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Different Views: Guns in East Tennessee

9:54 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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We at 10News spent more than a month this winter looking at different perspectives on gun control and gun use in East Tennessee. Below, you can find each and every perspective we covered during our series.

"YOU HAVE TO MEET FORCE WITH EQUAL FORCE"

Tom Campbell has been in the glass industry for almost half a century.

"June 1st, I'm actually going to celebrate my 50th year in the glass business," he said.

And, during that period, Campbell has seen a lot of change.

"No two days alike," he said.

But, he says one thing has stayed constant over the years as well. Campbell has made sure to keep a gun at his side for protection.

"It has enabled me to keep a bad situation from getting worse," he said.

Campbell said he has had to use his gun "four or five" times to ward off criminals. He has never shot it, but said its mere presence has been useful enough to deter any possible violence from occurring.

He said he first started carrying a gun about 40 years ago after he himself was robbed at gunpoint.

"Three men with .38 robbed us and we were very fortunate," Campbell said. "They beat us up, but we were not severely harmed."

One time, Campbell's act of self-defense even won him the praise of former Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith.

On December 10, 1999, a man being followed by police took shelter in Campbell's old warehouse off Jackson Avenue. The man had just been involved in a shooting in the Lonsdale area.

"At that point, I announced I was making a citizen's arrest," he said.

The man had reached into his pocket in search of a gun that he had unknowingly lost just minutes earlier behind the warehouse.

"[I] had a gun at the back of his head basically and told him to be still or I would shoot him," Campbell said.

KPD soon thereafter arrested the man.

Campbell said what happened that day only reinforced a lesson he learned decades earlier.

"You have to meet force with equal force," he said.

And, Campbell said a gun allowed him to do that.

"The physical fact is a police officer can't be everywhere at all times," he said. 

"I WOULD SUPPORT A BAN ON MILITARY-STYLE WEAPONS"

Their gatherings may not be as loud or as big as the ones you've likely seen the NRA put together, but gun control advocates in East Tennessee are just as opinionated.

William Culbert does not have a gun in the house -- he feels it would not keep his family any safer.

He cites studies like one by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, which shows mortality rates are higher in states where there are more guns than the ones where there are fewer.

But local gun control advocates say statistics aren't the only thing they have on their side. To them, the push for more gun control is also just common sense.

"Every case you hear of, whether it's the school shootings, or the movie massacre, someone walks in holding a rifle with this humongous magazine attached," says advocate Frank Greene. "Its only purpose is to fire off as many rounds as possible in a minimal amount of time."

Greene says he has experience with guns. He served in the military, and so did Doug Veum, who feels Americans need to take a harder look at the adage, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

"My sense is that people have a weapon, a tool, to do an act that really wouldn't do otherwise do if they had to think about it," Veum says. But he also believes the path to peace relies on more than just gun control.

Veum thinks the country needs to re-assess itself from a moral perspective. "There has to be a willful stopping of the violence. We have not as Christians addressed that issue."

The people interviewed were also quick to point out the role firearms play in suicides. They believe with stronger gun control we'd likely see the country's high suicide rate -- drop.
 

"MY LIFE HAS BEEN DRAMATICALLY ALTERED"

Gun violence has dramatically changed the lives of many East Tennesseans, that includes Lu Snellings of Clinton.

Lu lost her husband Larry when he was shot by a man visiting his store, the South Clinton Pawn Shop.

"My life has been dramatically altered," said Lu when asked about the shooting.

She said she and Larry both had gun carry permits. While the pair would shoot at the range for fun, Lu said Larry was insistent on one thing.

"He was very adamant about me protecting myself also," she said.

Lu said it was ironic a gun took Larry's life. However, despite Larry's death, she believes her husband would not want other Americans to lose their guns to any type of gun ban.

"The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms and I don't feel like, even though my husband was murdered by a firearm, that right should be taken away," she said.

What Lu wants is stricter background checks. She recommended gun owners have to periodically answer a questionnaire that can evaluate their mental health.

"People who have nothing to hide definitely would have no problem submitting to some type of test," Lu said.

John Bohstedt of West Knoxville has also experienced violence resulting from gun use. He was one of four people who helped subdue the gunman who killed two people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church shooting in 2008.

