Increased regulation of so-called “bump stocks” seems to have earned initial buy-in from gun rights and gun control activists alike in the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre. Authorities say the shooter may have used this kind of device to make his gun function more like an automatic weapon.
Here in New Hampshire, at least one local gun shop owner says he doesn't plan on selling the devices — despite a noticeable uptick in demand in recent days.
But that same owner, Ben Beauchemin of Wicked Weaponry in Hooksett, also said he doesn’t think focusing solely on banning certain kinds of gun “hardware” is the best policy solution to stopping gun violence.
Read on for excerpts from his recent conversation with NHPR, edited for clarity and length, below.
What kind of conversations are you having with people coming into your store this week?
Pretty much everybody across the board is appalled by what happened in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, every time something like this happens, we're all pretty horrified for it — including gun guys. We grapple with it in an even more awkward way, because for us, there's a hobby that we like and we want to protect, but there's also the horror of the crimes being committed. So we get stuck in a really weird position.
Me, personally, as a business man, that's a whole other side of it, too. But my customers coming in — that's where we start to have those conversations. Because people don't know how to protect the things they like, as well as try to protect the public. [...] Most of the conversation I try to have with my customers is: Think about how you're training, think about how you treat safety and how you treat safety with the people around you. That's like step one. And then we can talk about maybe implementing some legal requirements for either training or safety.
How long have you been shooting?
Since I was a kid. I'm 35 now, and I've been shooting probably since I was about 5 or 6 years old.
You mentioned you take a bit of a different outlook than some others in your industry?
We try to take a more middle-of-the-road approach. We love protecting our rights, and we do love firearms. But in the same token, we're not oblivious to what's happening. So I have this conversation with my guys from time to time, too. We need to self-regulate as a gun industry, as a gun culture, before somebody else who doesn't really have any skin in the game, doesn't care that they can't own a firearm or can't own a certain widget or whatever, starts making decisions for us. That's pretty much the heart of all the conversations I have here.
Have you been following any of the conversations this week around bump stocks?
Bump fire stocks, slide fire stocks — there’s a few companies out there that make them. They're all things that fall under the legal definition of what ATF has put forth, and obviously they're under massive scrutiny right now. For us, personally, I think they're gimmicks. I don't think they hold any value for real shooters, whether it be competition or accuracy; it's more of a range toy, for lack of a better term. When guys come in here and they were looking for that stuff — which wasn't very often, I'll be honest with you, until now — we try to dissuade them. Because what they find out is that piece of hardware, that bump fire stock that cost them $300, was fun for about five minutes, and then they realize: It's expensive to shoot, because you're wasting a lot of ammo, it's not accurate. I tell people, let your stupid friend who's got a big fat deep wallet buy it and try it at the range, and then put nice stuff on your guns.
Is that something you guys have sold here?
We've sold, I think, in five and a half years, one bump fire stock — and that was a special order. Like I said, it's not something that I think is a really valuable piece of equipment, so we didn't stock it or anything like that, or even try to push it on people.
Could you see yourself selling them moving forward?
The day after the sheriff had officially come out and said that bump fire, slide fire stocks were used, I came in and I had about five messages on my voicemail, and I have been getting calls — I'd say about 5 or 10 a day since. Personally, it made me feel kind of sick to get that immediate reaction from people, but I understand that if there's a threat of something being taken away, people want to get it. From a business standpoint, I probably won't stock them, personally. It's probably a bad decision on my part. First of all, I don't think they're a good product, period. And second of all, I just don't really want to be associated with that at this time, for sure.
As someone who is in the industry, what do you think would be most helpful or most effective on a policy level in preventing the kind of violence we saw in Las Vegas?
Across the board, for pretty much any of these incidents, I go back to the same thing: Making sure that our background check system is working, working effectively, working in a timely manner.
