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Ohio Gun Maker Swamped With Orders Since Connecticut Shooting

Gun sales soared following the Connecticut school shooting in December. At the same time, the White House began drafting a proposal for stricter gun control measures. WOSU recently traveled to Mansfield to talk with an Ohio-based gun maker about the effects the last six weeks has had on his business. Much like the city of Mansfield, the complex that is Hi Point Firearms is unassuming. There’s no flashy sign – there’s no sign at all, actually – to indicate one of the nation’s largest gun producers is next door to Joe’s Auto Sales. Several white buildings fill the site, and it’s easy to miss the tiny “officeâ€? sign on a rear building. But gun shop owners have found it. The phones began ringing off the hook in December, right after the Connecticut shootings. "It went crazy basically," Hi Point Firearms owner Tom Deeb said. Deeb could not have known then how the unthinkable Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting would affect his business, the industry or the nation for that matter. It didn’t cross Deeb’s mind. Instead, his initial thought was, “God, I hope it wasn’t one of my guns.â€? It wasn’t one of his guns. But a Hi Point gun was used in another school shooting. Fourteen years ago, he received an urgent trace request from Colorado authorities. One of Deeb’s 9 mm carbine rifles was among the arsenal of weapons used at the Columbine High School shooting in which 12 students and a teacher were killed. An investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department says the Hi Point rifle killed five students and injured nine others. “No one in their right mind does that stuff...If there was some way to legislate the evil out of people hearts I know that we would do that. But there isn’t.â€? President Obama and others on Capitol Hill have proposed new, tougher gun control to help prevent mass shootings and other gun violence. They want to ban semiautomatic rifles, limit magazines to ten bullets and institute background checks on all gun purchases. California Senator Dianne Feinstein wants to ban military style rifles with features like pistol grips. If the ban passes, Deeb will have to redesign all the rifles he sells. “For politicians who don’t know anything about firearms, and know even less about what people want, to me, it’s just insanity," Deeb said. "Why in the world would they demonize a firearm for having a handle and being more ergonomically friendly? It’s just ridiculous.â€? Deeb, who is in his 60s, has owned a gun his entire adult life. The first one he said he bought was a low cost gun, a Ruger, because that’s all he could afford. “At that time that was a cheap gun. They’re not cheap anymore.â€? Now Deeb makes some of the cheapest guns in the industry. A Hi Point pistol starts around $150. His carbines sell as low as $285. “All I can say is I get a lot of fun out of shooting, and I want the same thing for other people," Deeb said. "All I can say is I make guns for the working people. Not for the elite people. And that’s just how it is.â€? While gun owners give Hi Point guns rave reviews, he faces sharp criticism for them. Some gun control advocates say his cheap guns are popular among criminals. In fact, Deeb, his distributor and a dealer a being sued by a New York man who was shot by a gang member with a Hi Point gun. This is the first time a gun maker could be held liable under the shield law which protects them against civil claims. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says because the gun industry places profits over people, it should be held accountable. “There’s two sides to every story. I make inexpensive guns," Deeb said. "But I don’t make them for criminals. I make them for people like myself, and for people that need them.â€? Deeb prides himself in being one of a few gun makers in the country who help solve crimes. Chris Monturo is a forensic firearm examiner with the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab in Dayton. Monturo said Hi Point guns are the only ones in the U.S. with hidden serial numbers on “So even if a criminal were to totally obliterate a serial number, we can go to a separate location and view the serial number and be able to report that to the police for them to follow as to the original purchaser of the gun to see if it was bought illegally or transferred illegally," Monturo said. Back at a Hi Point warehouse, an employee fires off eight rounds at a time, testing a gun repair. It is one of 50 repairs workers made that week. Three times the normal rate. “We think they’re digging them up from underground or somewhere. We’re getting repairs we’ve never seen before," Deeb said. It’s all part of the post-Sandy Hook surge in gun sales. Deeb is closely watching the fight over gun control. He said he’s confident much of it won’t pass. Deeb doesn’t appear too worried either, partly because he’s so busy. “It’s caused an enormous stir in the gun industry. And anything that fires a projectile, people are getting a hold of, want to get fixed up, trade it while the craze is going on or keep it themselves," Deeb said. Deeb admits the surge in the gun sales has been lucrative for his company. But he said it’s taken a toll on his employees. “Yeah, financially, yeah it’s been profitable. But it’s not anything that I want. And mean if it were up to me none of this would ever happen.â€?