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Minnesota gun owners share their views on AR-15s and semi-automatic weapons

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Firing an AR-15
Brett Nielsen fires an AR-15 rifle at the "Get Some Guns & Ammo" shooting range on January 15, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
George Frey/Getty Images

Students from Minneapolis are joining others from across the nation in Washington this weekend to demonstrate against gun violence. 

The rally is organized by survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. Following the massacre, some retailers said they will no longer carry AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons. 

MPR News asked gun owners in Minnesota if their views on guns have changed given the recent events. 

We want to hear from you. Do you own an AR-15 or similar style weapon? Click this link to share your thoughts or to read the questions we asked.

Anthony Bieker, Minneapolis

How many guns do you have in your house?

6.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Yes. Always.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

Yes, I enrolled in Hunter's Safety Course. It is an endorsement on my MN Drivers license.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons?

For personal protection, sport and hunting.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

For use in Shooting Competitions at my local gun club.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I think it is the ideal expression of freedom. It is their right and choice to sell what they want. Just like it is mine to decide what I purchase and own, AR-15 variants included.

Jay Daley, Coon Rapids

How many guns do you have in your house?

More than 10.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons?

First guns for hunting.  Most other guns for target shooting and a couple for self-defense.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Yes, locked full size safe.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

MN Hunter safety course as a young hunter.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

Initially purchased because I believed they would be banned under Obama's first term.  I have since come to appreciate the rifle far more than my initial opinion of them.  There are a number of features that make the AR platform an excellent deer rifle.  The adjustable stock allows the rifle to be adjusted for my son and daughter as well as for when we have heavy hunting clothes vs. lighter clothing.  Light recoil makes the rifle easier to shoot for smaller people.  There are many more reasons.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I believe it is their right to deny serving any customer but it is also my right to shop those stores as a last resort and to take my business to places that support my beliefs.

Mike Potter, Crosby

How many guns do you have in your house?

4.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Yes.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons

I've acquired them legally over the years. I've bought and sold them because it's my right protected under the Constitution. I've always sold to those with a permit to carry. I also like to go to the gun range and shoot them periodically. A lot of people such as myself collect them for the value they hold. Guns usually don't go down in value if taken care of. I also like to customize my rifles to my own liking.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

I took gun safety in 6th grade at my school in the early 90's. It was an elective. It's also on my driver's license.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

I have 3 AR-15's and 1 AK47. AR-15 is the civilian version of the full auto M4/M16 military rifle. It's kinda a pride thing why I choose to own them. It's the American standard.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I don't agree with Walmart and Dick's pandering to the anti-gun lobby. However, I think Dick's coming out first was a brilliant marketing move. Dick's gun sales is a very small portion of their business. As a "gun person," I'd never purchase firearms from there in the first place because of the limited selection. What they did was make more people feel warm and fuzzy.

Richard Troxel, Plymouth

How many guns do you have in your house?

17

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

No, a locked closet.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

My parents, non-gun owners, signed me up for the firearm safety certificate course as a 12-year-old. Otherwise, I did not have additional training prior to purchasing. I have since taken the course to earn my permit to carry and additional self-defense courses.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons

I enjoy building my shooting skills. I also want to protect my family and myself.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

Lightweight, easy to use, customizable.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

They will lose my business. They are backing down on a basic right.

Peter Boelter, North Branch

How many guns do you have in your house?

Two, a .410 single shot and a .22 rifle.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

No, but they are not readily available for use.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

I went through gun safety programs with both my daughter and son.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons

They both belonged to my father and were acquired when he died.

Why did you choose to not purchase an AR-15?

I do not believe these assault weapons should be available to the general public. They are weapons of war.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I agree. When Madison produced the Bill of Rights he could not have conceptualized the full meaning of his words. There is quite a difference between the muzzle loading musket of 1776-1789 and the AR-15 with huge magazine capacity. This is one instance where the Constitution should be amended.

