Oregon sheriff wrote, ‘Gun control is NOT the answer,’ and residents agree

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin once wrote to Vice President Joe Biden: "Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings."
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Carolyn Kellim’s upper lip snarled to the left at the mention of gun control.

“I think that’s the worst thing in the world that can happen,” said Kellim, 86, who runs KC’s Exchange gun shop out of her home.

The words “2nd Amendment” are pasted in a decal onto her front door and there’s a Rifle Range Street nearby. In Roseburg, deer antlers line people’s driveways and locals hardly notice the pop-pop-pop of gunfire from nearby shooting ranges.

“This is hunting territory,” Kellim said, smiling proudly. Her views about guns — and who should be able to buy them — didn’t change, she said, when a gunman shot and killed nine people and wounded at least nine others at Umpqua Community College not far from her home.


In Connecticut, state leaders called for stricter firearm laws after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

People in Tucson rallied behind then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who became a loud supporter of gun reform after surviving a 2011 shooting at a grocery store.

And when a 22-year-old man stabbed and shot several students in Santa Barbara County last year, one of the victims’ fathers, who grew up hunting, went on every national TV station that invited him and begged for stricter gun laws.

The tone in Roseburg is different.

An ex-girlfriend of a surviving victim scoffed at the idea of tightening gun laws, and Kendra Godon, an elementary education student who hid from the shooting in a nearby classroom, said she hoped her community’s tragedy wouldn’t get spun into the national debate about firearms.

“That’s not the issue,” she said.

NEWSLETTER: Get the day’s top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

John Hanlin, Douglas County’s sheriff and the public face of the community since the shooting, is also an outspoken critic of increasing gun control.


On his work biography, the broad-shouldered lawman who once attended Umpqua Community College lists three interests: fishing, riding his Harley and hunting.

When Vice President Joe Biden asked for stricter gun laws after the Newtown killings, Hanlin decided to speak up.

He wrote Biden a letter.

“Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” Hanlin wrote in a letter posted on the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page.


He asked that Biden “NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment,” and informed the vice president he didn’t plan to enforce any laws he found unconstitutional. His deputies wouldn’t either.

Around the same time, Hanlin — who keeps his gray hair cropped close on the sides and flat on top — shared a conspiracy theory video about the Sandy Hook shooting on his Facebook page.

“This makes me wonder who we can trust anymore ...,” the post read. “Watch, listen, and keep an open mind.”

The post has been deleted and much of Hanlin’s account went private since the shooting, but the posting is saved in Internet archives. Asked about the video, the sheriff told CNN last week, “I know what you’re referring to, but that’s not a conspiracy theory that I have.”


This spring, Hanlin testified before Oregon lawmakers about legislation requiring background checks for private gun sales. He argued that the measure — which has since become law — would keep guns from criminals about as much as laws keep methamphetamine out of the hands of drug addicts.

“What I fear most,” Hanlin said, his face red, “is that we’re going to create criminals … out of some of our most ordinary, normal, law-abiding citizens.”

Dennis Harper, 50, who works at an auto parts store near Umpqua Community College, said Hanlin’s views matched his own and those of most people in Douglas County.

“He’s trying to protect everybody’s 2nd Amendment rights,” Harper said. “We’re in Oregon; that’s what we do.”


At a prayer vigil Saturday, a local pastor said he was proud of Hanlin for leading a charge to avoid saying the shooter’s name. Several people in the crowd clapped and a woman shouted, “That’s my sheriff!” A sign outside a Roseburg barbershop read, “We stand with Sheriff Hanlin.”

Since the shooting, Hanlin has steered clear of public critiques of gun control.

Asked about his image as a 2nd Amendment advocate at a news conference Friday, Hanlin lowered his head. His lips tightened and he said his mind was consumed with the investigation.

“Now is not an appropriate time to have those conversations,” he said.


As Hanlin walked away, someone shouted one last question: “Sheriff, why does this keep happening in America?”

Hanlin kept walking.

Twitter: @marisagerber


Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report.


Why liberals fear new Supreme Court term could hurt abortion rights and unions

Marco Rubio, surging in the polls, draws attacks from onetime mentor Jeb Bush


Clinton to unveil new gun measures, sharpening contrast with Sanders and GOP