September 17, 2014

Elyria
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Parents of 2008 holdup victim question why semiautomatic rifle ban ended

Qiana Walton

ELYRIA — The Newtown, Conn., school massacre brought back bad memories for Robert Walton II and Jeaunnatta Walton.

Like the victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, their daughter, Qiana Walton, was killed with a semiautomatic rifle. Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used an AR-15-type semiautomatic rifle to kill 26 adults and children at the school as well as his mother.

Qiana Walton, a clerk at Liberty Gas USA, was shot and killed with an AK-47 in 2008 while working at the Middle Avenue gas station in Elyria. Vincent Jackson, her accused killer, could face the death penalty if convicted.

The Waltons support renewal of the assault weapons ban as a way to reduce the number of semiautomatic rifles or high-capacity magazines for pistols that get into the hands of criminals or deranged people. There have been 457 shootings involving semiautomatic rifles, including the killing of Walton, since the ban expired in 2004, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“We believe in being able to protect yourself in your homes wholeheartedly, but to be able to buy assault weapons is totally ridiculous,” Jeaunnatta Walton said.

The ban affected semiautomatic rifles that fire 11 rounds or more and high-capacity magazines for pistols. The magazines were used during attacks by Tucson, Ariz., shooter Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last year, and Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre, America’s deadliest school shooting.

While serving in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War in 1969-70, Robert Walton remembered the distinctive report of the AK-47 semiautomatic rifle being fired at American troops by North Vietnamese Army soldiers and Viet Cong rebels. Walton carried an M-16 semiautomatic rifle, of which the AR-15 is a civilian version. The difference is that the M-16 can be switched to fire fully automatically. The AR-15 requires a trigger pull for each shot.

Robert Walton is astounded that weapons similar to those designed for war are legal and said they can easily end up in the hands of criminals or mentally ill people through burglaries or straw purchases. He said easy access has been enabled by politicians afraid of crossing the National Rife Association, the powerful pro-gun lobby that opposes new gun laws.

“There’s got to be a way we can deter the criminals and the people that are allowing these guns on the street,” Walton II said. “You can never get rid of all the gangs, but you can get rid of their weapon of choice.”

Walton said he watched “Meet the Press” on Sunday where Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, said it would fight renewal of the ban or any new gun laws. LaPierre called for armed guards in every school in the nation, which Walton found absurd.

Walton said the cost of putting armed guards in schools would be astronomical — Slate Magazine estimated $5.5 billion annually based on the number of schools in the U.S. and an average police officer’s salary — and might endanger children who could be caught in the potential crossfire.

LaPierre called the ban “phony” and ineffective. However, an analysis last year by the Washington Post of seizures of semiautomatic rifles by police in Virginia found they more than doubled after the ban. In 2010, 22 percent of all guns seized in Virginia were semiautomatic rifles. In 2004, the last year of the ban, the number was 10 percent.

While a ban won’t stop gun crime, Walton said it will reduce the approximately 12,179 gun homicide deaths annually.

“A real hunter doesn’t need an AR-15,” he said. “If you have the ban on these kind of weapons, you’ll make a dramatic change on crime in the United States.”

In addition to the ban, the Waltons support universal background checks for gun sales. Forty percent of all gun sales occur without a background check, according to the National Institute of Justice.

The Waltons also support limiting guns sales to one per month to reduce straw purchases, requiring gun manufacturers to make guns have a ballistic fingerprint, which would increase the ability of police to locate guns used in crimes. They also favor expanding treatment for the mentally ill.

Robert Walton III, Qiana Walton’s brother, said he has a concealed carry permit and supports the Second Amendment. But Walton III said legal semiautomatic rifles create “an arms race” as law-abiding citizens buy them, fearing crime.

Walton III worries about protecting his 1-year-old daughter, Chloe, when she goes to school. He said he has lost several friends and relatives to gun violence.

“I even lost my best friend — my sister,” he said.

Walton said a friend called him to tell him Qiana Wilson had been shot, but wouldn’t say that she’d been killed. He recalled driving his parents around 1:30 a.m. June 14, 2008, to the Gas USA convenience store on Middle Avenue in Elyria where she was working.

Jeaunnatta Walton said Qiana visited the family home on the way to work before she was killed, and she is grateful she got a chance to tell her daughter she loved her one last time.

“She didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” Walton II said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.