December 25, 2012

Fairfield business co-owner withdraws offer to destroy unwanted guns

'I made a mistake in offering this to the community and I need to rescind this offer,' says co-owner of Hammond Tractor Co.

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- When Gary Hammond offered to destroy guns at his service shop, he said he wasn't advocating people do it, but providing an alternative for anyone who had second thoughts about gun ownership after Dec. 14's mass shooting in Connecticut.

click image to enlarge

Hammond Tractor Company co-owner Gary Hammond, right, and employee Chad Tibbetts hold pieces of destroyed firearms in Fairfield on Friday. In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, Hammond Tractor – a hunter and gun owner – was offering to accept and destroy firearms from local citizens. He has since rescinded that offer.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

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Monday Hammond, owner of Hammond Tractor Company, rescinded the offer after getting a torrent of complaints from the public.

"I didn't realize it was going to cause so many controversies, and so many mixed emotions and feelings," Hammond said Monday. "I made a mistake in offering this to the community."

Hammond didn't want to discuss the number of calls or the sentiments he heard.

In general, "I've had considerable feedback," he said. "Enough that I realize I made a mistake in getting involved in this topic."

Hammond's offer was published Saturday in the Morning Sentinel after a Dec. 17 meeting of the Waterville Rotary Club, at which Duane Wheeler expressed his frustration with the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 28 people, including the shooter, died.

Wheeler, 62, told the group he had spent that morning trying to dispose of his four handguns and couldn't find any options.

Hammond, a fellow Rotarian, offered to destroy the guns with tools at his company's service shop on Center Road. Hammond extended the offer to the public at the request of Rotarian Mike Roy, who is also Waterville's city manager.

Hammond said Monday that he was trying to help the club members and provide an option to the public. Hammond -- a hunter who owns guns -- had no intention of destroying his own guns, for example.

"I believe in people owning guns. I believe in people having them to hunt, or for home protection or just to plain own them. People have that right, and I didn't want to offend or suggest to any of those people that they should not have that right," Hammond said.

"I believe in people owning guns. I believe in people having them to hunt, or for home protection or just to plain own them. People have that right, and I didn't want to offend or suggest to any of those people that they should not have that right," Hammond said.

Wheeler had a different experience in response to the article.

"I had nothing but positive feedback. I ran into a bunch of people while I was shopping Saturday and everybody was very positive," he said. "I'm sure there are some people that have a different opinion of me because of this gun issue, but I just can't imagine in my mind how that (offer to destroy guns) could offend anybody."

Wheeler said he was stunned that people criticized Hammond.

"He was simply offering a service that was not available elsewhere, and it was completely voluntary," Wheeler said. "If you have guns and you want to keep them, keep them. This was just an alternative. I guess I'm just baffled by that type of reaction."

Hammond's offer elicited strong reactions from readers -- mostly negative. Some commenters to the story posted on the Sentinel's website compared the act of destroying guns to book burning in Nazi Germany.

Roy said Hammond's stance was neutral.

"I certainly understand how there are strong emotions on both sides," Roy said. "However, Gary made clear in his offer that he respected gun owners, he owns guns himself and had no intention of destroying his own guns. I think it's unfortunate that it has elicited such a strong response because I think his intentions were honorable."

Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, said destroying guns is an ineffective approach to reducing crime, but he urged people to be civil when expressing their opinions.

"Disrespectful or threatening statements by individuals on either side of this issue are unproductive, and only serve to impede discussions that can lead to possible common ground," Weinstein said.

Ben McCanna -- 861-9239
bmccanna@mainetoday.com

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