The tragic death of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut at the hands of a heavily armed gunman has ignited a national debate about gun control, specifically the access of private citizens to military-grade gear.
A federal ban on assault rifles passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton expired in 2004 and now many gun control advocates are calling for it to be reinstated, but Chesterfield resident Chad Weinman and CEO of TacticalGear.com says that won't solve the problem.
The online company has a brick-and-mortar facility located on Edison Road in Chesterfield and primarily sells clothing and equipment such as holsters, vests and dynamic entry tools commonly used by tactical law enforcement teams or military personnel, but not firearms or ammunition.
"We face a lot of criticism that the equipment and apparel we provide is accessible to the general public," Weinman said, adding that he fully supports the right people have to acquire and procure such gear.
TacticalGear.com particularly came under the spotlight over the summer when national media revealed that the company had sold a vest used by the shooter who opened fire at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20.
In response, Weinman's said it's his view that such accusations are misguided.
"Legislation that aims to limit the availability of firearms, ammunition or gear is not going to solve the problem," he said. "These are mentally disturbed individuals, they are going to find a way to create havoc if they are hell-bent on doing so."
Assault Rifles Under Fire
The tragedy in Newtown, however, may be shaping the national debate on guns, particularly towards restrictions on high-powered rifles like the .223 Bushmaster AR-15 used in the Sandy Hook massacre.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of Virginia has long been a gun rights ally, but he indicated a changing tone during an interview with MSNBC Monday.
"I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle, I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting," Manchin said.
Weinman said people who sell tactical gear such as himself or weapons such as assault rifles (a term he called a misnomer) are often subject to the misconception that they primarily serve random citizens.
"The primary customer is law enforcement professionals and military service members above all else. They are 90 percent of our business," Weinman said. "What gets a lot of attention is when someone uses that equipment irresponsibly or in a way that creates harm."
Tracing the Cause of the Violence
Similar to the stance of many gun rights advocates, Weinman said he would like to see more attention being given to what he considers the core of the problem: making sure people with mental illnesses are diagnosed and receive the proper treatment.
"At the end of the day, the problem is that there is a mad man with an instrument of destruction," he said. "The madman is the issue that needs to be addressed."
To be clear, at this point, there are no official reports stating that the gunman, Adam Lanza, suffered from mental illness. He has been described in media reports as being "social awkward" and a "loner," but not clinically diagnosed.
A recent article in the New York Times examined the connection between mental illness and violent crime cited a study by the American Journal of Physciatry that found only about 4 percent of violence in the U.S. can be attributed to those with mental illnesses.
The problem is also complicated by the fact that it's more difficult to predict who might commit this kind of mass killing than simply finding those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, two disorders that do carry a higher lifetime prevelance of violence.
The article cites a Columbia University professor and expert on the subject who said that most such killers are "young men who hold a grudge and are full of rage," but there are are plenty of troubled young men who never commit such atrocities.
What do you think? Are further restrictions necessary on who can own guns, what it takes to own one and what kinds of weapons can be purchased? Or would such attempts have no real effect on reducing gun-related violence? Tell us in the comments below.