MODESTO — Locally, passionate opinions, a planned rally and an uptick in weapons sales all greeted President Barack Obama's gun control proposals.
The president's goals in toughening the nation's gun laws after mass shootings include a renewed assault weapons ban, background checks for all gun sales and a limit to the number of rounds that ammunition magazines can hold, as well as improvements to mental health care.
In response, Brian Du Bois, one of the leaders of Tea Party Patriots of Modesto, has scheduled a gun appreciation rally Saturday at McHenry and Briggsmore avenues. He said he wants people to show support for their Second Amendment rights and stand against what he calls an unconstitutional abuse of power.
"Many people get lost in the true reason of the Second Amendment. They say it's for hunters, sportsmen or self-protection," Du Bois said. "When you research what the Founding Fathers meant, the Founding Fathers wanted a citizenship that could be armed from a government that got too large. For those rights to be infringed upon is unacceptable."
Du Bois said he is against the president's proposed legislation, as well as the 23 related executive orders he signed, which range from creating a responsible gun ownership safety campaign to reviewing the standards for gun locks and safes and increasing research on gun violence.
"Here is the bottom line: The Constitution is very clear that we as citizens have a right to keep and bear arms," Du Bois said. "By use of these executive orders, he is infringing on those rights. This is not a left or right issue. This has nothing to do with Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals. This has to do with the fundamental founding principals of this nation."
How to define assault rifles?
Du Bois said the plan to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, is flawed because many of the weapons are classified incorrectly. That's a sentiment shared by Steven Brack, owner of Oakdale Guns & Ammo.
"The federal government wants to limit those (guns) that can be converted back to fully automatic wea-pons, and I am 100 percent a fan of that," Brack said. "Where they are completely wrong is that they don't know themselves what a true military or assault rifle is by description."
Sales at Oakdale Guns & Ammo have spiked, as they have nationwide, since Obama's re-election. Brack said the day of his gun control announcement, sales also jumped.
Yet even if the legislation passed, it would have little effect on California, where assault rifles have been banned since 1989. High-capacity magazines have been banned since 2000. Brack said about 10 percent of the weapons that would be banned under the proposed federal legislation are not banned in California.
He said California has a sound system of gun control with its strict laws, but he would not necessarily be in favor of those provisions going national.
"We all want (our government) to make good decisions in terms of firearms," he said. "But here is where they are failing. The failure part is our U.S. government is, instead of putting the responsibility on the criminal or prosecuting the criminal mind, they are attacking the inanimate item, the guns."
Brack and Du Bois said lawmakers should focus more of their attention on the real problem, which is mental health.
"What we have here is a problem of mental illness, we don't have a problem of gun violence," Du Bois said. "If they didn't do it with a gun, they'd do it another way."
Stigmatizing the mentally ill?
Mental health advocates, meanwhile, said they are pleased to see more attention paid to the issue, but they shouldn't become the scapegoat for all gun violence.
"Unfortunately they've been linked, but only a very small portion of people who have a mental illness are violent. More are more apt to become victims than commit violence," said Joyce Plis, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Stanislaus. "They do need to change the laws so someone who is potentially violent can be treated. Right now, they can't. But we should help them get treatment and raise public awareness, not stigmatize all people with mental illness as violent."