Petition seeks to trim gun sales in Alameda

Petition seeks to trim gun sales in Alameda

Michele Ellson

An earlier version of this story misidentified the style of the Mossberg MVP .223. It is a bolt-action rifle that is capable of firing rounds from detachable magazines. The Alamedan regrets the error.

Paul English was “really affected” by the December 14 shootings at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school that left 20 children and seven adults dead. English, a public health researcher, said he had favored gun control before the killings but had never acted on those beliefs.

“This incident in Connecticut was something that mobilized me to do something else,” English recalled during an interview last week.

The “something else” is an online petition that asks the sole gun-seller in Alameda – Big 5 Sporting Goods – to stop selling semi-automatic rifles. Another semi-automatic rifle – a .223 caliber Bushmaster – was used in the Connecticut slayings and was also reportedly used in the recent shooting of two firefighters in Western New York and another mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater last summer.

“It just does not seem appropriate to go into the sports store to get soccer balls and see semi-automatic (guns),” English said.

As of Monday, the petition had collected 436 of the 500 signatures English is seeking to send to Big 5 CEO Stephen G. Miller in his quest to stop the sales; if he doesn’t get a response, he said he may organize a boycott of the store. But many of those who signed the petition have already said they’ll stay away until the guns are gone.

“I live in Alameda, have a son in Alameda public schools, and have frequented the South Shore Big 5 often. In total agreement that our community would be a better place without such easy access to these weapons,” petition signer David Keys wrote. “My family will no longer shop at Big 5 until they are removed.”

Other signers said they think selling the guns sends the wrong message to the children whose parents frequent the store for other sporting equipment.

“We teach our children by leading with example. Displaying and selling examples that condone violence send the wrong message to our children,” petition signer Spring Steinbach wrote.

A spokesperson for the El Segundo-based sporting goods chain, which has 414 stores across a dozen western states, did not return a call seeking comment Monday, and one of the store’s managers said he could not comment on the petition, referring a reporter to the corporate office. But a pair of visits to the store, which has dozens of shotguns and rifles lining a wall behind the checkout counter along with shelves of boxed ammunition, confirmed the store sells semi-automatic rifles.

A sign posted at the checkout counter Monday announced a purchasing limit of five boxes of ammunition per customer due to “unprecedented demand,” while the store manager said sales of guns and ammunition have been “through the roof” due to fears of fresh restrictions on their availability.

California is already home to some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced a bill on December 20 to track ammunition sales and to require those who sell it be licensed and to undergo a background check.

The store’s inventory Sunday and Monday included everything from the Red Ryder BB guns popularized in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” to 12- and 20-gauge shotguns and rifles like the bolt-action .223-caliber Mossberg MVP, which can fire rounds out of a detachable magazine. The gun was made for use “with aftermarket AR-15 magazines,” according to the manufacturer’s website.

Semi-automatic rifles – which carry magazines similar to fully automatic guns but only discharge a single bullet per trigger squeeze, rather than the repeat rounds discharged by automatic weapons – have become increasingly popular with hunters. Some variants, like the Bushmaster used in the Newtown shootings, are modeled on military rifles while others, like the Mossberg, are modifications of traditional bolt-action, single-shot hunting guns.

California law prohibits the sale of “high-capacity” magazines that carry more than 10 bullets, but some say the law is easily flouted as the larger magazines can be purchased legally in other states. In addition to tracking ammunition sales, Skinner’s bill would prohibit the sale of kits that convert semi-automatic weapons to deliver automatic fire.

Several other national sporting goods chains, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, also sell an array of guns billed for hunting, tactical and home protection use. But at the chains’ East Bay outlets, guns are scarce.

Employees at Sports Authority stores in Emeryville and San Leandro contacted by a reporter said they don’t sell guns; a worker in the Emeryville store directed the reporter to one of the two stores in Concord, where a worker confirmed hunting rifles were available. A worker at the Walmart store in Oakland said that store doesn’t carry guns and suggested a reporter call a store in Windsor; the discount chain, which reportedly sells more guns than any other retailer in America, is facing a petition drive demanding it pull “military-grade assault rifles” and high-capacity magazines from its shelves.

English said he focused his efforts on eliminating gun sales locally; his petition gave him a chance, he said, to have an impact on problems whose scope is overwhelming.

“We pride ourselves on low crime here,” English said. “A lot of gun crime occurs in people’s own neighborhoods. It seems like a good idea not to have them here.”