Adam Turcotte is a nice looking young man with a four-year-old daughter who goes to work in jeans and a checked shirt with a gun on his hip. He manages Ranger Firearms, a comprehensive gun store in San Antonio. “I was out of school and looking for a job. A friend of mine knew the owner and suggested I work here. My degree was in marketing. One way or another, we are all in marketing.”
On January 1, 2016 a Texas law allowing open carry firearms went to effect. “People thought there would be shoot-outs in the street. One month after, we’ve had no incidents. Ninety-five percent of people prefer to conceal. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. I always carry my pistol on my hip in the store, but I conceal it when I go outside.”
Ranger Firearms has a Federal Firearms License to sell guns. In order to purchase a pistol or rifle, a customer needs a valid ID and complete a background questionnaire that is filed electronically with the FBI. The system can deliver three possible responses: approved for purchase, denied, or three-day delay. Felons, persons convicted of domestic abuse, and those mentally adjudicated are automatically denied. The three-day delay is usually a function of system capacity. “If your name is John Smith and the system is busy, it’s going to take some time to review your application.” Adam says that few people are denied because, “you know if you’re not allowed to buy a gun.”
Adam explained the reasoning beyond calls for a waiting period to buy a gun. “It’s a form of deterrent, a cooling off period so that hotheads don’t buy a gun and do something rash.” He feels they are unnecessary. “The State of Texas allows us to delay or deny selling a gun to anyone. If someone comes in agitated, I can tell him that his background check has been delayed.”
The safeguard of background checks doesn’t exist in the private market. “If an individual sells another individual a gun, no background checks are required. It is illegal for a felon to purchase that gun, and it is illegal for the gun owner to sell a felon that gun, but that’s difficult to trace and almost never prosecuted.” Despite this, Adam feels that nation-wide gun registration is unlikely and unworkable. “There are millions of guns out there in people’s closets. Unless we go knocking down doors, we’re never going to find them all.”
At this time, when Ranger sells a firearm to someone who’s passed the background check, they keep the receipt for twenty years, after which time it is set to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to be archived. “There is record trail, but that’s not the same as registration.”
The process is different for assault weapons, which have been regulated since 1986. Ranger has a special license to sell fully automatic machine guns. The application process to purchase is more rigorous and takes up to six months. “The term assault rifle is a media invention. The AR-15, the Aerolite Rifle, is now called an assault rifle. It is not an automatic weapon; it’s semi-automatic. Different models can hold between fifteen and one hundred bullets, but you have to pull the trigger each time.” I wondered who purchased these guns. “Rich hobbyists. These guns are very expensive and rarely used in crimes.”
Forty percent of the guns Ranger sells are hunting rifles; most of the rest are handguns for defense. Twenty-five percent of their customers are female. Ranger provides individual and group instruction – in the store, at home and at shooting ranges – to encourage proper handling and use. “I want to match your needs to your gun.”
I asked Adam what we might do to enhance gun safety in the home. “Every gun we sell comes with a lock. That’s required by law. But we can’t make people use them. I have a four-year-old daughter at home. All of my loaded guns are in my safe. I have practiced many times how to open it quickly. The rest are stored on high shelves in closets. There are fingerprint locks. We have guns that are coded to my fingerprints and my wife’s. But fingerprint locks are not required when we sell a gun, and most people don’t want to pay the extra money for them.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“Once a gun is out there, it’s out there. Firearms are part of the American way of life. We need to teach responsible use and prosecute to the full extent of the law. If you use a gun in a crime, most people don’t get prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Everything is plea-bargained. Until you put fear in the criminals you will have firearms crimes.
“The Second Amendment was not written about hunting; it’s to safeguard us against a tyrannical government.”