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Charleston Shooting Rekindles Gun Debate – With Racial Overtones


It’s a Saturday morning at a shooting range in the Charleston suburb of Summerville and a little blond boy uses a handgun to fire holes through a paper silhouette of Osama bin Laden.

Nolan Welch also tries with a double barrel rifle that is almost as long as he is tall, taking turns with his older brother William.

“They’re good shots, both of them,” says their father, Kevin. “I’ve just got to work on their grip some, and teach them a little more about the aiming.”

At the ATP Gun Shop and Range, you can choose from thousands of weapons to fire or buy. There are Derringer pocket pistols, .50 caliber sniper rifles that sell for $14,000. There’s even a shelf with ladies’ models in pink and violet.

The store is about a 30-minute drive from the African American church where last month white gunman, allegedly motivated by feelings of racial superiority, fatally shot nine members of a bible study group on June 17.

Right to Bear Arms

But while Americans own more guns than any other nation – one in three households have them - many of ATP’s customers believe it’s not enough.

“People just need to be able to protect themselves (from) things like this, that could happen every day,” Kevin Welch insisted. “I think an armed society makes a better society.”

But President Barack Obama has called for tougher gun laws, noting that shooting rampages are too common in America.

“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” he said the morning after the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”

ATP owner Arlyn Pendergast says legislation is not the solution. “There’s more than enough gun laws on the books,” he says. “If they just enforce the ones they have, they could take care of most of the problems.”

He says he’s saddened by the church shooting, but insists U.S. citizens should be armed to the point where the authorities will fear them.

“Once the government gets to the point where they don’t fear the citizens anymore, they just start running over them with tanks, like China did,” Pendergast says.

Guns and Race

Such arguments have been made before, but the church shooting injected a new element in the debate about gun control - race.

Surveys show black Americans are more likely than whites to be victims of gun violence, though they are less likely to own guns.

Reverend Curtis Gatewood of the NAACP in South Carolina says Americans have gone too far in interpreting the constitutional amendment that gives citizens the “right to bear arms.”

“We can’t continue as if we’re infringing on the Second Amendment or other people’s rights if we’re talking about having sanity.”

David Brown disagrees. The African-American father brought his 15-year-old son Tyler to the range to teach him how to use a weapon.

“You should always be armed because you never know when the bad guy is going to show up, in this case one showed up in a church. Always be armed. I never leave home without mine.”

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