Gun Dealer Launches Online Public Safety Forum

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The Internet gun dealer who sold gun accessories to the Northern Illinois University campus shooter Stephen Kazmierczak and a gun to Virginia Tech campus killer Seung-Hui Cho is launching a new Web site. Gundebate.com is a forum on how to improve public safety and reduce gun violence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The online gun dealer who sold a weapon to Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho says he feels, quote, "absolutely terrible." But he also sold gun accessories over the Internet to Steven Kazmierczak, who shot and killed five students at Northern Illinois University earlier this month.

Mr. ERIC THOMPSON (Owner, TGSCOM, Inc.): It's a sickening feeling, honestly.

MONTAGNE: Eric Thompson owns thegunsource.com, topglock.com, and other websites that sell guns and firearm accessories. He's now launching a new website. It's called gundebate.com and he says it's a forum on how to improve public safety. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: In a gritty industrial part of Green Bay, Wisconsin, not far from the famed football stadium Lambeau Field sits a small building that serves as warehouse, distribution center and world headquarters for TGSCOM Incorporated, home to more than 100 websites that sell firearms and related accessories. Owner Eric Thompson says 99.9% of his company's sales come through the Internet, but he does have a show room with rifles, assault weapons on the walls, and glass cases full of firearms.

Mr. THOMPSON: What you are looking at in this case here is semi-automatic handguns or pistols from various manufactures, Glocks.

SCHAPER: Two rooms on either side of the showroom house the computer terminals where Thompson's staff of about 20 are taking in Internet orders and phone inquiries. There's a stock and distribution room in the back where the products come in from manufacturers and are turned around and shipped out to customers. As one of the largest and best known Internet gun dealers, he ships hundreds of orders each day.

Guns have to go to a licensed gun dealer in the state in which the customer lives to verify the buyer's identity and conduct a background check, but accessories can go right to the customer, as with Steven Kazmierczak's order on February 4th.

Mr. THOMPSON: To my best understanding it was a Glock 19, 9mm pistol that he had and he ordered two 33 round magazines from us. He ordered those, as well as a holster.

SCHAPER: When Kazmierczak was identified as the former graduate student who opened fire on a lecture hall on the Northern Illinois campus two weeks ago, Thompson found the shooter had recently ordered accessories from his topglock.com website and immediately notified the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Thompson says he doubts Kazmierczak found his website through coverage of Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, who had ordered a Walther P22 handgun from Thompson's the gunsource.com. But he says the unnerving coincidence has shaken him and he wants to see some good come out of it.

Mr. THOMPSON: We're launching gundebates.com. And what we're doing with this Web site is we're trying to get people active and coming up with a real solution to the problem.

Mr. PAUL HELMKE (The Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence): I hope he does feel sick about this.

SCHAPER: That's Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence, who says he's skeptical about Thompson's Web dialogue on gun violence. Thompson makes no effort to hide his personal views.

Mr. THOMPSON: My beliefs are very simply this, is that people should have the right to be able to protect themselves.

SCHAPER: Thompson believes that guns can do more good than harm, that law-abiding citizens arming themselves could stop and prevent crimes and mass shootings like NIU and Virginia Tech. He favors concealed carry and open carry laws and opposes gun free zones in schools and parks, but above all Thompson insists he wants to gets beyond the heated and polarizing rhetoric that surrounds this issue.

Mr. THOMPSON: The way that we're trying to structure this, initially anyway, is that we are trying to get noted writers on both sides of the issue to really come at it from rather than an emotional standpoint, but from a factual standpoint and put some logic and thought into it rather than just rhetoric.

SCHAPER: Thompson has already posted the positions of the NRA and the Brady Campaign to start the discussion. Again, Brady Campaign president Paul Helmke.

Mr. HELMKE: I have looked at his gun debate Web site and it looks like it's set up to be a fair discussion, and this is an issue I think that if people were willing to talk and actually try to solve problems, we could find a lot of areas of common agreement.

SCHAPER: The willingness to engage in the gun debate appears to be at least one area of common ground, even if Helmke and Thompson disagree on whether recent campus shootings warrant more or less stringent gun control.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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