZ Scorpion — it’s big and bad looking. I can’t tell you how many kids about 13 years old come in with their parents and say, ‘I use that on my video game to kill people,'” Stirling said. “I’d be furious with my children if they bought those games for my grandchildren. These games take kids out of reality,” she said.

Both Walmart and Dick’s said they would stop selling guns to people under age 21, and Dick’s also will cut of sales of large capacity magazines.

“When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something,” Dick’s Chairman and CEO Ed Stack said on “Good Morning America.”

“We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens,” Stack wrote in a letter Wednesday. “But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids.”

Stack also revealed that Nicholas Cruz had purchased a shotgun at a Dick’s store within the past four months. “It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting,” Stack wrote. “But it could have been. Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly can be reached at 946-7435. The Associated Press contributed to this story.