Touched by gun violence, diverse group debates future of firearms in America
As students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School push for gun control in Tallahassee in the wake of a shooting that claimed 17 lives, there is a nationwide reckoning over how to stop mass shootings and violence. CBS News’ Bianna Golodryga spoke with six people directly impacted by gun violence about assault weapons and their place in society. They shared their personal experiences and what they believe needs to happen to prevent deadly shootings.
Four of the six people Golodryga spoke with own guns. Combined, they own at least 13 weapons including AR-15’s, the rifles we keep hearing about in mass shootings. The group consists of Imran Yousuf, who was a bouncer at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the scene of a 2016 shooting massacre; Christine Leinonen, whose son was among the dozens who died in the Pulse tragedy; Austin Eubanks who survived the Columbine High School shooting; Cobe Williams, who witnessed gun violence throughout his life growing up in Chicago, and Kelsey and Toby Clark who both escaped the Las Vegas massacre – the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Kelsey was eight months pregnant at the time.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA: How many guns do you own?
TOBY CLARK: Many.
GOLODRYGA: More than 10?
TOBY CLARK: Yes.
GOLODRYGA: And are any of them assault weapons?
TOBY CLARK: Yes.
GOLODRYGA: And you owned these weapons prior to Las Vegas?
TOBY CLARK: Yes.
GOLODRYGA: And your outlook on owning these types of weapons has not changed?
TOBY CLARK: No.
GOLODRYGA: Why not?
KELSEY CLARK: For us, at least, being comfortable with them is important…. Just having them for defense in our own home is huge.
GOLODRYGA: Austin, you survived the Columbine shooting. You watched your best friend shot, right?
AUSTIN EUBANKS: I did.
GOLODRYGA: Would you have thought then….That nearly 20 years later you’d see 200, if not more, school shootings since?
EUBANKS: No. I had no idea that that’s what was going to occur.
GOLODRYGA: Cobe, you’ve witnessed prevalent gun violence throughout your life growing up in Chicago.
COBE WILLIAMS: I’m on the ground seeing this shooting and stuff every day in these communities. New York, Baltimore, Chicago and on and on and on.
GOLODRYGA: Christine, you yourself, were a police officer. Kelsey, you currently are. And yet your views are so different when it comes to this topic.
CHRISTINE LEINONEN: I lost my son in a mass shooting….He should be mourning my death. It’s not fair. And it was done because of an assault gun. We have to name it…. He died with nine bullets from an assault weapon. And he’s only one of over 100 people that were killed within a couple of minutes. How long were you in labor with your child? And for them to die within split seconds. And so many. And we’ve lost so many. My son was killed with an assault weapon. What are you gonna do about it? What are you going to do for me? There’s nothing, but what are you gonna do for your own child? For the kids in Chicago? For other kids who are in high school? What are we going to do for them?
EUBANKS: I was the victim of a mass shooting that happened while an assault weapons ban was in place. And I’m not one of those people that believes that an assault weapon ban is going to solve our problem, but I do think that it can bring down the loss of life while we focus on the underlying issues of mental health….I’m not willing to accept that this is just the new normal.
GOLODRYGA: Kelsey, are you nervous about sending your son to school?
KELSEY CLARK: Um, yes. It makes me worry to a degree. As sad and scary as this is where we are in society right now – we don’t have to stay here.
EUBANKS: What’s so frustrating for me is every time one of these tragedies occur, everybody fractures into one of two camps. It’s either mental health or gun control. And I don’t dig my heels in on either side of that debate. I think that the problem is on both sides….What I would like to see is significant funding put behind a non-partisan group of experts who can actually study this.
GOLODRYGA: The United States doesn’t have a monopoly of mentally ill people and yet this seems to be a uniquely American problem – what’s the next step?
WILLIAMS: A lot of these things that take place, you’ve got to be able to try to stop it on the front end.
KELSEY CLARK: Parents need to be more present with their kids….You need to be involved, you need to know who their friends are, what they’re doing.
GOLODRYGA: When it comes to gun rights and maybe any sort of legislation – what is the limit for you?
TOBY CLARK: I’m open to ideas to fix the problems that we have…But when people just want to ban something just because somebody did something wrong with it, I think that’s not helping the issue at all.
IMRAN YOUSUF: Yes, we can lock up major assault weapons, but what’s to stop stabbings to come back up?
LEINONEN: You’re not going to kill 49 people in two and a half minutes with a knife.
GOLODRYGA: Do you think Congress has done enough?
LEINONEN: They’ve done nothing. In fact they’ve done worse….That’s why we have to elect strong Democrats like Chris Murphy from Connecticut.
EUBANKS: This is part of the problem though is that the whole conversation always gets politicized. The solution is –
LEINONEN: It is political though.
EUBANKS: Not to elect strong Democrats.
LEINONEN: It is political…It’s Republicans that cause the problem.
EUBANKS: We’re, we’re –
LEINONEN: We have to name it.
EUBANKS: Getting caught up in –
LEINONEN: If we don’t name it—
EUBANKS: One small, small portion –
LEINONEN: We’re not gonna solve it.
EUBANKS: Of this issue.
GOLODRYGA: Toby, what do you think? Is Congress responsible ultimately?
TOBY CLARK: It’s on the people. I mean, in my opinion, gun-free zones don’t work.
GOLODRYGA: What would the ideal solution to mass shootings be?
TOBY CLARK: I am 100 percent OK with background checks, extensive background checks. Even a psychological test, even safety training.
GOLODRYGA: Are you in favor of eliminating bump stocks?
TOBY CLARK: Yes.
GOLODRYGA: What do you think the solution is to live in a society where you have the right to own the weapons you own responsibly and Christine has the right to know her son went to a nightclub and will not be slaughtered?
TOBY CLARK: We’re so far apart, you know, we’re not gonna do what she wants. We’re not gonna do what I want. We need to find a common ground.
GOLODRYGA: As a high school student who witnessed a mass shooting, you see these students in Florida really galvanize…. Do you think that Parkland will be that event that changes?
EUBANKS: I hope so. The activism that I’m seeing out of Parkland is truly inspiring.
WILLIAMS: They’re standing up. I mean, and I think more kids and more people around the world need to stand up though because if we don’t, we’ll keep sitting right here talking about it.
GOLODRYGA: What is your message to the president and Congress on this topic?
EUBANKS: Do something.
WILLIAMS: I think it needs to be harder to get guns.
KELSEY CLARK: Listen to the people, hear our ideas, hear what we have to say.
TOBY CLARK: I’m just tired of the whole the left – the right, we’re pitted against each other and it’s sickening….We need to come together and figure out a solution.
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