Pro-gun group growing
RANTOUL — 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, 1001 N. Ohio Avenue.
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 gathering 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 handguns 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 organization 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 the organization, 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 because of gun violence.
Members 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 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."
She 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.
The group 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."
Guns, their availability and their use in a number of mass killings have 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."
According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, 496 murders were committed in 2011 with "blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)." That same year, the FBI reports, 323 murders were linked to rifles. Of the 12,664 murders in 2011, firearms were used in 8,583 of them; 4,081 murders involved other means.
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.
The organization 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. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to review the ruling.
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 group's logo.
The organization 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.