Local pro- and anti- gun control advocates echo the national debate

Posted: January 18, 2013

They were 23 miles apart in driving distance, but light-years apart in their views of President Obama's speech Wednesday - a gun-control advocate in Philadelphia and a foursome of shooting enthusiasts in the suburbs.

At midday, as Obama went on the air, Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, paused from planning an anti- gun-violence rally and opened her laptop to watch the live stream.

She was glad to hear Obama, together with Vice President Biden, pledge to try to stop the manufacture of military-style assault rifles, ban large ammunition clips, and require universal background checks for gun purchasers.

"They didn't shy away from the tough battles," she said from the group's office near Independence Hall.

About the same hour in East Norriton, Montgomery County, Michael Gottlieb pulled into his driveway in time to rush into the house, turn on the TV in the living room, and pop a videotape into a VCR.

In came three of Gottlieb's friends from the Lower Providence Rod and Gun Club, also eager to hear what the president had to say in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"Not surprisingly, I disagree with about 90 percent of what the president had to say," said Gottlieb, 55, a lawyer and competitive target shooter. "I find it appalling that he would again cite the poor children at Sandy Hook for his own agenda, which from the time he started out has been an all-out assault on the Second Amendment."

Goodman, on one side, and the Gottlieb group, on the other, stood for some of the opinions of a nation split over how to stop mass shootings and a daily death toll on urban streets.

Goodman arrived at CeaseFirePA in October, when gun control seemed far off the political menu. The topic was barely touched upon during the presidential campaign.

Suddenly, the issue hit the headlines - a moment for advocates to seize, she said.

She agreed with the president that rallying public support, keeping a sense of urgency from Sandy Hook, would be key. "They need to hear from us, our elected officials in Harrisburg and Washington," Goodman said.

"The ban on certain kinds of weapons, again, that's going to be the hardest measure, but I think it's a conversation we're ready to have," Goodwin said. "What are the civilian purpose of these weapons? I think a lot of people believe there isn't one."

She applauded universal background checks as a "commonsense reform," but said opponents would argue that a national database could be a precursor to gun confiscation.

"I think we need to start fighting that slippery slope and say these commonsense regulations are not about lists of gun owners and law-abiding people. We're trying to keep the guns with the law-abiding gun owners and not getting them into the wrong hands," she said.

In East Norriton, it didn't take long for Obama to get a rise out of the group at Gottlieb's house.

"He's lying through his teeth," Tom Zlakowski, 66, a retired accountant from Wayne, said when Obama stated that 75 percent of NRA members favored universal background checks.

The four said they personally favored such checks. They said current screening is inadequate because mental-health laws often prohibit disclosure of information that might indicate someone is too disturbed to buy a gun.

They did not agree on banning assault rifles and ammunition clips with more than 10 bullets.

They complained that Obama left the impression that the sort of AR-15 rifle carried by the Newtown shooter is capable of a machine-gun fire. They said it is a semiautomatic - like a lot of rifles and pistols - that requires a trigger pull with each shot.

Gottlieb and Zlakowski were joined by a couple from Malvern: Karl Beckers, 67, a retired Sunoco marketing executive, and his wife, Marilyn, 64, owner of a small business.

Karl Beckers said he might favor a ban on military-style weapons made abroad, which he called "mostly crap" anyway. But he said he was reluctant to see new laws.

"The NRA position is, we can't allow any more controls, because you give them an inch and they take a mile," he said.

Marilyn Beckers wasn't sure of all Obama had in mind. He was light on details, she said.

"My biggest concern, when he's talking about saving the children, is, will any of this actually prevent anything further from happening?"

She noted that on Monday a woman walked into a Philadelphia school and took a child that was not her own from a classroom. The child was found the next day, wandering alone in a neighboring township.

"A ban on assault weapons will still not stop people from going into a school and getting children," she said.

Contact Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @tinfield.

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