Matthew Miller drove on a recent cold winter Sunday morning from his Ocean City home to the Firearms Training Facility in Egg Harbor Township to indulge in one of his hobbies — shooting guns.
As the debate rages in Washington, D.C., about what gun control measures to pass, Miller's views fall between the extremes of the left and the right.
Miller is concerned he would not be able to buy a semi-automatic rifle in the future, or that newer ones will not be manufactured, but he is OK with legislation creating a separate criminal offense for gun-trafficking. Miller said cracking down on gun-trafficking has been talked about hand-in-hand with a universal background check, which he also supports.
“Every one (gun) I ever purchased, I went through that background check, Miller said.
Gun violence victims and Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, receive a great deal of attention for their opinions.
The views of the 70 million U.S. gun owners sometimes get drowned out by those most effective at drawing the spotlight to their side and their supporting politicians. Not all gun owners are NRA members, and not all NRA members agree 100 percent with the stances their leadership takes.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an assault-weapons ban, which also would bar ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds. It was the fourth gun-control measure that the committee approved in a week. The other bills would require federal background checks for more would-be gun buyers, make it easier for authorities to prosecute illegal gun-traffickers and increase school safety aid.
Brian Olsack, of Marmora, was raised in Atco, Camden County. He remembers growing up and hunting in the Wharton State Forest in Hammonton.
“My concern is they will chastise the legal and trained gun owners by lumping us in with the criminals. Just because I own a firearm doesn’t mean I’m a criminal,” said Olsack, 46.
One of the most important things needed is more education, Olsack said.
The president is calling for a new initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), which would train teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services.
“They will be able to see if someone is mentally unstable. Education and learning would lead to other things falling into place,” Olsack said.
There are many guns laws on the books in this country, and we don’t have the resources to enforce them all, Olsack said, but he was fine with universal background checks and is against gun-trafficking.
“It (gun-trafficking) is a big problem, but it doesn’t pertain to the public. There aren’t many law-abiding citizens who are involved in gun-trafficking,” Olsack said. “I definitely oppose gun-trafficking, anything that involves illegal activity as far as firearms, being a responsible, legal gun owner. ... Gun-trafficking is the purchase of firearms and illegally selling them, or shipping them somewhere else, or selling them to someone who should not have them.”
Olsack shoots metal plates and paper targets at the Firearms Training Facility in Egg Harbor Township, but he’s thinking about becoming a member of the Cumberland Riflemen Inc., a private club that has been established since 1964 off Route 49 in Millville.
Paul Adamowski, the Cumberland Riflemen Inc. president, said his club has 1,100 members, primarily from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
“First of all, the shootings, especially in Connecticut, anybody worth his salt, man or woman, is going to feel some concern over what happened, but then again, on the other side of the coin, people are looking also at what’s happening as far as politicians go and their knee-jerk reactions,” Adamowski said. “You look at, especially, the last few mass shootings that we’ve had. The situation has been one where people are not competitive shooters or target shooters. They are people who set out to do an ill, and they found a tool to be able to do it with.”
Melissa Keller, 42, of Mays Landing, has visited shooting ranges for almost three years.
Keller got involved with the hobby through her husband. She is a beginner who has been using pistols to shoot paper targets. She shot her first metal plate last month at the Firearms Training Facility in Egg Harbor Township. She finds shooting targets enjoyable and likes meeting new people who appreciate the same sport.
“I’m afraid that they (the government) will take away something that’s fun,” said Keller, who added limting gun magazines to 10 rounds is fine with her.
Dave Daniels, range manager at the Firearms Training Facility in Egg Harbor Township, said the gun control debate is talked about pretty regularly among the gun owners. Most, but not all, people who visit are against gun control.
“New Jersey, in particular, is one of the stricter gun control states. We have very restrictive gun-purchasing, gun-selling legislation on the books,” Daniels said.
This state has the second-toughest gun laws in the country, behind only California, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2011. Gov. Chris Christie said in January that he was setting up a task force “to take a full and comprehensive look at the intersection of gun control, addiction, mental health and school safety.”
Daniels believes that if people have access to a firearm in a home, they should receive some kind of safety training, which his facility offers.
“We actually have three NRA training counselors here on staff, those are the people who certify instructors,” Daniels said. “They (his staff) are largely responsible for the amazingly few number of gun accidents that we have in Atlantic County.”
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