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Like retail outlets around the country in the final week before Christmas, the Schmidt & Titoni Firearms shop in Santa Rosa was bustling Tuesday, its mostly regular customers patiently vying for one of the store's four busy partners to help them conduct their business.

Co-owner Victor Titoni said a surge in sales is fairly typical amid the talk of tougher gun control laws that inevitably follows a mass shooting, in this case one that left 28 dead, 20 of them children, in Newtown, Conn., last week.

Gun enthusiasts come out to buy when they fear their options might be limited in the future, Titoni said.

"They all know," he said. "They go, 'Uh, oh. Here comes more gun regulation.' "

Most of those in the store said they weren't there in panic, but were making purchases they'd planned before anyone outside Connecticut ever heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They expect gun control advocates will try to leverage the mass slaying to promote stricter regulations on weapons and ammunition. But the facts emerging from Newtown suggest the problem lay not with the weapons, they said, but with the man who busted into a grade school Friday with three of his mother's guns and opened fire.

"He made a bad choice," said Santa Rosa hunter Jeff Callaghan, 33. "That's all there is to that."

"I don't think taking people's guns away really has anything to do with that," said Graton resident Raymond Green, 71.

Pundits and politicians are describing the stunning Newtown massacre as a "tipping point" in the nation's acceptance of firearms regulation -- the kind of watershed moment that might reverse what the Gallup polling organization says is 13 years of diminishing support for stricter gun controls, despite the shock over high-profile killings at Virginia Tech University, Aurora, Colo., Fort Hood, Texas, and many others.

Within hours of the Newtown shooting, political leaders were calling for action to curtail the availability of high-powered weapons and high-capacity ammunition.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called for an updated version of a 1994 federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, was named Tuesday to chair a House Democratic task force on gun violence.

A gun owner, hunter and former co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman Caucus, Thompson described himself as a "supporter of the Second Amendment" and a Vietnam combat veteran who carried an assault rifle in the war.

"I understand guns, their purpose and how they are used," Thompson said in a written statement. "Military-type assault weapons and assault magazines have no place on our streets or in our communities."

As head of the task force, Thompson said he would be working on a "comprehensive approach to reduce gun violence and strengthen our nation's gun laws while protecting law-abiding citizens' right to own legitimate firearms."

Also to be considered, he said, are more detailed background checks in connection with gun purchases and assuring that "appropriate mental health services are available."

On Tuesday, California state Sen. Kevin de Le?, D-Los Angeles, proposed new restrictions on the purchase of ammunition, seeking to create a permit process that would include a background check.

Customers at Schmidt & Titoni Firearms on Piner Road said they, too, were horrified by the violence in Connecticut. But adding regulations to prevent rampages is misguided, they said, and misses the point that a young man described as emotionally troubled had access to his mother's guns.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Individuals bent on violence could still acquire firearms illegally -- by theft, buying through the underground market or from out of state -- or use whatever other weapon or instrument of destruction is more readily available, they said.

"I don't feel like trying to outlaw a weapon is going to stop them," said Santa Rosa resident Robert Holtzen, 24, who hopes to become a gunsmith and owns seven firearms he uses for target shooting.

"It's easier for felons and thieves to get guns," said another customer, Codey Kohler, also 24, who was picking up a handgun after completing the state-mandated 10-day waiting period on his purchase.

Buying guns illegally, "they don't have to wait," he said.

California already has the nation's strictest firearm acquisition rules, customers noted. Titoni pulled up a screen on his computer listing dozens of would-be customers whose purchases have been put on hold by the Department of Justice because of something that came up during routine, mandated background checks.

"The system catches them," he said.

Most of those in the store at midday Tuesday were buying weapons for target shooting, though a few were also hunters.

Callaghan said he enjoyed providing meat for his table. Another man came to purchase a military-styled Colt M4 carbine for his collection of semiautomatic rifles, which he uses for hunting and for target shooting at the Los Altos Rod and Gun Club in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A Rohnert Park couple, Bob and Nona Windus, was purchasing a new handgun that Nona Windus hoped to use for personal protection in a violent world.

"We live in a good neighborhood. My car has been broken into twice," she said. "What's next?"

Pete Musser, who enjoys target shooting with a couple of handguns he owns, said he had no issue with those who wanted to outlaw assault weapons of the sort that resemble those designed for military battle. But it would not eliminate thousands already in civilian ownership.

All said they wanted their right to own their guns protected.

"Every time one of these things happens," Titoni said, "they make us look like 'those gun guys are out for killing little kids,' and we're not."

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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