MARSHALL, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan gun store owner shrugged off criticism and went ahead with a class that teaches people how to build their own AR-15 semi-automatic rifles like those used in many mass shootings, including last month’s massacre at a Florida high school.
Chris Walden, who owns Walden’s Firearms in nearby Battle Creek and taught Tuesday’s class, said postponing it until there isn’t a mass shooting in the United States could mean it would never happen.
“There’s always significant things going on and if we tried to weave that between whatever tragedy and anything else, I’m not sure we’d ever find a good time,” Walden said. “Now’s as good a time as any.”
The class was held for the third year in a row at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Marshall, which is about 95 miles (150 kilometers) west of Detroit. Organizers say it was scheduled months before the mass shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. Authorities say the man behind the attack, Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15.
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It drew a protest of about 30 people who oppose the further spread of guns and called the timing insulting.
“It’s a slap in the face to the kids who have died,” said Pam Daume, a local resident who was among those protesting across the street from the event.
W. Jeffrey Wilson, an Albion College professor who organized the protest, said that his main objection is that these have been the weapons of choice in mass shootings.
“I recognize they are legal and have the right to do it, it’s just that we have enough weapons,” he said.
About 60 people participated in the class, which was the first of several three-hour sessions that teaches how to assemble the rifle from a kit. Gun advocates say it’s a responsible and economical way to acquire a higher-end AR-15 for about half of the retail price, which is roughly $2,000.
Walden said each participant will pay $75 for the class and spend at least $800 for the completed rifle.
Bill Thick Jr., the commander of the VFW post, called the AR-15 a “good weapon.”
“I wish a few irresponsible people, people with bad intent, weren’t using them, misusing them,” Thick said.