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For NH gun sellers, latest massacre triggers higher sales and a familiar political debate

Sunday News Correspondent

March 11. 2018 12:55PM
Ben Beauchemin sells and customizes firearms at his Hooksett gun shop, Wicked Weaponry. (Ryan O'Connor/Sunday News Correspondent)

It happens without fail. A mass shooting occurs somewhere in the country. Politicians nationwide begin to squabble over gun control. Firearm sales increase.

That's the reality, local proprietors say, but not one they choose to embrace.

Ben Beauchemin, owner of Wicked Weaponry in Hooksett, and John Cavaretta, who owns Chester Arms in Derry, each acknowledge sales have gone up since the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., just as they did following the Las Vegas massacre in October and other mass shootings across the United States.

But they have no desire to profit off horrific events. They said the wild sales fluctuations caused by mass shootings make it difficult to properly manage their small businesses.

And they have no plans to alter their policies due to what they describe as "flinch" reactions from politicians and larger competitors either.

"We need to all start realizing that while we'd like the solutions to be easy, the solutions aren't easy," Beauchemin said. "That's when we can start to make real headway, because unfortunately, we're not right now, and we're all pretty frustrated."

Fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland were fatally shot by a former student with a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle. In the month since, some national retailers have tightened restrictions on gun sales, including the recent decision by Dick's Sporting Goods to stop selling semi-automatic rifles and to raise the age to purchase firearms at its stores from 18 to 21.

Bass Pro Shops, which has a store in Hooksett, is one national retailer that hasn't announced further restrictions on gun sales. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Unlike his larger competitors, removing high-powered, semi-automatic rifles from the shelves isn't an option for Beauchemin, who said AR-15-type sales make up 50 percent of his business.

"Dick's has a ton of other things to fall back on," he said. "You know, they've got shareholders to take care of and stuff like that, so their priorities are not the same as ours, where we're just trying to keep the doors open, keep the lights on. And we're going to keep doing what we do and just try to change hearts and minds one person at a time and stay safe as best we can. There's no plan B for us."

Cavaretta said he feels no pressure to further regulate based on the decisions of national retailers. In fact, he said he believes those companies will be negatively impacted in the marketplace.

"I think the firearms community will not stand for lies and blame of an inanimate metal object," he said. "A person (is committing) those acts, whether with knives, vehicle or other means. No one suggests banning or restricting those items, and they are not even constitutionally protected."

John Cavaretta of Chester Arms in Derry says he's standing firm in his Second Amendment rights as pressure mounts for gun shops to tighten restrictions. (Ryan O'Connor/Sunday News Correspondent)

Bump-stock debate

Currently, it is illegal for Granite State gun shops to sell a handgun to anyone younger than 21. But an 18-year-old can currently purchase a long gun such as an AR-15.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives last Tuesday rejected an attempt to make the sale of bump stocks illegal and raise the legal age for long gun sales to 21.

Beauchemin, like his counterparts, stressed that all items sold in his store are in full compliance with state and federal law. But he does not sell bump stocks. He says the reason is not because of their marketed ability to generate rapid fire from a semi-automatic weapon, but because he doesn't believe they work well, especially at an average cost of $250.

"They're really expensive, and they're not really practical for everyday shooting purposes," said Beauchemin.

Cavaretta likened bump stocks to anti-wrinkle cream.

"They don't work. Father Time waits for no one," he said. "Why do people continue to buy those expensive creams that virtually promise to stop or reverse wrinkles and signs of aging? Fancy advertising. Hype, not results."

Beauchemin said he understands a lot of the confusion around firearms and accessories and welcomes more opportunities to discuss the issues with anti-gun advocates.

"The conversation needs to happen," he said. "Gun guys need to have the conversation with non-gun people about the technology because once people start understanding the technology, they understand it's an illusion to start outlawing (specific firearms) in the name of safety. The technology of (AR-15 and similar semi-automatic rifles) is there and has been there for almost 100 years now in regard to the types of guns we're talking about, so the genie is out of the bottle. It doesn't matter whether you clean up one gun or 100 guns, you're playing whack-a-mole with this stuff."

Productive discourse

Goffstown Police Chief Robert Browne wears multiple hats when it comes to his views on gun control.

A hunter and card-carrying NRA member, Browne has had the responsibility of approving or denying hundreds of concealed carry permits, and he's witnessed the lethal consequences when a firearm lands in the wrong hands. He's also a parent of school-age children.

"The fact that it's being discussed, on both a local and national level, is healthy because it's getting people to understand that it's a very complex issue, and it's not something that can be solved with one broad brush," said Browne.

"There are people who are avid sportsmen and hunters, people who are collectors, people who enjoy shooting who would never go out and hurt anyone or ever have the intention to do so," he said. "And then there are people that have those protections, people who should never own a firearm or have access to a deadly weapon, people who have mental health concerns, as an example, who should never have that door left open because of their potential to inflict harm."

Last month, State Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, presented a proposed amendment to Senate Bill 357, which focuses on safe school zones and syringe disposal. The amendment put the responsibility of determining and enforcing gun-free zones for New Hampshire schools on governing school boards.

"My amendment seemed to be pretty benign," said Hennessey. "Republicans are often pushing for local control, so I just felt this was a natural way to put a federal law that isn't enforced in the hands of local school boards."

Though she acknowledges her preference would be to have all school zones completely gun-free, Hennessey said she agrees with the need for productive discourse. To get there, she said both sides of the argument need to stop the mudslinging and name calling.

"When it becomes a 'we' versus 'they,' how do we have a discussion when we're calling people names? You can't have a discussion if it's just one way," she said.

Because there are so many facets to the conversation, Beauchemin said he and his counterparts engage in similar safety discussions as the general population. He said he takes care to uphold both his legal and his ethical responsibilities when people walk through the door asking for a firearm - from required gun checks to using practical wisdom and discernment.

Beauchemin said he has diplomatically turned several people away, even before conducting a background check. "We don't want to be the gun shop at the end of the day that's sold something to someone who wasn't supposed to have it," he said. "No gun shop wants to be that way. We all want to be as safe and responsible as possible."

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