It’s been a dozen years since Josie Powers invited me to her Everett home to talk about guns.
What she said that day rings true today.
“We don’t want to be sickened anymore by watching the news,” Powers said before joining more than 500,000 people in Washington, D.C., for the Million Mom March.
It was Mother’s Day 2000, the year after 13 innocent people were shot to death at Columbine High School in Colorado, when Powers’ voice joined with thousands on the National Mall in a call for stricter guns laws.
Before the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting rampage that killed 32 people, before the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, before 12 people were shot to death and nearly 60 were injured at a Colorado movie theater in July, before a gunman killed two people and himself at an Oregon mall last week, and before Friday’s incomprehensible tragedy at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary school, Powers had this to say to me:
“The only thing a kid should be afraid of in school is a pop quiz.”
That column was published May 9, 2000. So here we are, in the aftermath of another savage attack involving guns. We can all agree that we are sick of and saddened by mass shootings. It’s not so easy to find common ground when it comes to gun laws.
Powers went to Washington, D.C., to push for what Million Mom March organizers called “sensible gun laws.” And shortly after hearing initial news of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., I could only wonder: How many more shootings will it take before tougher gun laws can prevent them?
John Rodabaugh is president of Washington Arms Collectors, a National Rifle Association-affiliated organization that hosts gun shows at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe and in Puyallup and Enumclaw.
I reached out to gun-rights advocates Friday because, like Powers, I don’t understand a point of view that places blame for mass shootings everywhere but on guns.
“There are millions of people who own firearms who are just as shocked by what happened in Connecticut as you are,” Rodabaugh said. “Trying to blame an object isn’t going to get us anywhere. Your gut reaction is, ‘Let’s do something about guns.’ Do what?”
An attorney with an office in Lynnwood, Rodabaugh believes stricter laws could not have prevented many recent shootings, and that bad people bent on getting guns will find a way.
He cited the 2009 shootings of four police officers in Lakewood. Gunman Maurice Clemmons, later killed by police, was a violent criminal with multiple felony convictions. Yet, Rodabaugh said, Clemmons had a gun.
It wasn’t immediately clear what weapons were used in Newtown. Police on Friday said they found three firearms, two semiautomatic handguns inside the school, and a .223-caliber rifle in the back of a car.
In last week’s Clackamas Town Center mall shooting near Portland, the shooter carried an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a firearm capable of shooting dozens of times in a minute.
A federal assault weapons ban, which was approved by Congress in 1994 but expired in 2004, limited magazine capacity to 10 rounds. A White House spokesman said Friday that President Barack Obama supports reinstatement of the law.
I asked Rodabaugh to explain, besides military uses, how assault rifles are legitimately used by gun owners.
“Lots of people own firearms for lots of different reasons,” he said. An AR-15 is used in high-power rifle competitions and also by hunters. Because the design is so similar to military weapons, Rodabaugh said that for some gun owners “they were the first gun they ever used.”
Joe Waldron, the legislative and public affairs chairman for the Washington Arms Collectors group, said the AR-15 rifle is “exceptionally accurate.”
“They are becoming more and more widely used by hunters,” Waldron said.
Waldron has heard the argument that there were no assault rifles when the Second Amendment to the Constitution was written. “They didn’t have television or the Internet, either. Those all can cause harm,” he said.
“Guns save lives every day of the year in the United States,” Waldron said. And based on past mass shootings, he said, “most who do this are disturbed people. It’s a mental-health issue.”
The gut reaction, Rodabaugh said, is “let’s do something about guns.” The Oregon shooter, he pointed out, had a stolen gun. What law would stop that? And in China Friday, a man used a knife to stab 22 schoolchildren.
“Horrific things happen not because we have guns in our society, but because we have evil in our society,” Rodabaugh said.
Yes, we have guns and evil. I listened and I learned. Still, I’m with the Million Mom marchers when it comes to guns. Isn’t there something we can do?
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.