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Expert: Gun control laws wouldn't have prevented school shooting

Posted December 17, 2012 5:59 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2012 7:15 p.m. EST

— A Duke University law professor who helped recommend ways to improve background checks on gun buyers says tighter regulations are unlikely to prevent tragedies like the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

Twenty first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were gunned down in their classrooms Friday by a heavily armed man. Six members of the school staff, the gunman and his mother also died in the rampage.

Gun-control advocates immediately called for a ban on individual ownership of assault rifles, such as the Bush Master AR-15 used in the school shooting.

"There's a lot of emotional response to it. I don't think the answers lie in emotion," retired police officer Lynn Howard said Monday.

Howard and other gun owners said they feel a nation struggling to understand why a man shot defenseless children and teachers is taking aim at them.

"It's just a knee-jerk reaction from people who want to do something just to make them feel good," said Mike Tilley, owner of Personal Defense and Handgun Center in Raleigh.

Duke law professor Christopher Schroeder, who recently left the U.S. Justice Department, said he supports banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Still, he recognizes the limits of legislation.

"I don't believe there is" any law that would have prevented the Connecticut shootings, Schroeder said. "The inability to eliminate it all should not stop us from taking reasonable steps we can take to reduce it."

At the direction of President Barack Obama, he helped craft recommendations to vastly improve the nation's background check system before purchasing guns. Among the ideas not yet approved would be to extend background checks to private party sales, which account for an estimated 40 percent of the gun market.

"If the system covered all purchases, that would help plug that hole," he said.

Tilley argues that past assault weapon and ammunition bans didn't work.

"If anything, it helped to sell more firearms," he said.

The same rush on gun and ammunition purchases occurred this weekend, according to dealers.

Instead of gun control, Tilley said, the Newtown tragedy should drive a conversation about mental health and a society desensitized to violence.

"If anyone thought that this legislation would do any good, they would be on board with it," he said. "We're all looking for answers."