Ferguson spurs rise of new gun owners in St. Louis: Another safety threat?

A new gun owner in St. Louis appears to have fatally shot herself during an auto accident. Ahead of the Ferguson grand jury decision, St. Louis gun sales are rising, but do those new gun owners pose a safety risk to themselves and others? 

While some St. Louis residents are concerned about protests turning violent after a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case, a rise in new, inexperienced gun owners also poses a safety risk.

Case in point is a the St. Louis woman who apparently accidentally fatally shot herself with the gun bought to keep her safe from potential unrest as the verdict draws closer to being released, according to police statements.

The incident, which happened on Friday at 11: 45 p.m. in downtown St. Louis. is being investigated as a "suspicious death,” according to an email from Schron Y. Jackson, Public Information Division, Metropolitan Police Department, City of St. Louis.

​The victim was Becca Campbell, a 26-year old white female, of Florissant, Mo., about a 15-minute drive north of Ferguson.

​According to the police report, officers responded to a vehicle-accident call where they soon discovered that Ms. Campbell – who was inside one of the cars involved – had been shot. She was transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

CNN reports that the 33-year-old driver of the vehicle mentioned in the police report was her boyfriend. Ms. Campbell’s boyfriend told investigators the victim waved the gun while he was driving as she allegedly joked that the couple were “ready for Ferguson,” CNN reports.

The driver ducked to get out of the way of the gun Ms. Campbell was reportedly brandishing and accidentally rear-ended another car. He said the collision caused the gun to go off and she was struck by a bullet, the sources said.

A sharp increase in pre-verdict sales of firearms in St. Louis means that those involved in educating first-time gun owners have their hands full.

“Anyone who is a loudmouth and wants attention is right here, right now,” says David Price, head of gun education at Top Gun Shooting Sports in Arnold, Mo.. The shop is about 15 minutes outside of Ferguson and has seen a sudden rise in sales ahead of the grand jury ruling. Threats of violence and planned protests "has some people scared,” says Mr. Price. Missouri governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency this past week, and has the National Guard on standby.

Price says in the phone interview that he currently trains about 300 new gun owners a month and one of his first classroom questions is, “What did you decide to buy a gun?”

“People are saying that it’s because of everything going on with the [Darren Wilson] trial and threats of violence by different groups,” he says. “I think this kind of situation we have here is more of a kick in the backside for people who really always wanted to buy a gun but put it off and put it off. It takes something thrown in your face like this to get people to go ahead and buy a gun.”

However, Price says that he drills new gun owners on the National Rifle Association’s three Rules: 1. Point the gun in a safe direction; 2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire, and 3. Keep the gun unloaded.

“If you follow those three rules to the letter, an accidental shooting is completely, physically impossible,” he says. “You have to break two rules to have a tragedy and it sounds like that may have been the case in St. Louis Friday.”

A gun shop owner in in Sanford, Fla., where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot in 2012, says that during George Zimmerman's trial, there was a similar atmosphere of threats of violence, largely driven by out-of-town agitators.

“When everything happened here with the trial [of George Zimmerman] the people threatening violence and all that weren’t even from here. They came by the busload from out of town,” says Claude “Bert” Nelson, owner of A&N Sports, a small gun shop located in Sanford for the past 38 years, in a phone interview. “The media exaggerated the gun sales. But people were afraid. That’s where the metal meets the road – when people do things out of fear and not education.”

Asked about gun sales during the George Zimmerman trial, Mr. Nelson says:  “To be fair, I saw more people stocking up after President Obama’s comments on the incident in [Newton] Connecticut after the school shooting, than during the trial. People buy guns more when they think you’re going to stop selling them than out of an immediate fear of violence in a trial like this.” 

“This isn’t about the [gun] sellers,” Nelson adds. “There are people buying guns without thinking, or realizing these are tools, dangerous tools that you have to take time to respect and learn how to use properly.”

Price in St. Louis agrees with Nelson’s concerns about people needing to take the purchase of a firearm and the education about their new purchase more seriously. “People watch too much television,” he says. “I’ve had people come into my classes lately and be, well the best word for it is blasé. People should take it more seriously. Too many of these people saw it on TV and think owning and waiving around a gun’s no big deal. The fact is that the foundation [in education] a very big deal for everyone.”

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