Gun control debate's effect on central Illinois

By Maggie Vespa

July 24, 2012 Updated Jul 25, 2012 at 12:11 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill -- It was a tragedy that shocked the nation.

Once that shock subsided, details about alleged Colorado shooter James Holmes' planning and purchasing of weapons spurred calls for tighter gun restrictions.

"We have to do something about it," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). "There's no reason in the United States of America, the land of the free, that people have to be afraid to go to the movies."

Analysts say mid election season that topic will likely be shot down.

Back here at home, however, the discussion is alive and well.

"Everybody talks about gun violence and how it's going to hurt gun owners," said John Meek, owner, of Midwestern Firearms in East Peoria.

Meek says while the gun control debate is never silent in Illinois, the only state without concealed carry, tragedies like these spike interest.

Customer Brian Wilson agrees.

"To make things stiffer and stronger, you're only going to regulate and make things harder for the people who aren't going to harm anybody with guns," said Wilson, a longtime gun owner.

Central in the debate is how Holmes acquired more than $15,000 worth of ammunition and weapons, without raising red flags.

In particular, an AR-15 rifle, a firearm which was banned in the US between 1994 and 2004.

At the local shop, AR-15's are sold right along side typical handguns and shotguns. Meek says in Illinois, like in Colorado, they carry no tighter restrictions than any other firearm.

In short, Meek says gun brokers can only know and follow the laws in place, but he never stops watching customers for warning signs.

"The biggest thing we watch for is someone purchasing for someone else. Obviously somebody that's acting or saying things that would be indicative of somebody trying to do something illegal. Yeah, we would deny the purchase, certainly," he said.

Meek hopes this vigilance comforts those in Illinois sorting through what a violent tragedy in Colorado means for them.

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