Another thing, too, is maybe we need to start working on training and requirements for people to purchase firearms. Nothing so astronomical that a good responsible firearm owner wouldn't want to participate — something that is actually useful, not just a check-the-box kind of thing. This goes both ways. I'm all for changing those "software" issues of policy and training. But there's going to have to be a little bit of give on the other side, too. If a gun person is going to submit themselves to training, licensing and extra stuff than they do now, maybe we need to talk about interstate acceptance of those training requirements so that maybe if you want to carry concealed it's not state-by-state, and you're always playing this guessing game.
Maybe it's like a driver's license. I'm all for taking a driver's ed-style firearms course, and then being able to drive in whatever state I go to. I think on both sides there's going to have to be some compromise and some conversation, and I think that if people look at the bigger picture, the overall benefit is going to be positive. Even if someone says, well, I don't want someone from New Hampshire carrying in my state of Nevada. Yeah, but the safety factors will be increased just through training alone.
What do you say to someone who would say, 'Why does someone need an AR-15? Why does someone need a military-style assault rifle?'
A couple of things we need to make sure when we talk about this stuff is that we get our terminology right and we get our concepts right. Now, this whole incident has actually really helped people understand the difference between semiautomatic and fully automatic. In past incidents, you've had news outlets say they were using fully automatic or automatic weapons, and that's a misnomer. So this has done a lot better for that.
When it comes to firearms technology, I like to take a step back. If we took a soldier from the Civil War and showed him an M1 Garand from World War II, it would blow his mind. And he'd probably say, 'Nobody ever needs to own a firearm like this.' So we can't try to use technology as a base, because it's always going to be improving. We need to work at kind of everything that surrounds that technology, because it's always going to be moving forward.
Another point people will raise is that, 'Well, you can put as many rules in place as you want, and the bad actors are still going to find ways to circumvent the system.'
Right, and that's true. But, again, that doesn't exist in a vacuum. […] It's not an absolute truth that bad people are going to do bad things no matter what. They may do it to a lesser degree, or to a harsher degree, depending on how we restrict. I don't think you can't look at hardware at all, but I think the bigger long-term solution is to look at training, safety, background checks.
Given the kind of opposition we've seen to expanding background checks, are you at all optimistic that there would be any more openness — given what we've seen in the past few years — to getting those kind of measures passed?
I think there has to be. You have to be open to looking at the background check system, looking at training, things like that, because those are what's going to — in my opinion — yield better results. And especially, the more these things happen, you can't just keep burying your head in the sand and saying, 'Well, nothing you can do. Guns are guns. People are people.' I'm sorry, you're going to have to find some sort of solution. Whether it be administrative or even just policing your own community — not policing, in that term, but taking care of your own gun community, if you're a fan of guns, and understanding the gun community, even if you're not a fan of guns.
Do you think there’s any way to frame these conversations that would allow for some common ground or for people to not just automatically shut off the other side because they disagree?
Have you ever seen the show Wife Swap? That’s probably what it’s going to take. I struggle with this all the time because I’m very, kind of, in the middle when it comes to this.
The best way is to maybe get out of your comfort zone. I had a friend of mine who was a lawyer in Vermont — super, super liberal, as you would imagine — and I brought her in and I actually had her build a firearm with me. And we went to the range, and we shot it, and she is a complete convert. Now, it's not always that easy. But she understands the differences in terminology and types of firearm. She understands what it's like to shoot one. Some of the boogeyman factor's taken out of it. And she takes a more training and background check approach to firearms regulations than straight-up hardware.
Hardware is low-hanging fruit. It's easy to do a magazine ban because you can show a picture of a magazine, you can explain how dangerous it is. But at the end of the day, you've got competition shooters who can reload five-round magazines faster than I can reload a thirty. So I think the way to bring more productive conversation into the mix is to try to step out of your comfort zone a little bit, at least listen — legitimately listen — to what the other side has to say. And then maybe not agree with them, but you can come to some sort of compromise.