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CL gun show enthusiasts say focus misdirected

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CRYSTAL LAKE – Area gun owners gathered Sunday as meticulous consumers, inspecting and asking questions about the numerous handguns and rifles on display at a gun show at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn.

But those owners were equally as attentive to President Barack Obama’s recent gun-control proposal made in the form of legislative recommendations and executive orders after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 schoolchildren and others last month.

Gun owners who were leaving the Crystal Lake gun show said any federal reform should restrict gun access to criminals and the mentally ill, not the many law-abiding gun owners throughout the country.

“Everybody seems to have something that triggers these rampages,” said Richard Young, who is chairman of the McHenry County Friends of the NRA. “The common denominator is mental health. That should be the priority.”

Young, a retired officer from the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, was raising money for his local National Rifle Association chapter at a booth just outside the doors of the Holiday Inn conference center.

The conference area, which holds a maximum of 825 people, was filled with gun consumers looking to buy, and vendors looking to sell items such as ammunition magazines, Glock handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives and body armor.

Media were denied access to speak to the 50-plus vendors in attendance, but were allowed to observe the gun show.

Area vendors included the Illinois State Rifle Association, the McHenry County Sportsmen Association and RDO Specialties, a gun manufacturer in Island Lake. D & J Guns in Lakemoor hosted the regional gun show.

Some vendors displayed magazines that could hold 10 to 40 rounds a clip, with the latter selling for $50. Few vendors had semiautomatic weapons in view, but one was selling an AR-15 rifle for $1,800.

The semiautomatic rifle, popularly known as the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4, has been increasingly criticized by gun-control advocates for its ability to fire multiple, high-velocity rounds in a short span.

The shooters during last year’s mass shootings at Newtown, a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and a mall near Portland, Ore., all used versions of the AR-15.

That type of semiautomatic rifle may be banned if Obama gets his proposals through Congress later this year. Obama has called for a stronger assault weapons ban than the one in effect from 1994 to 2004.

But gun owners at the Holiday Inn had doubts about whether Congress could enact a ban that would keep assault weapons from the country’s criminals.

Michael Grebenick of Lake in the Hills said gun-control laws often make it more challenging for law-abiding owners to access guns while not doing enough to deter criminals.

“When you start to take away from the public, the only people left with guns are the criminals,” Grebenick said.

Young agreed, arguing Chicago has the country’s stingiest gun laws but intensifying gun violence in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

Through executive order, Obama removed barriers that prevent states from providing information, such as mental health data, for gun background checks.

But numerous gun owners, including Young and Grebenick, said mental health providers need more financial support, especially as demand for mental health care increases.

“That’s a problem,” Young said. “If there’s somebody who isn’t mentally competent, then they shouldn’t have a gun.”

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