As President Obama questions publicly whether more gun control is needed in America, especially in the wake of mass shootings such as the one in California last week, South Dakota gun owners are adamant that their Second Amendment rights must be maintained.
Many gun owners and sales persons who attended a local gun show over the weekend said gun control will make America less safe, and would not stop mass shootings.
Lee Rohrer, secretary of the Rapid City Rifle Club, which sponsored the Rapid City Firearms Association Gun Show at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center this weekend, was blunt in arguing that gun control is not needed, despite recent shootings that killed dozens in California, Colorado and Paris.
“Most of the people promoting gun control are outright liars. I hate to be that blunt, but that’s what they are,” he said.
Rohrer said gun shows get a bad rap from advocates who believe such shows contribute to easy availability of guns blamed for the spate of high-profile shooting deaths nationwide, including in San Bernadino, Calif., where 14 people were shot to death last week.
Rohrer said a small number of sales by private unlicensed individuals do take place, but he said 99 percent of exhibitors at this weekend’s show were federally licensed gun dealers, who are required to perform an instant background check on anyone purchasing a gun.
“There’s tight regulations here,” he said.
The instant check is to determine if the potential buyer has a criminal record that would preclude them from owning a gun.
“Most times it takes about 20 minutes,” said Larry Pettigrew of the Rapid City Rifle Club.
Stricter gun-control laws won't make the country any safer, exhibitor Sonny Pesicka said Sunday afternoon, as the gun show wound to a close. Pesicka, 73, of Box Elder, lived on farm growing up and was raised around guns.
"You have the right to protect yourself and everyone else, and a gun is important as far as that goes," he said. "Because if we didn't have guns, we probably wouldn't be a free country right now. And I think that's the main reason that Japan or Germany never tried to invade this country (during World War II), because of its armed citizens."
Pesicka, a retired Pennington County Sheriff's deputy, said the U.S. has experienced a moral decay, and that's partly to blame for the increase in mass shootings and random attacks on law enforcement officers. "People don't respect other people is part of the problem," he said.
When asked how to reduce the number of mass shootings in the U.S., Pesicka said he didn't have a good answer but knows that stricter gun-control laws aren't the solution.
"Look at those people out in California. They had pipe bombs, too. If they can't get guns, they're going to blow you up. How many stabbings are there, and we don't have knife control. If people want to kill you, they're going to find some way to do it."
Another dealer, Jim Hansen, said business at his gun shop in Turton, S.D. has increased in recent years, but he fears that the government will pursue stricter gun legislation in response to recent mass shootings, making it more difficult for him to do business.
"People out here, we think different than on the East Coast, West Coast," said Hansen, 62. "Maybe the fanatics are here, but we just don't have as many of them. We're a hunting state."
Most of the dealers at the show knew one another and were also familiar with their customers. All guns on display at the show had their triggers secured with zip ties. Ammunition is also secured, Rohrer said.
“We try to do everything safe and legal as possible," Rohrer said. "We’re not out to try to run guns. A lot of these collectors, they know each other. Some of these guys I’ve known for 30 or 40 years."
Rohrer said proceeds from the show are used by the Rifle Club to sponsor youth shooting programs, which teach safe firearm usage.
The vast majority of guns changing hands at the weekend show were bought by hunters or sports target shooters, or collectors of vintage rifles from World War II or even the Civil War.
Most guns used in criminal activities are those that were stolen in home or car burglaries and not those purchased at a gun show, Rohrer said.
“I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s so minimal,” he said.
The only way for people to protect themselves from these random shooters is to be armed on their own, said Wayne Andrews, of Rapid City.
"If you're not able to defend yourself, then we'll have the same problem you had in California," said Andrews, 72, who is retired from the Navy. "About 20 minutes after 14 people were dead and 20-some were injured, then the police show up. If several people in that building would have had guns it would have stopped immediately.
"Issue everybody a gun. Then nobody does that stuff."