Gun owners should be the change makers

An Open Letter to Responsible Gun Owners

I was one of the television reporters on the scene of Oregon’s first mass shooting, May 21, 1998. When Kip Kinkel opened fire in a lunchroom full of his fellow classmates, many of the students thought the sounds of gunfire was a joke or they would have ducked for cover sooner.
I’ll never forget the ashen faces of young people standing in shocked silence outside the police line, dressed in the uniform of youth, jeans, t-shirts, hoodies. Two of the girls I interviewed still had blood spatters on their tops.

Kinkel, who’d also murdered his parents the night before, loaded and unloaded the three weapons he’d brought with him, a .22 caliber rifle, a .22 caliber handgun and a 9mm Glock automatic pistol. “He just kept shooting,” one of the girls said. “The sound is still ringing in my ears.”
By the time Kinkel was finished, two were dead, twenty-five students were seriously wounded. “Jake finally stopped him,” the student told me. “After Kip shot Jake, Jake must have thought, what the hell, we’re all going to die anyway.” The girl pushed her shoe in the mud.

I thought I’d witnessed the worst trauma our state could endure. Not even close. In October, nine  people were killed and seven more seriously wounded in another campus horror. It’s the 296th mass shooting in America in 274 days. Columbine followed Springfield, Virginia Tech followed Columbine, Sandy Hook followed the Colorado theater shooting. Keeping track of the horror is a mind-boggling exercise.

When you read the descriptions of the history of mass shooters in America, you recognize one thing immediately. They are all male. They are young when they shoot up schools and middle-aged when they shoot up their offices. They are obsessed by guns and in various states of psychological unraveling. They are described as loners, and they are often known to their friends and families as being “in trouble.”

Access to mental health treatment in America is like running the gauntlet of the worst kind of bureaucracy. Services are fractured. There are far too few psychologists and psychiatrists, especially in rural areas, where mass shootings tend to occur more frequently. Treatment is often prescribed in the form of anti-depressants, which can induce mania and ideation in young people.

And yet, access to guns is easy. It’s as simple as buying on the internet or buying from a gun show dealer who is exempted from conducting a private background check. Angry callers on talk radio shouted, “If only we allowed all students to be armed.” They maintain that the mass shooting problem will be solved with more guns. There are 310 million guns in America and 11. 1 million people carry a concealed weapon legally. Yet, the number of mass shootings stopped by an armed civilian in the past thirty years is one, a documented account of an Uber driver who stopped a passenger from opening fire on a crowd in Chicago.

The other numerous events sent to me for review are not verifiable.

Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide and accidental death by gun. For every time a gun is used in self-defense, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around the home. These are not made up statistics. The Centers for Disease Control is non-biased, evidence-based and gathers data only from verified sources.

Responsible gun owners, what is your solution? You must look at these mass shootings with the same concern for your children that I have for mine. Can we have a real conversation about gun violence in America? Could we at least agree that the parents of deeply troubled young men shouldn’t be buying more guns to fuel the obsession? Could we agree on safer storage methods? No? What then? Is there a dialogue we can have and change we can make that doesn’t end in more violence?

Four years ago, my daughter and I were talking about terrorism and the various measures America had taken to make itself safer. “I’m not afraid of terrorism,” she said, looking out the window. “I’m afraid of being shot at school.”

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17 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    What struck me is the point about 11 million concealed carry licenses and the fact that those people don’t stop the shooters. You do realize that legally no concealed carry permit will allow you to carry in any of the places that keep being targeted… How are we supposed to help when we can’t be armed at a school or a movie theater? Why do you think these crazy people target our school and other places that we can’t carry? They are easy targets and they know that most likely people won’t be able to stop them until they are done.

  2. Ronnie
    Ronnie says:

    My solution: ban the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition (including sales to the police; handguns should be military-only). Ban the sale or use of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns with detachable magazines and limit their built-in magazines to 5 rounds. Require gun owners to carry insurance that covers any harm that is done by their guns.

    Not that being a gun owner makes my voice any louder than any non gun owner’s. Apart from refusing to join the NRA and keeping my guns locked in a gun safe there isn’t much more I can do than anyone else.

  3. John Morgan
    John Morgan says:

    Sheila –

    I reposted your blog post and received this reply. Please tell me how you respond to it:

    Andy Melissa Morrison “The number of mass shootings stopped by a concealed firearm is zero.” That’s because it was stopped BEFORE it became a mass shooting! Is Sheila really that ignorant? The Clackamas Town Center shooting was stopped by a concealed firearm. This is editorial rhetoric, not reporting. Oh and why is Sheila’s listenership less than a fourth of what Lars Larson’s is? And why isn’t she nationally syndicated? John you know Bette than to follow the narrative.

