Richard Mack, the leader of the antigovernment “constitutional sheriffs” movement, said on Thursday that some of the teenage survivors of last week’s high school massacre in Florida have been using the “exact same kind of language” as Hitler when it comes to pushing for tighter restrictions on guns.
Mack, who is running in next week’s special Republican primary in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District to replace former Rep. Trent Franks, made the comments in an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The talk that I’ve heard so far coming from either some of the students or from politicians or from the media is that gun control would make us safer,” Mack said. “And I already told you that if you compare that to some of the rhetoric from Hitler and Stalin and Lenin, you’ll see the exact same kind of language used — that gun control will make you safer.”
Earlier in the week, Mack had issued a news release saying he wanted to have an “adult conversation” about guns with the young survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He said he wanted it to be broadcast live by several major news networks as well as the lesser-known conservative broadcaster One America News Network (OANN).
Some of the students who survived the mass shooting have become outspoken advocates for tighter regulations of firearms, particularly the style of high-powered rifle used to kill 17 of their classmates and teachers. The students have started the #NeverAgain campaign and planned a march for next month in Washington, D.C.
The SPLC spoke to Mack twice this week about his desire to meet with the students. In the first interview, on February 20, he was somewhat measured and cautious with his words, saying he wanted to listen to what the students had to say and didn’t want to “draw any conclusions” about the direction the conversation would go.
He noted that he works as a teacher at the Heritage Academy charter school in Arizona, where he teaches three subjects: economics, constitutional government, and criminal justice. Heritage Academy was founded in 1995 by Earl Taylor, Jr., an acolyte of the late conspiracy theorist and fringe Mormon theologian W. Cleon Skousen. Mack has worked at Heritage Academy for almost three years and said his perspective as a teacher could help the Florida students.
“I love kids. I love teaching. And I hate violence and always have. And I’m looking for solutions just like they are,” Mack said.
He even hesitated when asked whether he wanted to be armed while teaching.
“I don’t know how to answer that one,” Mack said after a long pause. While he does like the idea of teachers being armed, he said he didn’t think it was the “only answer.”
It was clear, however, that unlike the Florida students, stricter gun regulations will never be on Mack’s agenda. He’s something of an absolutist when it comes to gun rights. He earned minor fame in the 1990s as sheriff of Graham County, Arizona when he won a case before the Supreme Court that weakened gun regulations under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
He has since gone on to found the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), which promotes a fringe theory that sheriffs are the highest elected authority in the nation and have the authority to resist gun restrictions or other laws they deem unconstitutional. The organization has vowed to defend the right to keep and bear guns “in all times and all places it is threatened.” The only exceptions, according to the organization, are for people who have been found guilty of crimes and legally declared to be “prohibited possessors” and for people who have been legally found to be too mentally ill to possess a gun.
Beyond that, the only gun regulation Mack said he would be willing to consider would have to meet an impossible standard.
“If somebody could ever come up with one where we could throw all the guns in the bottom of the ocean and they can guarantee me that it’ll be everybody, I’m all for it,” Mack said. “If they can’t guarantee me they’ll take ‘em away from the criminals and the gangs, I’m not giving mine up either.”
In a follow-up interview on February 22, Mack was less restrained. The SPLC contacted him to get his thoughts about a town hall forum on CNN the previous night that featured several students who survived the massacre. It was similar in format to what Mack had proposed, but it included people who were more directly tied to the issue, including Florida’s two U.S. senators and National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch. The forum did not go well for Loesch or Sen. Marco Rubio, both of whom largely stood up for gun rights while offering some concessions for certain regulations.
In one particularly rough moment for Rubio, student Cameron Kasky asked if the senator would vow to refuse future donations from the NRA, the nation’s largest lobbyist for gun manufacturers. The audience jeered when Rubio danced around the question by explaining that “people buy into my agenda” with donations and that he’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
Florida school shooting survivor Cameron Kasky challenges Sen. Marco Rubio: "Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?" https://t.co/hGbnik2a95 #StudentsStandUp https://t.co/wlEtklwvp2
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) February 22, 2018
Mack said he’d only seen “one little clip and heard about some of” the forum after the fact, but that he thought “some of the people were being pretty rude” to Rubio and Loesch.
Mack envisioned his meeting with students going differently. He wanted to discuss with them the history of gun regulations and explain that guns had saved lives. But he said “civil discourse needs to be the first rule for both sides.”
He said he hadn’t made an effort to reach out to the students himself, and he asked the SPLC to do so on his behalf. (The SPLC declined.) He also wondered aloud whether Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, whose jurisdiction includes the school where the massacre took place, might help him get in contact with the victims.
Mack went on to speak at length about how gun control has historically been “a very racist policy against blacks” in the United States. He said that the idea of “complete gun control” was employed by the 20th Century’s worst dictators, including Hitler, Lenin and Stalin. Most of all, though, he said he wanted to talk to the students about the Founding Fathers’ views on guns.
“The reason you’re calling me is because I believe that we should talk this out, and my views — not my views, but the Founding Fathers’ views — about the Second Amendment should be part of the discussion,” Mack said. “And that’s what I do obviously want to discuss with the high school kids involved in this march, and I don’t care where they’re from. But just to say or believe that more gun control would keep us safer, I think, is a very un-American statement. And it’s not true. And that’s all I keep hearing about this is that gun control is going to make us safer, and more background checks.”
Asked if he was describing the students advocating for stricter gun regulations as un-American, Mack pushed back.
“No, I’m talking about everybody who’s talked about it,” he said.
But doesn’t that include the students?
“Well, the talk — the talk that I’ve heard so far coming from either some of the students or from politicians or from the media is that gun control would make us safer,” he said. “And I already told you that if you compare that to some of the rhetoric from Hitler and Stalin and Lenin, you’ll see the exact same kind of language used. That gun control will make you safer.”
So that’s a comparison between the students’ rhetoric and Hitler’s rhetoric?
“No, that’s — I didn’t say anything about the students,” Mack said.
But Mack had indeed referred to the students.
“I said the students, and I said politicians, and I said media.”
Yes, politicians and the media had been lumped into the comparison to Hitler, but the Florida students were mentioned too.
“Well, yeah, I’ve heard some statements from them that are very similar to those people I just told you,” Mack said. He predicted that the SPLC would only mention his comparison of the students to Hitler. “Now you’re just going to use the students, right?”
The SPLC assured Mack that his comparisons of the media and politicians to Hitler would be included as well.
Mack noted later in the interview that he had never fired a gun at anyone during his years in law enforcement, which began at the police department in Provo, Utah. He also said he’d never been shot at, although he said he “had a gun pulled on me a couple times.”
Asked whether it was possible, then, that he knows less about what it’s like to be on the other end of a shooting than the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Mack disagreed.
“Maybe I know more because I know how to avoid ‘em,” Mack said, adding: “I do know more, probably, than victims of it. Because I’ve handled lots of different victims of gun violence and of police brutality. So, because they were there that day doesn’t mean that they know more than a police officer of 20 years.”
Despite being in the final days of his primary campaign for Congress, Mack said he had a plane to catch. He was flying to the East Coast to spend Friday attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. President Trump, who has suggested one solution to school massacres is to arm teachers, was set to speak at the conference in the morning.