Around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Vanessa Nesic, a stay-at-home mom, walked into Get Loaded, a gun shop five miles south of the Inland Regional Center, where 14 people were slain Wednesday in yet another horrific gun attack.
"I want to protect myself," said Nesic, 31. She has a handgun at home, and wanted to talk about modifying it with a lighter trigger. "I don't have that much strength."
Her mother's neighbor, she said, was shot in the rampage, and remained hospitalized. Nesic said she plans to apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Gus Zaharopoulos, a 68-year-old crane inspector who lost the tip of his right trigger finger in an industrial accident, was shopping for a handgun he could shoot left-handed. "I used to have a strong hand and a weak hand," he said. "Now I have a weak hand and a weaker hand."
Zaharopoulos moved to San Bernardino County from Greece at age 5 and grew up shooting rabbits in wide-open spaces now crowded with homes. He bought his daughter her first rifle when she was 3.
"Last night on the news, Scott Pelley called San Bernardino a 'quiet little town,'" said Zaharopoulos, who worked as a San Bernardino police detective until a medical retirement in 1990. "It's not. For years, it was the murder capital of the country."
As anguished voices call for policymakers to do something, anything to rid us of gun violence, the respectful conversations I had at Get Loaded demonstrate why eliminating guns is a nonstarter. For gun enthusiasts, the answer to the kind of tragedy that has become all too commonplace is more guns, not fewer.
"The biggest problem is that it was a gun-free zone," said Get Loaded owner Terry McGuire, 49, a bald, burly guy who looks as though he would be right at home among the many cops and deputies to whom he caters. "You aren't allowed to carry guns into county buildings."
McGuire makes no apology for his business, and unlike other gun shop owners I have encountered after tragedies, was not defensive, angry or wary of a reporter holding a recorder.
"If people are going to kill people, they're going to find a way to do it," McGuire said. "Those people yesterday had bombs. I mean, France probably has the strictest gun laws of any country, and look what happened there."
The Islamic State attacks in Paris, however, were outliers. As President Obama noted Thursday, "We should never think that this is something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn't happen with the same frequency in other countries."
Alex Chavez, 39, a Get Loaded customer who lives in Moreno Valley and teaches gun handling and safety to novices, concurred with McGuire. "Let's say that 15 of those people had had guns in that place. Maybe 14 wouldn't have died. Maybe only eight would have died. I tell my wife all the time, 'That ain't going to happen to me.' I am going to give myself a shot to get out of that situation."
Everyone in the shop embraced the importance of vigilant efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who are unfit to own them.
In California, a state with perhaps the most stringent gun laws in the country, sellers have discretion over who may buy a gun. McGuire adheres strictly to the law — and to his own intuition about whether someone should have a firearm. He said he does not hesitate to turn people away. I found that encouraging.
If McGuire thinks a customer is trying to make a straw purchase — that is, trying to buy a gun for someone else, which is illegal — he will refuse the sale. "People get really mad. But I have a moral and an ethical obligation," he said.
Chavez made similar decisions when he sold guns at a sporting goods store. "One time, a kid came in and he was acting really weird, waving a piece of paper," Chavez said. "And he said, 'I was told I could not buy a gun until this date. I am now allowed to own a gun.'" Chavez refused.
"I don't care if he's cleared," he said. "We all don't want crazy people to have guns."
A few minutes later, we were interrupted by a customer who wanted to order pink parts for an assault rifle he was building for his daughter.
"She turns 21 at the end of next month," he said, "and that is her present."
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