“He was just a good kid. He was everybody’s friend.”
On October 24, 2014, 14-year-old Jaylen Fryberg entered the cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington, and shot five classmates, killing four, before turning the gun on himself. Unlike many school shooters before him, Fryberg had given little or no warning of his intentions. He was described as a popular “happy-go-lucky” kid who played sports and was recently elected as the freshman class’ prince in the school’s homecoming court.
But like many American children, he also had easy access to guns. He grew up with guns around the house, frequently went hunting with his father, and recently obtained a hunting rifle as a gift, which he called “probably the best [birthday] present ever, I just love my parents!!!” The semiautomatic 40-caliber Beretta handgun, which he used to commit the crime, was his father’s. Friends said that the teen had recently been involved in a breakup with his girlfriend and had sent disturbing messages via social media the week before the shooting.1
“It was insane how much he knew….He would say all the types of guns and could name anything.”
On June 10, 2014, Jared Padgett, a 15-year-old freshman at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, opened fire with a Daniel Defense M4 AR-15-style semiautomatic assault rifle in the school’s boys’ locker room, killing a classmate. He then wounded a physical education teacher before eventually turning the gun on himself. In addition to the AR-15, Padgett carried nine ammunition magazines, including 30-round magazines, a .25 Colt pistol, and a knife. All the weapons came from his family’s home.
Subsequent investigation found that Padgett showed an intense interest in guns. One classmate said that he had “showed off about the guns he had,” saying that he had “bullets at home, bullets and guns.” On Facebook, he “Liked” an M4 assault rifles page (the type of gun he used in the shooting), and a page called “We WILL NOT Be Disarmed.” Friends and classmates recalled that he talked frequently about guns. Another peer added that “it was insane how much he knew” about firearms and that he “would say all the types of guns and could name anything.” After the shooting, a close friend of Padgett’s said he was not surprised to learn that Padgett was the shooter, saying that he knew “it was him all along.”2
He had plans to kill his family, set off bombs, and “kill as many people as he could.”
John David LaDue, a 17-year-old from Waseca, Minnesota, was arrested by police after he was seen entering a storage unit in a suspicious manner on April 29, 2014, and the witness became concerned and called police. It was soon alleged that LaDue had plans to kill his family, set off bombs, and kill “as many students as he could” at Waseca Junior/Senior High School, where he was an 11th-grade honor roll student. LaDue had bombs that he had completed, bomb-making materials, as well as gunpowder in the storage unit. Inside his home, police found three improvised explosives, 400 rounds of ammunition, and seven guns. LaDue had illegally purchased a 45 caliber Llama handgun and had also stolen firearms from his father.
LaDue had a longstanding fascination with guns and famous mass shootings. Speaking to police following his arrest, LaDue admitted that he idolized previous mass shooters, such as those responsible for the 1999 Columbine High School attack, and added that he had hoped to kill more people than the 26 children and educators murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He “Liked” the pages for several assault weapon models on Facebook.
LaDue’s parents seemed to approve of their son’s obsession with guns. His father confessed that “I tried to indulge him in every way that I thought was harmless,” allowing his son to keep guns in his room for deer hunting and for protecting the family when he was away on business. LaDue’s father even wore a shirt with a National Rifle Association logo to his son’s court hearing.3
This disturbing list continues on: youth who, immersed in the language, culture, and weaponry of today’s militarized gun culture, lash out, using such easily accessed firepower to right their perceived wrongs in the most violent way possible. Incidents like the ones cited above occur with what seems like almost rapid-fire regularity in America today: Children, teens, and young adults with easy access to guns pick up their weapons and use them for a homicidal purpose. Even more often, depressed teenagers use the guns to commit suicide. Young children and teens also unintentionally fire the weapons, injuring themselves or others.
The tragic frequency of shootings involving children and teenagers is well documented and unfortunately now a regular part of our daily existence. Yet few realize that the firearms industry and the organizations that represent their interests, including the National Rifle Association,4 have made it one of their top marketing priorities to promote the use of guns among America’s children, as young as grade-school age. In doing so, the gun industry is following a trail once blazed by the tobacco industry in its efforts to entice children to smoke cigarettes.
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