Nick Booth, Twin Valley

How many guns do you have in your house?

Several rifles, shotguns, and handguns.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Always. We have a daycare in our home.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons?

My dad was an avid hunter. He shot trap league every week in the summer. Now I'm a dad and my family hunts and shoots trap. I'm becoming something of a gun collector along the way.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

Yes. I took firearm safety when I was 12. I've taken more classes along the way. I've had a permit to carry nearly all my adult life.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

I chose an AR-15 because they are very common rifles.  They adjust to any size person, and back again easily. A 12-year-old of average intelligence can handle one.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I think it's a private business. Let them run it how they want. I don't agree that adults should have rights restrictions. Either you're an adult at 18 or 21. If an 18-year-old isn't mature enough to drink a beer, they sure shouldn't be tried as an adult or join the services until 21 either.

Isaac Lees, Morris

How many guns do you have in your house?

5

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

No. I live in a small town where we don't even need to lock our doors because there is no crime. There are also no children in my house. If I lived in a high-crime area like the Twin Cities or had underage children in the house, I would absolutely use a safe if I kept guns in the house, but safes are extremely expensive both to purchase and to have installed, and since it is not necessary in my situation and I can't really afford one I don't use one.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

No, although I have taken a hunting safety course as required by law for hunting in Minnesota. However, like the overwhelming majority of people in the gun community, I am extremely dedicated to safety and spent a great deal of time researching safe and proper handling before purchasing my first weapon.        I plan to purchase a handgun in the near future, and will be attending the legally mandatory training course in order to obtain my MN carry permit (which allows me to purchase additional handguns in the future without applying for a new permit to purchase), although these courses will not teach me anything I do not already know and are merely a legal requirement.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons

I'm a hobbyist who is interested in history, mechanics and engineering. I find guns fascinating in terms of their mechanisms, and enjoy purchasing new types so I can see how they work and compare different systems, an activity which I finance by selling older guns which I no longer have interest in. If I was a member of the upper class and had the disposable income, I would probably collect cars or motorcycles for the same reasons. Due to their comparatively low price, guns allow poorer people to get the same kind of custom-tuning and collecting experience as hot rods provide for the more wealthy. I'm also a student of history, and many of the weapons I've owned or plan to purchase were chosen for their historical significance.        Additionally, I am interested in competition shooting, specifically 2-Gun and 3-Gun action shooting, sports which require an AR-15 or similar rifle in order to be competitive. Shooting of this type is just a really fun and rewarding experience, which develops skills and discipline in addition to being a great social activity. I have some interest in hunting as well and own a 12ga shotgun for this purpose, but hunting is the lowest on my list of reasons to own guns.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

Because of its popularity, the AR-15 has enormous aftermarket support and is extremely customizable, meaning I can tailor it to my person preferences and be confident that spare parts or upgrades are cheap and accessible. Also due to its popularity, and due to the massive market of companies manufacturing them, competition and economy of scale has driven the prices much lower than similar weapons. For action shooting sports like 3-Gun or 2-Gun, an AR-15 is pretty much required in order to be competitive as it is the industry standard for these forms of competition. Furthermore, it is extremely lightweight, has low recoil, is comfortable in the hands and is very accurate.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

As private businesses they have a right to sell whatever they want, although I personally think it's a bit foolish and discriminatory. It's their choice not to sell them, but it's my choice not to give them my business. Most people who buy high-quality guns like the AR-15 do not purchase them from Dick's or Walmart anyway, we buy them from dedicated gunshops or order them through our local FFL dealer. I would not purchase a firearm from either of these businesses anyway because their products are low quality and their prices are excessive.

Julie Mills, Richmond

How many guns do you have in your house?

12

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Yes.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

Yes. I have completed my firearms training when I was twelve. I am also a firearms safety instructor and an NRA level 2 coach. I'm very lucky to be a coach to one of the high school trap teams.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons?

