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A personal perspective on mass shootings in the U.S.

By Aaron Blevins, 1/17/2013

Columbine survivor weighs in on national gun debate


While the gun control debate rages on nationwide, Richard Castaldo sits in his wheelchair and watches TV, simultaneously trying to figure out how to fix his foreclosure situation and determine whether he should fly to New York to appear on Piers Morgan Tonight.

Richard Castaldo, who survived the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and later moved to Hollywood, hopes the federal government tightens restrictions on gun access. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

From his condo in Hollywood, Castaldo follows the fallout from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and with each mass shooting that makes national news, which is becoming more and more common, he remembers Columbine.

Fourteen years after being paralyzed in the Columbine High School mass shooting that left 15 people dead, Castaldo, a San Diego native, has become an outspoken advocate for gun control — albeit somewhat reluctantly.

“I’m not concerned with the guns necessarily,” he said. “I’m concerned with who has the guns. …There are a lot of crazy people out there who have easy access to guns. I think that has to change more than anything.”

President Barack Obama feels similarly. On Wednesday, Obama called on Congress to pass legislation banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, while requiring background checks before all gun purchases.

“Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. …But you know what, I am also betting that the majority — the vast majority — of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” Obama said.

The president signed 23 executive orders for new gun regulations, but left the job of reinstituting the ban on assault rifles up to Congress. Castaldo isn’t certain an assault weapons ban would stop the problem altogether anyway. For example, he was injured by a shooter using a TEC-9, a semiautomatic handgun.

“I don’t know if anything will stop it entirely,” he said. “I definitely think reducing the easy access — to assault rifles especially — would help. It’s kind of insane that basically anybody can walk into a store and walk away with a military-grade assault rifle. That definitely seems like it’s overboard. I don’t see the reason to have something that powerful. I don’t think you need a weapon like that for hunting.”

Castaldo, who was shot at age 17, still has a bullet in his stomach muscle from the shooting. With the help of filmmaker Michael Moore in the documentary “Bowling for Columbine”, he tried to return the bullet to Kmart due to reports that the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, purchased their ammo at the retailer.

Through that conversation, Kmart agreed to begin phasing out its sale of ammunition, but Castaldo said he isn’t sure if the retailer has kept its word. He has taken issue with the fact that Walmart has been selling assault rifles.

“That’s definitely something that doesn’t sit well with me,” Castaldo added. “At the very least, there should be more background checks.”

During panel discussion with then-Assemblyman Mike Feuer in August, Castaldo inquired about efforts to restrict sales at gun shows. He said some gun shows seem to operate on a “no questions asked” basis, which he sees as a problem.

The gun control debate has spurred many local politicians into action. On Wednesday, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, 2nd District, introduced a motion that could lead to a ban on the possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines in Los Angeles. It is scheduled to be heard before the Public Safety Committee before returning to the council.

“While high-capacity magazines are not the cause of gun violence, they do make such tragic cases far more deadly,” Krekorian said, adding that state law bans the sale of high-capacity magazines but not the possession of such clips. “This gap in the law threatens public safety, because on the streets of Los Angeles, high-capacity magazines pose a daily threat to our citizens and police officers.”

Earlier this month, Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, authored a motion for the council to support federal assault weapons legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Castaldo believes that the gun control debate is necessary, as he still grapples with how to regulate weapons. Castaldo believes that sane, competent people with no criminal records should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but something needs to be done to prevent mass shootings.

“There’s so many now, it’s hard to keep track,” he said, adding that he hopes to start a radio show in the near future to discuss such issues. “It’s a sad commentary, frankly.”



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