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In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, calls for expanding gun safety regulations have increased. Although some of these ideas are popular among Americans overall, how do gun owners specifically feel about them? William Brangham talks to gun owners in Odessa, Texas, site of an August mass shooting, about what legislation they would support and how else they think we can reduce gun violence.
After the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and then Odessa and Midland, Texas, calls for gun reforms have been growing. They are coming from the public, from the business community, and from lawmakers.
President Trump has said that he will unveil what he supports sometime this week.
Recently, William Brangham went to Odessa and Midland to see what gun owners themselves think ought to be done — William.
That's right, Judy.
While this debate unfolds here in Washington right now, we sought out gun owners — and only gun owners — to hear their take on what might be done to reduce gun violence in America.
As you might imagine, many of them argued that more Americans should be armed. But we also asked them, should we require universal background checks for all gun sales? Should we enact tougher red flag laws?
Here's some of what we found.
Just over two weeks ago, Dustin Fawcett was waiting in his truck outside this Starbucks in Odessa, Texas, with his 3-week-old daughter.
We were just sitting there jamming out to some music, and, all of a sudden I hear a stream of gunshots, bop, bop, bop.
The shooter, who killed seven and wounded 25, had just shot at several cars in the intersection right behind him.
Then I crawl in the back seat and check to make sure she's OK, still unsure if these are actually bullets being shot. It was chaos.
Fawcett and his family have long been hunters. While he's considered carrying a handgun, now, he like a lot of other Texans we met, will carry one.
I mean, I felt helpless. I had a little daughter in the back seat.
I have no way — what if he would have came running up at me and I didn't have a weapon on me at the time? What would I have done? You know, you start thinking of that. And that's when you think, well, the only answer to that would be a firearm.
After the tragedy, we see a response from the community. There's sorrow. And we see a lot of people that are motivated anew. They want to do something about it.
Tony Grijalva owns Family Armory in Midland, Texas, and he says he can barely keep up with the demand from people who want to carry a gun. Typically, he has about 25 clients in September for his license-to-carry class. Now he's got over 175.
What it boils down to is a feeling of powerlessness. Things are out of control. But action, just generally speaking, is better than inaction.
We know gun sales often increase after mass shootings, and we saw that at this gun show in Hillsboro, Texas. Some people here told us, no laws can stop mass shootings.
But others were open to some changes, some even supporting policies actively opposed by the NRA.
No, there's got to be something done. There's got to be a happy medium.
Dylan Hammons is selling handguns and long guns today, including AR-15s, the gun used in many recent mass shootings, and one he thinks the media gets way too worked up about.
He says there are plenty of similar guns just as lethal. But Hammons believes people should be required to prove they know how to safely handle and store a gun before they can buy one.
Why wouldn't that work? It might not stop it, but we don't resist driver's license. They will gladly go down and pay their money to get a driver's license, so they can jump in a car and go to Walmart and buy beer. They have no issue with that.
But as soon as you have to have a license to buy one of these, they don't want anything to do with it.
Karen Barlow and her husband, Gary, own a gun store in Wichita Falls, Texas. They believe guns are valuable for protection. In fact, Gary used his gun a few years ago to defend their store from two armed robbers.
I carry a .38 Special revolver.
The Barlows are federally licensed gun dealers, so, by law, they have to run background checks on every single buyer.
But, at gun shows like this and in millions of private or online sales across the country, there's a loophole, and that check isn't required. The shooter in Odessa reportedly failed one of these checks in 2014, and then bought his AR-15 privately.
In your store, because you're a federally licensed gun retailer…
… you have to get background checks on everyone you sell a gun to.
But not every seller standing behind you right now has to do that.
Do you think that ought to change?
Is that right?
I would like to see that loophole closed just…
So, universal background checks?
However, for private sales, if you're selling — if I'm selling a personal gun to my neighbor or to my nephew or something that — like, you don't have to do a background check.
Honestly, it's — it's ludicrous.
Others are more skeptical. Wallace Dunn is vice president of the Texas Handgun Association, a lifetime NRA member, and someone who thinks Democrats and the media use fear of mass shootings to push for gun control.
We hear in the media all the time when there's a mass shooting. I liken it to airplane crashes. We hear about airplane crashes. They're horrible. We don't hear about the million people that flew safely today.
So you think we have an exaggerated fear about mass shootings?
I do. If you look at — it's horrible if it happens to you or your family, but the odds of being a victim of a mass shooting are probably pretty close to winning the lottery.
It's — it's — it happens and it's horrible, but, as a percentage of the population, it's not likely.
At the Odessa outdoor gun range, I met three more gun owners. They'd heard PBS was in town and they wanted to talk.
They all support carrying guns for self-defense, but, at times, some are also open to changes that are nonstarters for the gun lobby.
I think that the shooting two weeks ago or a week ago was a tragedy. But it's something that's going to happen as long as there are idiots allowed to get guns.
They need to weed out the idiots and keep them from getting the guns, and leave the rest of us to do what we want to do.
But how do you weed out the idiots?
Better and more stringent background checks. I would be willing to wait a week, two weeks to get a new gun, if, in the same venue, in that week or two weeks, they found out that there was somebody trying to get one that didn't need one.
I think it's more of a mental health issue.
I'm an NRA member. And I'm not against a background check at all. But I feel like our morals have changed so bad.
So you think the problem that we have with violence is because morality has slipped, not because people are armed more or have access to guns more?
What about this question of what are called these red flag laws, where, if someone is worried about someone they know, thinks they're on a downward spiral of some kind, and alerts the authorities, and then the authorities check that person out, and if they determine there's a problem, possibly take their guns for a period of time?
I would have mixed feelings about that.
We heard this from almost every gun owner we talked to in Texas. People think red flag laws won't help, and they think people will abuse them by falsely reporting perfectly fine gun owners that they just don't like.
There is enough gun laws on the books right now, if you enforce every single one of them to the fullest extent of the law, they will slow things down a lot. We don't need new laws. We need enforcement of existing laws.
Empathy to people, too. I mean, I think you need to have empathy, I mean, just reaching out to your neighbors and your family, I mean, talking to people, instead of just Facebooking and talking about the left and the right. Reach out to your Democratic or Republican neighbor and say, hi, how you doing?
I would — like everybody else in the nation, would like to find the solution to stop all these rampages. That's the only reason I carry a gun anymore. Used to never have to worry about it.
Contrary to popular lore, Texas isn't a particularly gun-heavy state. About a third of adults here own them, which is pretty close to the national average.
And according to recent polls, a broad majority of Americans Democrats, Republicans and gun owners, support some increased action on gun control. Whether those majorities translate into political action remains to be seen.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham in West Texas.
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William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
Kate Grumke is a politics producer at PBS NewsHour.
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