Those of us who don’t own guns may not believe someone like Chris Shields exists. In some ways, he might even confirm your fears about gun owners. He has owned 10 guns and one was an AR-15, which he bought off the back of a pickup truck in a Cracker Barrel parking lot.
But in one crucial way, he’s different. After the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Shields turned in his deadliest weapon and is calling on fellow AR-15 owners to join him.
“I’m tired of wondering in the back of my mind if somebody’s going to come into my children’s school or preschool and harm them, and nobody should have that feeling. ARs make it too easy to kill a lot of people,” Shields said.
Mic put out an open call to owners of assault-style weapons to ask how they felt about owning an AR-15 in the wake of yet another mass shooting in which that weapon was used. We heard passionate defenses from gun owners all across America who want to hold onto their weapon, citing their responsible gun ownership and the Second Amendment.
Shields wasn’t one of the gun owners who reached out to us. Instead, we found him. In a tweet Feb. 18, Shields wrote that he was going to turn in his AR-15 to the police that day.
But when we reached out to him, he was still agonizing over the decision. Shields invited Mic to document his decision-making process. When he ultimately decided to turn it in, we followed him to the police station, capturing his journey from decision to action.
While Shields ultimately gave up his weapon, the decision did not come without hesitation and concern.
“I didn’t sleep [the night before I turned it in],” Shields said. “You know, I was wrestling with my thoughts a little bit. I know I’m going to lose a couple of friends over this, but I can’t worry about that. I just got to do what I think is right, I guess.”
Shields also had concerns around his personal safety, not because the AR-15 would be his weapon of choice for home defense, but because it was the weapon he trained to use for protection during his 18-year military career.
“It’s hard because I will feel less safe,” Shields said. “Just naturally, I think anytime you give up something like that, I mean it’s a powerful weapon. But I will feel more safe in the long run if tougher regulations are passed. I will feel more safe when I drop my children off at school.”
In the end, Shields’ concern for his children’s safety — coupled with the overwhelming and inspiring activism by the Parkland survivors — tipped his decision over the edge, outweighing his feelings of reluctance.
“I saw [the message from the Parkland teens] and heard their voices, and it made a difference on me,” Shields said.
But Shields isn’t the only one who has been impacted by the voices of young people calling for gun reform. There’s a growing movement by congressional Democrats to reinstate an assault weapons ban, which would make AR-15 firearms illegal.
Shields did say, however, that he’s not waiting on federal legislation. Instead, he hopes other AR-15 owners will follow suit and take action.
“I honestly just want this to help keep the dialogue going, because it seems like there is momentum going in the right direction,” he said.
To see Mic’s full video documenting Shields’ decision and journey to turn in his AR-15 — and to learn more about how you can join him — watch the video above.