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Newtown gun owners: Guns alone not problem

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- When the wind blows a certain way across the tree-topped hills, Gary Bennett can stand in his yard and hear echoes of gunfire from his hunting club five miles away. The sound comforts him.

"It's a huge tradition here," said Bennett, a retired electrician and former president of the club, which helped defeat a proposal to tighten Newtown's gun ordinances in September. "I'd rather see more gun clubs come to town, training people with the use of firearms so that everyone's doing it safely."

Anguished families Saturday were still burying the 20 children and six women who were shot to death by a gunman Dec. 14 just after the morning Pledge of Allegiance at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The latest services were held for Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; and Emilie Parker, 6.

But a surprising local undercurrent has emerged: Many gun owners here say the slaughter has sharpened their view that guns alone aren't the problem.

"I wish that at that school somebody was armed," said Kuthair Habboush, a software engineer who keeps a weapon at home for protection. "If a security guard or a teacher or a principal had been armed, somebody could have taken the [killer] out" before his lethal rampage.

Firearms are deep in the culture of this corner of New England. Two of America's most storied weapons manufacturers, Colt and Winchester, were based in Connecticut.

Dozens of gun dealers, gun instructors, gun repair shops and shooting ranges do a brisk business in and near Newtown. Private hunting clubs are widespread, many with waiting lists for membership.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a powerful lobbying group for gun retailers, has its headquarters across the highway from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"You'd be surprised," said Sean Eldridge, who owns a gun repair shop in nearby Danbury, describing his customers. "They're regular people and they have an arsenal in their basement."

That was the case with Nancy Lanza, a divorced mother who enjoyed jazz, craft beer and frequent visits to shooting ranges. She kept at least five weapons, all legally registered to her, in the large Colonial-style house she shared with her 20-year-old son, Adam.

Early Dec. 14, authorities say, Adam Lanza shot his mother repeatedly in the head with her .22-caliber rifle as she lay in bed. He then drove to the elementary school, shot his way in and fired dozens of rounds into two first-grade classes using her assault-style rifle. He then killed himself with one of her pistols.

Newtown was a farming and hunting area for generations.

Dave Chapdelaine, a resident for more than 40 years, recalled walking down the middle of his rural road with a shotgun in the 1970s, taking aim through the trees at rabbits, squirrels and pheasants.

"To me, a firearm -- 99 percent of the time, when it's unloaded -- it's a beautiful work of art," he said. "It's not meant to kill people. It's meant to protect people and help you provide for your family. But you have to keep them out of the hands of the loonies."

With AP

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