  4. Sarah Hobbs
    Sarah Hobbs says:

    Yesterday, I got a text on my phone by mistake from a person that attends the college in Roseburg, trying to get word to someone they were ok, but they did not know about someone’s friends. Gun rights activists do not hear these stories. I saw the crap people where hurling at you when you posted this article to your Facebook page. I personally am very grateful for you, your posting this article, and your grace under fire when it is coming to certain comments.

  5. Mark
    Mark says:

    310 million guns. And over 330,000,000 US citizens. Still people do not get the statistics. Yes, mass killings are horrible and tragic. But they are not going to stop, even if you take guns away. Let’s just say that .00000002 of the US population had the mindset of committing this kind of crime. Guess what – 66 people are out there roaming the streets. Think they can’t get access to a gun? Think that banning guns will stop senseless killing? Then let me introduce you to something called illegal drugs . . .

    What most perturbs me is that no one is yet calling for an alcohol ban. 10,076 drunk driving deaths in 2013. Granted not all were innocents, but you can bet a significant portion were. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that 25% were innocent. 2519, or 7 a day. NO BAN ON ALCOHOL???

  6. Megan
    Megan says:

    Thank you so much for this Sheila. Do you have some sources you can point to for the statistics? It is always helpful to be able to indicate where the data comes from, especially if I start a conversation with “I read on the internet that…”

  7. Michael
    Michael says:

    Your statement “Yet, the number of mass shootings stopped by an armed civilian in the past thirty years is ZERO” is flawed.
    Read HERE
    Secondly, the majority of these mass shootings are in GUN FREE ZONES and because we are Law Abiding Citizens we will not carry in these posted areas. if you read the attached article it will clarify your lack of research.

    • Sheila Hamilton
      Sheila Hamilton says:

      Thanks for drawing attention to the Standard’s story. Umpqua Communty College was not a gun free zone. People with concealed weapons permits in Oregon are allowed to carry on campus.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Good article, however you state no gunman has been stopped when they have gone into schools or offices,,,you are forgetting that these people are going into places where guns are not allowed to be carried. Hard to stop a killer ( shooter) when you can’t carry yourself. Why do you think these shooters go in to places like this??!!

      • Sheila Hamilton
        Sheila Hamilton says:

        Hi Heather,

        That’s inaccurate. People with concealed weapon permits are allowed on college campuses. There is no such thing as GUN FREE ZONE at Umpqua Community College. Please help people get the facts.

  8. John Doe
    John Doe says:

    First you say you want to have a serious conversation, then you say “the number of mass shootings stopped by an armed civilian in the past thirty years is ZERO.”

    I am all for having a discussion about safety for everyone. But it is hard to hear anything else you say when that statement jumps out as being so uneducated/biased.

    Also why even talk about how many guns there are in america, and how they failed to stop this shooting, when it happened in a gun free zone? If there had been students/faculty carrying, there most likely would have been fewer/no casualties.

  9. Patricia Peters
    Patricia Peters says:

    Yet another tragic loss of life. I agree with so very much of what you have to say. As a nurse I have cared for many truly mentally ill people. I can’t image in my rationale mind that anyone other than a severely mentally ill person would carry out this kind of act. Our mental health system in this country needs serious work, it needs serious funding. Especially the child mental health areas. Parents need access to help to intervene with children at an early age.

    All that aside, I’m not a huge gun supporter but if you are responsible and obtain a gun legally that’s your right. I grew up in a house with a gun. My parents explained its purpose and told us to stay away from it and we did. It wasn’t locked up it was right there in their night stand. We knew where it was and what it was for and it was pretty much that simple.

    This problem is so complex. Making it about gun rights takes away from the real issues here. The mental health system in this country and the break down of the American family. I haven’t watched a lot of the coverage on this latest shooting, but my really big question is why are we not protecting our children. Not why are people walking into our classrooms and shooting children but how in the hell are they getting into the schools to begin with. I think it’s time we think about protecting our kids and locking our schools down and yes metal detectors whatever it takes to keep them safe.

  10. FlagOfQuanrill
    FlagOfQuanrill says:

    The problem with this statement – “Yet, the number of mass shootings stopped by an armed civilian in the past thirty years is ZERO.” – is that you have NO WAY of knowing how many people a gunman may have killed when an armed civilian intercedes and stops the gunman. Law abiding conceal carry individuals have legally used their weapons millions of times in the last 30 years to stop criminals in the act. What might have happened if they hadn’t?

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