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A Seattle-area gun owner asks: Do we really need these weapons?

AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receiver California legal (only with fixed 10-round magazine)
Wikimedia Commons

The day after the Orlando nightclub shooting, Tami Michaels, a Seattle talk show host, took to Facebook.

“I have enjoyed target shooting with my Army son at the gun range,” Michaels wrote. “I am now opposed to the easy access of high-powered rifles such as the AR-15 and the AK-47. Average people like me do not need those weapons.”

Her Facebook friends ripped her apart.

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“Do we get rid of cars because of drunk and high drivers?” wrote a woman named Katie. “Calm down and think about it. We deal with the bad people.”

The comment thread provided a rare look at the private thoughts of gun owners – and what arguments they use personally to maintain a steadfast belief that guns should not be regulated. Opinions on gun rights typically come from politicians or organizations like the NRA.

  “We're dealing with criminals and terrorists,” wrote another friend. “You can ban all day and they will find a way. Honduras, guns banned but the highest homicide rate in the world.”

A man named Michael: “Sweetie, a criminal is not going to go to Cabela's to purchase a weapon. Sure, a responsible gun owner with nothing to hide will but not a criminal or terrorist. They find those illegally.”

And another guy named Michael: “Millions of AR-15s have been sold and how many are misused? Very few. If they were a significant problem, it would have been apparent decades ago.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Tami Michaels' post on Facebook questioned whether Americans should have such easy access to assault rifles. She was shouted down by friends of hers on the social media site.", "fid": "128649", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201608/tamipost.JPG", "attribution": ""}]]Assault rifles have been in mass shootings this summer, notably in Orlando, where the shooter used a Sig Sauer MCX to fire 24 shots in 9 seconds.

More recently, a University of Washington student used an AR-15 to kill three former classmates and injure another at a backyard barbecue. He’s currently in Snohomish County jail awaiting trial.

Michaels defended herself throughout the thread.

“My Southern family members used to own sawed off shotguns and now they don't,” she wrote. “This is clearly a complicated issue.”

She said later that her father had a long conversation with her about this. “'When they made those illegal, I got rid of mine,’” her father told her. 

“He had a long discussion with me about this," Michaels said. "He said, ‘I don’t need an unfair advantage to protect myself.’”

Michaels, whose KOMO segments focus on interior design, said she was shocked by the comments on her Facebook page.

“The velocity of the comments amazed me,” she said. “It was really disconcerting that people were so aggressive.

“All I said was, 'I think we should take a look at this.' I wasn’t try to bait people. I thanked people very politely on my Facebook for sharing their perspective. I posted that I respected their position.”

Michaels wrote the post after a conversation with her husband. She had asked him, “Do we have a need for a rifle like this?”

They discussed who might need such a rifle. Michaels wishes other gun owners would be willing to engage in this conversation. 

“Don’t we all need to take a look at this? As gun owners?” she said.

The aftermath of the Orlando shooting in mid-June wasn't the first time Michaels pondered whether assault rifles should be so easy to purchase. The murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 got her thinking. The shooter, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, which is modeled on the AR-15. 

“It really softened my feelings about it,” Michaels said. 

Orlando pushed her further.

“With this, I just thought, ‘If these things are going to be legal, I think they should be more difficult to get.’”

Michaels has friends who own such weapons.

“They’re good responsible gun owners, would pass any background check, or aptitude ability,” Michaels said. “But my point is, look, don’t you need a specialized license if you’re going to get on a motorcycle or drive a long-haul truck? So shouldn’t we look at weapons in a different category?”

Some people also sent her nasty messages privately on Facebook. 

“I in no way meant to enrage gun owners,” she said. “I’m a gun owner. They’re in my house. My husband is a hunter; I have always had a lot of respect for that.”

“Having been a gun owner who has the utmost respect for guns, I’m just saying we need to start opening the conversation about how these guns are different,” Michaels said. “I don’t think saying that should make me a pariah.” 

This story was originally published on Aug. 5, 2016.

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