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Hometown U.S.A.: Tucson

In working-class neighborhoods, activist seeks to give away guns

Some residents say it could help security. Others think that's a crazy idea. Another local activist urges people to give away school supplies instead.

April 13, 2013|By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times
  • Shaun McClusky, right, considers a shotgun at a Tucson gun store. McClusky contacted a group called the Armed Citizen Project about giving away shotguns to residents of working-class neighborhoods. "It's about home protection," he said.
Shaun McClusky, right, considers a shotgun at a Tucson gun store. McClusky… (Ross D. Franklin, Associated…)

In a city still reeling from a shooting rampage that killed six and severely injured a congresswoman, contrasting giveaways are being proposed for a handful of its working-class neighborhoods.

One would dole out free shotguns to poor adults. Another would hand out free school supplies to needy children.

Talk of the gun giveaway has divided residents in the Tucson neighborhoods of Midvale Park, Pueblo Gardens and the Grant-Campbell area. These communities now find themselves thrust in the middle of a nationwide conversation about gun ownership after they were singled out by a fellow Tucson resident as high-crime neighborhoods that he believed could benefit from free firearms.

Shaun McClusky, a real estate agent who lives in the Tucson area, said he heard about the Armed Citizen Project and contacted the group's leader, Kyle Coplen, a post-graduate student in Houston. Coplen's initiative has raised about $13,000 to purchase shotguns that would be distributed in seven cities, perhaps more.

Recipients will have to pass a background check and will be given special training before receiving a free shotgun.

"It's about home protection," McClusky said. "If you are a single mom or dad and can't afford a shotgun, we'll give one to you."

In response, local activist Sal Baldenegro Jr. is spearheading the School Supply Giveaway campaign, and hopes to raise at least as much, if not more, money than McClusky.

"Tucson residents are working hard to make our neighborhoods safe, but free gun giveaways completely undermine this effort," Baldenegro states in a website for online donations. Handing out school supplies, he adds, "will result in a vibrant and healthy Tucson community."

Joseph Miller, Midvale Park Assn. president, said his neighborhood doesn't need "gun welfare."

"We can buy our own guns," he said. "I don't know too many people who can't afford a $200 gun. If they can't afford a $200 gun, they probably have some bigger problems than wanting to own a gun."

Miller, a gun owner who keeps his firearm at his father's home out of fear for his young children's safety, called the giveaway a "really bad idea" that will likely undermine the area's reputation and hurt home values.

"Nobody's going to want to move into a place where they're giving out free guns," he said.

Miller said the neighborhood had some trouble in the past but worked hard to forge a relationship with law enforcement, helping to decrease crime in the area.

"We've worked so darn hard to make things so very nice here," he said. Seeming to address McClusky, he asked, "Why are you picking on us?"

Christina Cruz, a former neighborhood association member in Midvale Park, agreed with Miller that the community was safer than in the past, but said the giveaway could help maintain security.

"We've been successful, but we're not immune to crime," she said. "I believe in being proactive."

Cruz said she believed McClusky could have handled the situation more delicately in the beginning to avoid the backlash.

"Maybe there should have been more grass-roots communication," she said. "I can completely understand the neighborhood. At the same time ... I don't want this program to be watered down because people are offended."

Coplen said the Tucson neighborhoods may not make the final cut for gun distribution after all. He said he still needs to analyze crime data in these communities and gauge resident participation before making a decision.

"I don't want to go into an area where only 10% of the residents are going to take us up on our offer," Coplen said. "We want to make sure that we go into an area where a lot of the folks are going to accept."

Cindy Ayala has no interest in accepting anything. President of the Pueblo Gardens Neighborhood Assn., she said her community is an older, low-income area with about 800 families. It's not crime-ridden, she said.

"We demand a meeting with this Shaun McClusky," she said. "I've never even met this man. And he's going to give a gun to my neighbor?"

Ayala, a gun owner, said the money spent to buy firearms could be put to better use by simply giving the cash to residents.

"They could buy groceries, pay for gas or day care, instead of giving them a gun," she said. "I don't have a problem with guns. I do have a problem with how this guy is handling this.… What he wants is vigilantism. That's not acceptable."

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