We are a hunting and target shooting family. We enjoy them but respect them also.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

We own a few different rifles. We look at our AR as a 556 or a 223 rifle. For me a rifle is a rifle and needs to be respected.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I believe in setting an age limit and doing a complete background check. But if people want to harm people it doesn't matter if the store sells them or not. If they don't sell them they can go to another store or get them illegally.

Ron Smith, Browerville

How many guns do you have in your house?

12

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Most of them. I keep two pistols handy for self-defense/home protection. I keep a rifle handy for varmints.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

Yes, through the military. I am a former member of the Army National Guard. I was an infantry officer.  I am also a police officer and have to train regularly.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons

Most were given to me by my grandfather. No one else in the family wanted them. The ones I bought I have purchased for work and for self-protection when off-duty.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

I personally do not own an AR-15 at this time. I have one in my squad car at work. I  want to purchase one for home defense and for protecting my property from coyotes and such.  Plus, I like how an AR-15 is easier to break down and clean.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

It's their business. If they want to change their policies to conform to what they perceive is public opinion, so be it.  I won't be buying firearms from them anyway.

Brad Leeser, Moorhead

How many guns do you have in your house?

I have guns, the number of which I don't disclose.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Of course.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

I've been around guns all my life, but I have had formal training. I also work with youth and they all enjoy shooting AR-15s and other guns.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons

First I bought them for personal protection, for sport, and for the ability to obtain food in the event of an emergency. Secondly, I bought them because I have a right to do so under the Second Amendment of our Constitution.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

They are fun to shoot and I enjoy letting others shoot my guns, regardless of the model.  Youth especially enjoy learning about and shooting guns, especially the wrongly named "assault weapons" (meaning "scary looking guns").

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I don't advocate boycotts, but when I buy something I cast an economic vote for or against that product or store.  As a result, I won't shop at Dicks when they open in Fargo and I haven't been in a Walmart since they announced their decision.

Daniel Becker, Woodbury

How many guns do you have in your house?

Four, two handguns and two rifles.

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

No, my rifles are kept in cases and stored. My handguns are out of sight and kept unloaded but are accessible for self-defense purposes. If there were children in the house all firearms except my handgun used for my concealed carry [would be in a safe], but my girlfriend and I don't have children. I'm former infantry and she grew up with a firearms instructor father.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

Yes, with the military.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons?

Self-defense, sport, fun, expressing my rights.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

I chose an AR-15 because they are endlessly customizable, they're like Legos for firearms enthusiasts. Very few rifle platforms give the user the ability to personalize their firearm to such a great extent or so easily/cheaply. The rather small caliber rounds are relatively weak and make it a very comfortable rifle to shoot, the ammunition is also cheaper than many other common rifle platforms.

The AR-15 is a great rifle for hunting, self-defense, target shooting, three gun courses. Also, the internal parts are basically laid out exactly the same as an M4 like I was trained within the military, though some functions different, so I was quite comfortable working on the rifle.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

They are private entities and they should retain the right to provide or refuse their services to whomever they choose.

Melissa Timm, Hampton

How many guns do you have in your house?

12

Do you keep them in a gun safe?

Yes.

Did you receive firearms training before you purchased your first weapon?

Yes.

Why did you decide to purchase these weapons?

I am a competitive shooter and Hunter.  I have my weapons for sport.  The guns I have were gifted to me, except for my 9mm. I enjoy the challenge that target shooting brings. My husband owns an AR-15 that he and my then 12-year-old son built together. It is a fun long-range gun to test our skills. Is also compact enough that the whole family can shoot it.

Why did you choose to purchase an AR-15, opposed to another semi-automatic rifle?

We chose to build this style because of the options out there to customize and make it your own. There's also relatively inexpensive.

What do you think of retailers like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods instituting their own policies that limits access for some people to purchase weapons?

I feel that as a private business they are allowed to do whatever they want. I have no problem with them restricting it to people 21 years and older. My son did ask so are they going to raise the age to serve in the military to 21? I didn't know what to tell him.