Special Reports

Gun debate divides nation, High Desert

Pt. 1 of special report on issue of our time

Special Report: Guns: A Country Divided, Pt. 1

BEND, Ore. - Perhaps it started with Columbine. Virginia Tech made us more nervous. The memories came flooding back with Chardon High School. Then terrified us by bringing a comic book character to life in Aurora's theater, and now: Newtown.

Mass shootings, several at schools no less, have made us think or rethink about the way we view public spaces, guns and lawmakers.

It seems that our country hasn't been this divided in decades. The national gun control debate is reaching a fever pitch, and it's scaring people -- on both sides.

"It's almost like a class war, the whole gun issue," said Mark Waters, a former competitive shooting sports champ, having had matches at the Olympic training center in Colorado and all over the Rockies.

The Bend video production guru only occasionally goes out to the shooting range now. But while he relies on Bear Mace as his primary protection against an intruder, he's always had guns in the house, air rifles being his favorite. And just last month, he rejoined the NRA.

"I think a lot of my friends think anybody who shoots is ignorant, wears a 'wife beater' (T-shirt), beats their wife, kicks their dog, drinks low-brow beer -- you name it, any kind of elitist perspective," Waters said recently at his Bend home.

"But the fact of the matter is, people who shoot are across the board, and trying to brand somebody as ignorant, or demonize them for legal gun ownership is, in my point of view, misplaced," he added.

Since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Waters has been researching gun statistics, watching political interviews and talking with friends, many of whom he says staunchly support stricter gun control laws.

"There's people that have more moderate views that say, 'We don't want to take all the guns away. We just want to take away the most dangerous ones,'" Waters explained. "But the people who are saying 'the most dangerous guns' are not the ones who necessarily have any education about what guns are, and what they do."

In an Associated Press/GfK poll done last month, six in 10 Americans said they want stricter gun laws. Two-thirds of non-gun owners would ban military-style weapons and 60 percent would ban high-capacity magazines.

Compare that with gun owners, where just 40 percent would support a ban on military-style guns, and 37 percent favor a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Montgomery County, Alabama Sheriff D.T. Marshall made national headlines in January, saying he'd like to see the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 be reinstated.

"These guns are made to kill people. Kill people and, with large-capacity magazines, a large number of people," Marshall told an Alabama TV station.

Three weeks ago, Linn County, Oregon sheriff Tim Mueller was in the news when he drafted a letter to Vice President Biden, refusing to enforce any gun control law that infringed on the Second Amendment, the right to have and carry guns, saying he would even fight the feds from enforcing it within his county as well.

Sheriffs in Crook and Coos counties backed him up, sending much the same letter.

But Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis said this regarding the perceived attack on the Second Amendment: "I haven't read anything the administration is proposing about taking guns away from American citizens. I think the sheriffs are overreacting."

Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers agreed, saying, "I haven't seen anything to indicate the federal government is going to do that."

Don't miss the rest of our story Thursday night on NewsChannel 21 at 10 on Fox. You'll see the surprising statistics about mass shootings in the U.S. -- how they're increasing, but how these killers are getting hold of weapons.

We'll also have more on the federal assault weapons ban that some lawmakers want to reinstate.

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