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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
One by one they stood up, gave their names and place of residence.
Cissna Park, Champaign, Rantoul, Gibson City, Georgetown ... to name a few.
They were first-time attendees at a meeting in Rantoul of Gunssavelife.com, an Illinois nonprofit group of more than 1,000 members and growing.
About 30 newbies in all, they were among more than 300 people who attended the meeting at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
Don’t get the wrong impression. This is not a group of sidewinders who enter with guns on their hips, checking their weapons at the door.
Enter the hall, and the atmosphere is like any other group held there — the chamber of commerce, Rotary or church organization — with a meal followed by a business meeting.
It isn’t just area residents who are curious about the group. The press is as well. In addition to a newspaper reporter, a crew from the British Broadcasting Corp. was on hand. Other national media have also covered the group.
Gunssavelife.com advocates the right to own and carry guns. It also promotes gun training.
The only difference at this meeting from other groups meeting there was a few hand guns on display at a table in the front and a drawing or two with the prize being, what else? A gun.
And the meeting topic.
Guns, guns, guns. There might not be a hotter topic in the United States these days.
Much of the business meeting included updates from GSL President John Boch about efforts to ban guns and Americans’ right to bear arms.
Jane Sprandel of Thomasboro was one of those attending for the first time.
Sprandel came with her father, Phil Hamlow of Cissna Park, also a first-time attendee, and said she was on hand because she wanted to educate herself about guns and protecting U.S. citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
“The idea behind the movement,” Sprandel said, “is most of the gun violence we hear about today is not occurring due to the legal gun owner.”
Boch and other members of GSL, which is an arm of the Champaign County Rifle Association, believe those who want to ban the right to own and carry a gun have their focus wrongly fixed. They believe making gun ownership illegal will mean that only the outlaws will carry them.
Exhibit A in their argument is the city of Chicago, which has one of the most restrictive gun laws in the country but has one of the highest homicide rates due to guns.
Members of GSL recently traveled to Chicago, where they handed in about 60 mostly unusable guns as part of the city’s trade-in program and received more than $6,200 in gift cards — an action that angered many in the Windy City.
But GSL members said the money will be put to good use. They will use the cards to buy ammunition and firearms for a youth program designed to teach safety and marksmanship.
Sprandel said of her decision to attend the Rantoul meeting, “I guess it concerns me about people who (might not be) able to own their own guns, people who are residents and trained.”
Sprandel, who said she became a member of the group that night and expects her husband, Tony, will also become involved, is president of the Thomasboro school board.
“As school board president I do have concerns and what can be done to protect students,” Sprandel said. “I think we need to look at all avenues of how to protect our students.”
Jane Sprandel said she has a firearm owner’s identification card and plans to attend a National Rifle Association-sponsored personal defense class.
Dean Burdette of Rantoul, another first-time attendee, said he’s always been interested in guns and said he attended because he was invited.
He said he is concerned about the possibility that gun ownership will be outlawed and said the problem lies with the outlaws, not the general population.
GSL has drawn attention from unlikely sources, including overseas.
BBC producer Vara Szajkowski said she decided to attend the meeting to film a news segment on Americans’ fascination with guns — a topic rather foreign to the British.
The segment aired on the BBC’s “News Night.”
“The Atlantic” magazine also did a story on the group.
Guns, their availability and their use in a number of mass killings has sparked outrage nationally. But the sides are drawn on how to handle it.
Boch is passionate about Americans’ rights to bear arms.
“What (gun ban activists) are looking to ban are guns that Americans use almost exclusively to protect their homes,” Boch said. “(They include the AR-15, America’s favorite rifle and the largest-selling rifle in the nation’s history, a whole history of products and accessories that go with rifle competition.
“As if that’s going to make some sort of impact where in reality hammers are used to kill more people than America’s favorite rifle.”
Congress will take up the issue as President Barack Obama has presented proposals that include requirements of background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
GSL is also closely watching the concealed carry issue in Illinois. A federal appellate court in December threw out a state ban on concealed weapons and gave the
Illinois Legislature six months to come up with a plan to allow people to legally carry guns, which would make the state the last one in the nation allowing weapons for self defense to be legally carried outside the home.
The fear that Congess will enact stricter gun regulations has sent many people scurrying to buy them while they can.
“We’re completely out of everything,” said Ron Raup, owner of Ron’s Gun & Knife Shop in Thomasboro, who said he is having trouble finding guns to stock his shelves.
“Everything is sold out. There’s nothing available from any of the manufacturers. You can’t even get through to any of them.”
Raup said before the gun ban scare, he had “probably 400-500 available.”
GSL’s Boch said many proposals either make matters worse or don’t address the real problems.
Boch said gun-free zones “in reality only provide a hunting ground to people and give them their 15 minutes of fame.”
He pointed to people such as the killers at Columbine and Sandy Hook schools.
“These people are insane; they’re broken; they’re evil,” Boch said. “They’re angry at the world. Basically the only thing that stops bad guys, broken people with guns is good guys with guns.”
Boch said the mass killings are a symptom of something wrong with society.
“I think better families would go a long way to reducing these crazed individuals,” he said.
At the meeting, Boch told of two home invasions.
In one a woman huddled in a bedroom with her children while the home invader searched the house. When he entered the room, she shot him.
In the other, a female resident was unarmed, the invader hunted her down, found her hiding in a closet and shot her multiple times, but she survived.
Boch highlighted some of the latest efforts to control gun use.
He cited a news story that told how Bank of America had frozen the accounts of American Spirit Arms because the company sells guns over the Internet.
He said staff at a Denny’s restaurant asked an on-duty police officer to take her weapon and put it in her squad car. When informed that the officer was on duty, she was told that it didn’t matter. Boch said Denny’s later apologized.
Boch told of a New York newspaper that listed the names and addresses of every gun owner in the city.
“Burglars say it’s a gold mine,” Boch said of knowing who owns guns and who doesn’t.
A guns rights group responded by publishing the names and addresses of all employees of the newspaper, and the newspaper has hired armed guards at its office,
Boch said. In response to the newspaper’s actions, New York has passed legislation banning publication of gun owners’ names.
The battle over public opinion goes on.
Gunssavelife.com is known in Illinois for its Burma Shave-style signs.
The group unveiled at the meeting a new slogan that will be displayed along highways:
“Intruders who come
“For what I own
“May find my home
“Is no gun-free zone.”
Boch also recognized a woman at the meeting who is pregnant and called the husband and wife to the front, where he presented maternity tops to the wife. The tops bear the GSL logo.
GSL has three chapters in Illinois — in Rantoul, Effingham and Pontiac. Boch said the group will probably expand to Springfield in a couple of months and is considering chapters in Joliet and Beardstown.
“We’ve grown in the last couple years,” Boch said. “We’ve done a lot of good things as far as protecting our civil rights. Gun control in Illinois is pretty much not going to happen anytime soon.”
The group meets the second Tuesday of every month with a meal at 6 p.m. and the business meeting at 7 p.m.