As Seen in the Chippewa-Herald:

Three Chippewa County gun shops will continue to sell semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, despite moves from larger retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart to impose new restrictions on firearm sales.

The owners of Marc-On Shooting, Lauer Custom Weaponry and Tilden Gun all sell semi-automatic weapons, a category that includes AR-15 rifles. Lauer Custom Weaponry even manufactures their own version of the AR-15, owner Steve Lauer said.

“That would be like Ford deciding not to make and sell trucks anymore. That’s the big market. It’s the modern gun,” Lauer said.

The AR-15 style of rifle has become a highlight of the national conversation on gun control since the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. That day, suspect Nikolas Cruz is accused of using an AR-15 rifle to kill 17 and wound more than a dozen people.

In the weeks following the shooting, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart announced they will stop selling guns to people under 21; Dick’s has also said it will stop selling “assault-style” rifles in its Field and Stream stores. Walmart stopped selling AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015.

In following days, Kroger Co. and L.L. Bean also announced they would not sell firearms to people under 21.

Several gun shop owners within Chippewa County said they disagree with the retailers’ new policy, but think it may bring their local shops more business.

“I don’t think that Dick’s and Walmart should have done that — I never would do that — but this is America and that’s their prerogative,” Lauer said.

Lauer’s Lake Hallie store is notable for manufacturing DuraCoat, a spray-on protective coating for firearms that he sells around the nation. In conversations with gun dealers across America, Lauer said he sees much stronger reactions to proposed gun legislation in large metropolis areas, like Atlanta — but has heard a more muted response within his particular Wisconsin community.

“Rural areas like us, we don’t feel that impact as much,” he said. “The people from big cities are far more reactionary than we are out here. Gun sales are politically motivated. But of course we’ve seen an uptick.”

Umbrella terms

All three owners of the Chippewa County gun shops objected to AR-15s and similar guns being called “assault” or “assault-style” weapons.

“They’re not an assault weapon. The term AR comes from ArmaLite rifle … But it’s a semi-automatic rifle, like any other semi-automatic rifle,” said Sean Cantwell, owner of Tilden Gun.

ArmaLite is an American gun manufacturer notable for manufacturing the original version of the AR-15.

Many duck and deer hunters use shotguns and rifles that fit into the semi-automatic category alongside AR-15s, said Steve Lauer.

According to Lauer, the only true “assault weapon” is a select-fire gun. A select-fire gun can function as a full automatic — where a finger holding down the trigger means the gun keeps firing — or as a semi-automatic, where one round is fired with each depression of the trigger.

The majority of AR-15 and semi-automatic weapon customers are hunting small game or target shooting, Lauer said.

“If you go on YouTube and look up coyote hunting, probably 90 percent of guys are hunting with AR-15s,” he said.

AR-15s are popular with beginners and youth because they’re gentler on their owners, Dan Marcon of Marc-On Shooting in Lake Hallie said — a large spring inside the stock absorbs the recoil. “…(People) can still hunt and target shoot with them, but you’re not getting that big blowback, that punch in the shoulder.”

Bump stock interest climbs

Nikolas Cruz, suspect in the Parkland shooting, did not use a bump stock, authorities say. However, the stocks were attached to a half-dozen weapons in the hotel room of the shooter who killed 58 people in October in Las Vegas.

The state of Wisconsin does not currently ban bump stocks, although a group of Democratic legislators introduced a bill banning the devices in Oct. 2017.

Lauer’s shop sells bump stocks; Marcon’s does not.

Lauer only has a few of the devices left on his shelves. “We can’t get any more, because the company can’t produce them fast enough,” he said. “That’s because of the talk about it.”

“We don’t sell bump stocks, because there was never really a need for them until the tragedy in Las Vegas,” Marcon said. “Nobody knew what they were.”

Correctly using a gun outfitted with a bump stock takes extensive training, Marcon said, and they decrease the gun’s accuracy significantly.

Sales rising slightly

Gun sales have continued to climb slightly over the last few months, owners of all three stores said — though Marcon said some of his additional customers come to his range for training, not necessarily to purchase a gun.

“A lot of people who own firearms want to get trained because of what’s going on,” Marcon said.

Lauer said his small upswing in gun sales is insignificant compared to the flood of business he had while former President Barack Obama was in office.

“Obama was the best thing that ever happened. We couldn’t keep guns on the shelf. But that’s not going to happen with Mr. Trump,” Lauer said.

President Donald Trump appeared to support banning gun sales to those under 21 in a meeting Feb. 28, where he criticized lawmakers for being fearful of the National Rifle Association.

A day later on March 1, Trump appeared to reverse his stance somewhat after meeting with Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm. “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control,” Cox wrote in a tweet afterward.

“Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!” Trump tweeted the same day.

Wisconsin legislators have called for gun control measures, and Gov. Scott Walker has indicated he may be willing to listen — with reservations. He has come out against arming teachers, the Associated Press reported March 2, and is reportedly working with lawmakers on school safety bills for lawmakers to take up this spring. He did not specify the contents of the bills.

Guns were ultimately designed to be used in battle, Lauer said, but Wisconsin residents have adapted them for other uses. “The history of every single style of weapon is a weapon of war. That’s just the way it is. But we don’t do that … I have over 7,000 firearms. Not one of them has ever hurt anyone. It’s the guy that runs the gun. He’s the problem,” Lauer said.

“It’s a horrible incident that happened in Florida, (but) I don’t think we can legislate evil out of people,” Cantwell said.