Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) speaks during a town-hall meeting in Ketchikan. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Gun violence and whether to regulate certain types of firearms was a recurring topic during Sen. Dan Sullivan’s town hall meeting in Ketchikan late last week.

About three dozen Ketchikan residents showed up on a Friday night to ask questions of Alaska’s Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. Mirroring the national debate, the topic of gun control – pros and cons – was a large part of the town hall meeting.

Attendees who wished to ask questions put their names into a container, and then names were drawn randomly. The first person chosen was Mike Sallee, who said he’s hunted with guns since he was a teenager. At no time, he said, has he ever emptied a rifle’s magazine while hunting.

“So I am baffled as to why we have these people making this huge hue and cry about the Second Amendment, wanting to have the freedom to own and operate and use whenever they want to, a semi-automatic firearm designed for killing people,” Sallee said.

Sullivan responded that the problem isn’t with legally owned firearms of any kind, it’s who owns them. He cited the Parkland, Florida, shooting, and the lack of law enforcement response to earlier warnings about the accused shooter.

Sullivan said following the Parkland shooting – along with other mass shootings at schools and elsewhere — two bills recently passed the Senate. He said one provides support for school safety programs, and the other firms up current requirements about who can legally purchase firearms.

Sullivan said the United States needs to look into the cause of increased mass shootings. He said gun restrictions are either the same or even tighter than they’ve been in the past. One thing that has changed, Sullivan said, is the prevalence of violent video games.

“I’m not saying everybody does this for hours and hours,” he said. “I’m sure there are some men, in particular, here, young men, who probably did a lot of that growing up. I’m not saying that makes you go out and do this kind of stuff, but if you’re on the edge, if you have some kind of mental challenges, and you don’t think that’s impacting this?”

Chris Parks owns a local retail store that sells firearms. He said records are required for gun sales, and his business has those records going back to the 1970s. Parks said one area that could be tightened up is informal transfers of ownership, at gun shows, for example.

“With having people be required to go to an FFL holder and have their NICS report done if they want to transfer a gun between private individuals, that is in a sense restrictive, but it’s a common-sense way to do it,” Parks said. “It keeps the registrations out of federal records, database, there’s no reason to have that. Second of all, relating to semi-automatic weapons. I understand people’s concerns on that, but the Second Amendment wasn’t just for hunting. It was also for self-defense.”

NICS stands for National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Parks agreed that while most people who play violent video games are not affected, there could be a small percentage that’s influenced.

“If we’re going to talk about restricting gun rights, we should be talking more about restricting video game sales and simulated killing and violence in movies,” he said. “That’s much for effective to the mental health issues of people.”

Sullivan said whenever that’s brought up, those industries claim such restrictions would violate the First Amendment.

That amendment protects freedom of speech, along with a free press and freedom of religion.

While addressing another topic, Sullivan had talked about the need to respond to the opioid epidemic. He cited the number of overdoses that happened daily to show the extent of the problem.

Audience member Brett Serlin brought that up when his name was called to address the senator.

“I think you had mentioned that 60,000 opioid overdoses?” he asked.

“64,000,” Sullivan clarified.

“OK,” Serlin said. “In 2017, there were 61,000 shooting incidents in the United States. So I appreciate your concern for opioids. I just don’t understand why you aren’t expressing the same concern about firearms.”

Serlin said he doesn’t want to ban guns, or take guns away from law-abiding citizens. He is worried, though, about access to high-capacity, rapid-fire guns.  Serlin asked what Sullivan and Congress can do to limit that access for people who are not capable of responsible gun handling.

Sullivan repeated his earlier statement that Congress has passed a bill to tighten current regulations.

“Fixing the system that already exists, and not allow people to fall through the cracks, either because they’re not – the system is not being implemented the way it should be, or the reporting is not the way it should be,” he said.

Sullivan said everyone wants to keep schools safe. At the same time, he said, the Second Amendment needs to be upheld.

That amendment states that “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Several times during the discussion about guns, audience members either interrupted briefly or simply muttered disagreement. Similar to the national discussion, it seems, the debate will continue.

We’ll have another report later this week about Sullivan’s town hall meeting, focusing on other issues addressed during the public event.