Residents of Jackson County weigh in on gun ownership

John Prentice, owner of Tucks Guns and Ammo. Photo by Heather Mason

Jackson County, North Carolina is a sportsman’s paradise. In an area where hunting is a favorite pastime and having collections of guns and ammunition is as American as apple pie and baseball. It is no surprise that the debate on gun control is a hot topic among residents in this area. So what do the residents of Jackson County really think about the recent changes to legislation regarding guns and assault weapons?

“I have done three months of business in three days,” said John Prentice, owner of Tucks Guns and Ammo, located on Main Street in Sylva.  “A lot of people that use to feel safe in this town and country say that they don’t anymore. The government can’t protect them anymore so they are taking matters in their own hands.”

It is the “taking matters in their own hands” that frightens many people that feel guns are not the answer. As the demographics of this small mountain community continue to change from predominately conservative to a more liberal population, guns are still an important part of the economic backbone of Jackson County. But what about assault rifles and high capacity magazines that are in question? Are these really necessary for a sportsman or for a home owner wanting to protect themselves?

When Prentice was asked about why people feel that they need an assault rifle as opposed to a handgun or a shotgun, he said that people buy them for sport. “They are fun to shoot,” he went on to say. “When comparing other guns to assault rifles, it would be like comparing a big-wheel to a racing motorcycle.”

When someone in Jackson County wants to purchase a handgun they must go to the Sherriff’s Department and maintain a pistol purchase permit or concealed carry permit. To obtain this permit, there is an extensive background check, including a mental health evaluation and a class. This same process is not used for an assault weapon. It still requires an extensive background check, but no class is required and the same database is not used for both permits.

“I agree with President Obama 110 percent when it comes to background checks. The laws need to be stiffer. If someone wants an assault rifle, they should have to go through the same check as a person buying a pistol would have to go through,” Prentice said.

A sample of guns for sale at Tucks Guns and Ammo. Photo By Heather Mason

Prentice stated also that he reserves the right to refuse sale of firearms if he chooses. Background checks are an important tool but Prentice can tell a lot about a person from interaction with them. If he feels that the person seems unsteady or something doesn’t seem right, he will not sell them a gun.

 “I have had people approved for a concealed carry permit and denied for an assault weapon permit,” Prentice said. “How do I sell them one gun, knowing that for whatever reason, they were denied another? This process should be the same for both types of guns.”

Lori Bubb, an internal doctor of medicine in Jackson County and the mother of two daughters, aged 4 and 1, has strong opinions on guns. “I believe in the second Amendment, but when the founding fathers wrote that amendment, the guns were not what we have today,” said Bubb.  “There is no reason for a citizen to have an assault weapon.”

Everyone seemed to have the same feeling about guns in schools.  “No guns in schools, for kids, teachers, principals, no one,” said AJ Best, a parent of three boys in Cullowhee. “Why put guns closer into kid’s hands by putting them in schools.”

Sherry Maney, a teacher at Fairview Elementary and a mother of two high school aged boys seemed to have strong feelings about the subject.

“As far as gun control, no law about gun control is going to stop criminals from getting a weapon. They will find a way. I think it is a good idea for people to be trained on how to safely use a gun. Both of my boys have attended hunter safety classes. I feel that this is important for their safety and the safety of others,” Maney said.

Prentice argues that teachers should be allowed to carry guns but only if they go through an extensive six-week law enforcement training class, the same that would be requiered for police officers. Teachers should be trained to handle emegency situations if they are going to be armed.

Prentice has also noticed a trend in the customers buying guns.

“Older people are buying guns for the first time,” Prentice said. “People are afraid that their rights will be taken from them.” One customer Prentice recently sold a gun too was a 70 year old man who had never owned a gun before.  This older man has taken a defensive pistol class and an in-home defense class. He has purchased an assault rifle. When Prentice asked why, he stated, “I feel like it will protect me.”

Prentice takes his business very serious. He knows that he provides a service to the people of Sylva but he also knows that it is a heavy burden to bear if he puts guns in the wrong hands. Prentice is passionate about guns and safety and works hand in hand with law enforcement to make sure that guns stay out of the hands of unqualified people.

It is still uncertain where the current administration in Washington will go with this very hot debate, but for now, the people of this country are split. The residents of Jackson County are a fair representation of that split. Many believe that our rights should not be tampered with and others feel like this country needs a change and isn’t that what President Obama promised; change?

Check out where North Carolina stands on gun violence prevention on the Brady Campaign state guns scorecard.
Also check the NRA summary of North Carolina gun laws.