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At Louisville Gun Shop, Mixed Feelings on Obama's Gun Actions

About a dozen people filed into a Jeffersontown gun shop shortly after noon on Tuesday, just after President Barack Obama wrapped up a live address outlining details of his executive actions designed to bolster gun control and curb gun violence.

A bearded man in a sock cap walked into Lotus Gunworks, past the television set showing network news analysts debating the finer points of the president's address, and past the display cases filled with semi-automatic pistols and tactical rifles. He pulled a holstered pistol from his jacket and handed it to the man behind the counter for a minor repair.

Another man came in to browse the assault rifle accessories. Another at a counter handled a handgun, aiming it at the ground, checking the gun's weight in his hand. One man looked for a gun small enough to fit into his jeans pocket but big enough so he could still get a good grip on the stock.

Business is good at Lotus Gunworks, said Jason Woods, a sales manager at the shop.

"For the firearms industry, it's been an extremely busy year," he said.

A driving force for the business is the recent flurry of discussion about gun control that has followed mass shooting events like those in San Bernardino, California, and Charleston, South Carolina.

On Tuesday, President Obama laid out four basic proposals: expand licensing and background check requirements to all gun sellers, including at shows and online; add 200 agents to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; make it easier for states to share information about those barred from owning a gun for mental health reasons; and explore new gun safety technologies.

The announcement had some at Lotus Gunworks on edge.

"A lot of people get a little bit panicked," Woods said. What he means is that some people fear the government is going to take guns away, so they need to stock up before it happens.

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Woods was sitting in a back room of the neat, brightly lit shop on Ruckriegel Parkway, holding an unloaded Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol. He said people shouldn't worry about the federal government knocking on their doors and taking away their firearms. At least, he added, not those who legally have the right to possess a gun.

Still, he said, when the president goes on live television to announce an executive order to curtail firearm proliferation, he takes notice and is apprehensive.

"We are very protective of our Second Amendment rights, and I think it makes us very leery of any kind of change," he said. "Change can be both progressive and change can be a hindrance."

Woods said he supports part of Obama's action on guns, but he said some points "weren't fully thought through."

For instance, he said stricter rules regarding background checks are a good thing. And he said hiring more ATF agents to assist with enforcement of background check regulations will bolster the system.

But Woods questioned whether working to improve the technology regarding gun safety is worth it. Steps Obama outlined Tuesday could include exploring technology ensuring that guns that can only be fired by authorized users.

“Not because I think it’s a bad idea, just things like that in the past don’t seem to work real well," Woods said.

And, he said, while new background check regulations may be a burden to private sellers, "that's not necessarily a bad thing."

Tuesday's action from the president wasn't enough for Woods to consider his Second Amendment rights infringed upon, he said.  Still, he said, claiming gun control efforts will curtail violence is also a stretch.

"If we took all firearms away completely, there will still be violence in the world," he said. "There are bad people out there in the world, and they're going to find a way."

That notion is not lost on Rashad Abdur-Rahman, the director of Louisville's Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

"When you talk about violence, whether it's gun violence or any other type of violence, it's far more complex than only gun control," Abdur-Rahman said.

He supports the measures implemented by the president, but he said the city must continue a broader dialogue focused on ways to ensure mental health services are readily available and young people have adequate support to succeed.

Only then, Abdur-Rahman said, will there be any lasting impact.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called the executive actions by President Obama "commonsense solutions" to make sure only responsible, safe residents can have guns.

"Any way that we can make sure that gun owners are safe gun owners is important to me," he said. "Restricting guns to those folks that will responsibly use them is something I think all Americans can get behind."

Fischer acknowledged that Kentucky state law prohibits local governments from adopting local gun laws and for that reason he can only hope that gun owners are safe, licensed and mentally qualified.

Woods, at the gun shop, is a military veteran. He grew up with a grandfather who was a police officer and a gunsmith. He said he was taught at an early age the power of guns and what they're capable of.

Woods said education and understanding are key aspects of safe and responsible gun ownership.

"The more you understand something and know something, the less you fear about it," he said.

(Featured photo of Jason Woods at Lotus Gunworks by Jacob Ryan.)

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.