He's A Democrat..And A Gun Shop Owner
Austin gun shop owner Michael Cargill, 43, might not fit the popular image of the gun rights movement. He's gay and a Democrat. He didn't grow up hunting, or with guns in his home. In fact, his family shunned guns like many other black families -- a reaction, in part, to the harrowing rates of black-on-black homicide.
Cargill applied for a concealed-gun license 22 years ago, after his grandmother, who decided to get a nursing degree at the age of 70, was mugged and raped on the way home from the library. Now he runs Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, which specializes in concealed weapons. And while a recent poll shows six out of 10 Americans support stricter gun control laws, Cargill believes strongly that all law-abiding Americans should have a right to carry a gun for self-defense.
Guns 'Do Actually Save Lives'
On Sunday, Cargill auctioned off a Bushmaster, the same firearm used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in order to raise money for medical treatments for the baby daughter of one of his employees. Cargill told Austin TV station KTBC that he hopes "to prove that guns do actually save lives."
That's why Cargill, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army, became a gun safety instructor. Anyone in Texas who wants a license to carry a concealed handgun must take 10-hour certification course, and Cargill's classes -- which he began out of his living room -- were an instant hit. "People knew my intentions were good," he says.
Gun Shop Owner Turns Away Customers Who Seem 'Jittery'
Cargill's goal is to make sure guns end up in well-meaning, well-trained hands, and he takes this very seriously. "As a gun store owner it's my responsibility to be a part of that step to keep everyone safe," says Cargill, who at least twice a month will refuse to sell a weapon to someone who appears suspicious.
Cargill carefully monitors his customers for anything shifty. "If they're not giving you eye contact, shifting their eyes around, jittery, or I smell marijuana or alcohol," he explains. "All signs that you should not have a firearm."
'You Can't Legislate Crazy'
Making it harder for law-abiding citizens to buy a gun misses the point, Cargill says. "Timothy McVeigh took down federal building in Oklahoma, killed a little over 1,000 people. He used a rental truck, fertilizer and some other things," he says. "I didn't see us standing in front of Home Depot and Lowe's protesting fertilizer. You can't legislate crazy."
But we can improve the way we handle mental illness, he says. (The shooters responsible for the massacres at Virginia Tech and Fort Hood, and in Tucson, Aurora and Sandy Hook were all diagnosed with a mental illness, or reported to be mentally ill).
"Stop trying to make people feel guilty about protecting themselves," he urges. "There's no way we're going to completely eliminate guns from the United States. That's not reality."
At Cargill's shop, you can also buy T-shirts with the slogan: "Buy a gun, annoy a liberal."
Watch: A former GOP lawmaker, who was blacklisted by the NRA, and a black, gay Democratic gun shop owner debate gun regulations (full story here).
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Read more in AOL's series on Guns in America
- Gun Safety at Home: Stolen Firearms a Big Problem, Statistics Show
- Murder by Numbers: Digging Into the Data of America's Gun Culture
- Guns-To-Work Laws Proliferate, Despite Mass Shootings And Employer Opposition
Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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