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Joseph Tartaro, Longtime Gun-Rights Insider, Argues Against Feinstein Assault-Weapons Ban

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, to introduce legislation on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices. (AP Photo/Manual Balce Ceneta) | AP

On the day that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would ban more than 150 types of guns and some high-capacity magazines, Joseph Tartaro, a prominent gun-rights advocate and the head of the Second Amendment Foundation, told The Huffington Post why he opposed it.

Speaking on the phone from his office in Buffalo, N.Y., Tartaro scanned the list of guns that would be prohibited by the legislation, and described one of them -- a 9mm handgun that can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition at a time -- as one of the "most commonly used modern handguns for self protection."

"Her proposal is geared toward getting rid of a lot of commonly held guns, not just assault weapons," he said.

Yet even if the ban covered a narrower range of weapons, Tartaro would still likely oppose it, he said. "The whole concept of these bans is that they affect the law-abiding -- not the criminals."

The Second Amendment Foundation is one of the smaller players in the gun-rights community, at least when compared with the National Rifle Association and, to a lesser extent, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association that happens to be based in Newtown, Conn.

But while many in the firearms industry have held the media at arm's length, especially in recent weeks, Tartaro has offered up his views on the unfolding gun debate for public consumption, providing an unusual opportunity to watch the debate play out from the perspective of seasoned gun-rights veteran.

Like many in the gun community, he supports tougher penalties for people who trade in illegal guns, but he's against the idea of a registration system that would make it easier for the government to keep track of those weapons. "It smacks a little bit of the Third Reich to me," he said.

Tartaro also shares the gun community's prevailing view of high-capacity ammunition.

He's for it, in other words, and believes it can be useful for self-defense. Yet he conceded that 10-round magazines "probably would satisfy a lot of needs."

Although many younger arrivals to the gun-rights scene are primarily interested in self-defense, Tartaro traces his activism to a time when the community was mostly made up of hunters and recreational target-shooters. Tartaro described himself as a decent bulls-eye shooter -- "I was never much above mediocre, " he said. With his deep smoker's voice and thick, white mustache, he seems to fit the image of the gun community's old guard.

Among the hunters and sportsmen who make up that shrinking subgroup of the gun-buying public, opposition to an assault weapons ban is far from universal. One hunter who doesn't share Tartaro's views in Joel T. Faxon, the police commissioner of Newtown, Conn., who in 2011 led an unsuccessful effort to pass an ordinance that would have restricted people from shooting their assault weapons in the woods around town.

"I am a gun owner," Faxon told The Huffington Post, "and I firmly believe that our children's safety takes precedence over unlimited access to firearms. Limits on assault weapons and high capacity magazines are a no-brainer."

Tartaro questioned the idea that all gun owners should have to abide by the preferences of people like Faxon. "I guess what they're saying is, 'I never go over 60 miles an hour, so why should there be a car that goes 80?'"

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