He said Americans involving themselves in the gun debate need to listen more to the people who have actually found themselves in violent situations.

Bohstedt believes the adage, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun," is simply not true.

"The four of us had him down faster than I think people with guns, if anybody had guns in our sanctuary, faster than people with guns could have," he said.

Bohstedt added he believes a civilian with a gun likely would have made things worse the day of the TVUUC shooting.

"If there had been other civilians who drew their weapons and started firing, I shudder to think what would have happened," he said. "I shudder to think how many children and grandparents in that auditorium, in that sanctuary might have been hurt."

"IT'S MAINLY ABOUT SAFETY"  

Chelsea Dinger first tried her hand at shooting two years ago.

She read a flyer posted on the wall at her school that said athletes were needed for the shooting team.

"And, I told Dad, I wanted to start shooting," said the 16-year-old William Blount student.

So Chelsea's dad, Brad, brought her to John Sevier Range in Knoxville to learn the craft. That was where she met Doug Bryant, region four director of the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target (SCTP) program.

According to Bryant, more than 400 students participate in trap and skeet competitions across East Tennessee.

"One of the things you'll find on the scholastic clay target program is kids that cannot play basketball, baseball or football, they will come out and participate very well in the clay target program," Bryant.

He said the sport is becoming increasingly popular in private schools. The Episcopal School of Knoxville even has a team.

Bryant also said the sport is not exclusive to any one region or culture. He pointed out girls like Chelsea actually perform better in competition.

"Typically, girls make better shooters than men because they have better hand-eye competition" he said.

Brad Dinger said he supported Chelsea participating in the sport because it kept her away from drugs and other negative influences. He said there are good reasons, besides protection and defense, to use guns.

"There are so many people out there who are using guns for the wrong reasons," Dinger said. "Responsibility was something she needed to learn and that's why we got into this."

Bryant agrees.

"Due to the tragedies that have occurred, when people think of guns now, they think of violence, but [these] programs are totally different," he said. "We don't shoot weapons, we shoot guns and that's what we teach all of our kids."

According to Bryant, no one in Tennessee has ever been injured by the discharge of a firearm while participating in SCTP competition.

"It's mainly about safety and it's really challenging," Chelsea Dinger said.

For right now, however, Dinger has her sights set on getting a scholarship. Colleges across the country offer money to student athletes who are successful in shooting game activities.

"AN ASSAULT IS AN ACTION"

McMinn County resident David Harper has 13 guns.

Some are for work. Some are for hobby. Most, however, can be used for protection.

"It protects myself, it protects my family, it protects my home," he said.

There are many people in East Tennessee who have guns for the same reasons as Harper. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, there are more than 100,020 handgun carry permits holders in the 10News viewing area; that is nearly a quarter of the permit holders who live in the state.

And, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, many of those gun owners have been anxious to see what will happen next in the country's conversation over gun control.

Last Friday in Nashville, gun owners gathered on Legislative Plaza, next to the state capitol building, to discuss their concerns over the push for new gun control legislation.

"Join the NRA and keep writing petitions to our legislators," said gun owner Travis Hamby during the rally.

He and his friends traveled to Nashville for the event all the way from Athens.

They say guns aren't the problem.

"It's evil that hurts people not the gun itself," said gun owner Travis Crisp.

Adam Cook, a McMinn County resident who owns four guns, said enforcing the laws already on the books, hiring more school resource officers, and improving the country's mental health system could help stop tragedies down the road.

He said he does not believe a crackdown on assault weapons, as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed, would change anything. On top of that, Cook said he also doesn't understand where the term "assault weapon" came from.

"An assault is an action," he said. "A gun in and of itself cannot assault, it has to be manipulated."

When asked whether he sees an end to the division Americans currently have over guns, Cook replied, "I don't know why there's division, I don't want to see anyone's rights being taken away, but I don't want my rights taken away either."

In a poll, 10News asked East Tennesseans whether they were open to any compromise on guns.

As of, February 12, 11:30pm, 192 people answered, "I stand behind my belief and will not compromise". While 19 people responded, "I believe there are truths on both sides of the debate".

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