When Val Dinkel heard the radio news flash on the mass shooting at a Connecticut primary school, his feelings of grief and outrage were familiar. So, too, was his decision on how to react.
Within days of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, Dinkel had turned over his gun collection to police for destruction. On Friday, with 26 more people, including 20 children, dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the Napa resident remembered the three firearms a friend had given him — and resolved no one should ever use them again.
They were a single-shot .22-caliber rifle and two BB guns, hardly the largest or most imposing weapons stash. But the 62-year-old Dinkel, a retired furniture maker with a 6-year-old daughter, called Napa police hours after the Newtown massacre to have his weapons taken away and destroyed. His request was transferred to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, which took custody of the guns on Tuesday, according to sheriff’s Capt. Tracey Stuart.
“It’s nothing to capture headlines with, but it serves a symbolic purpose,” Dinkel said Tuesday morning. “It’s my little monument to the people of Connecticut, to show that there’s one individual who cares.
“It could be a $25,000 rifle for all I care, but I don’t want to sell it; I want to get it off the street so it never has a chance to harm anyone,” said Dinkel, who added that a Napa friend gave him the guns before moving to Mexico. “I’d want the rest of America to do the same thing and get rid of unnecessary guns.”
Once a recreational target shooter, Dinkel had accumulated about a dozen guns by the time of the shooting deaths of 13 people by two Columbine students in Littleton, Colo. Shortly afterward, he gave up the collection to police in Riverside, then his home.
In repeating the gesture 13 years later, Dinkel hoped enough people would follow suit to put some dent in the gun supply, and perhaps prevent the Connecticut deaths from being entirely in vain.
“I wish people in Napa would take the responsibility and say, ‘We want to collect 1,000 guns in memory of these families and have them destroyed,’” he said. “If I had lost my child, it would make me feel a little better if something was accomplished.”
Voluntary surrenders of guns are rare in Napa County and usually happen after a resident’s death if relatives don’t want to keep them, according to Stuart, of the sheriff’s office. Such weapons are transferred to a contractor for destruction, but the agency may hold onto the weapons for several months before shipping them out, she said.
Nationally, the outlines of a new debate on gun control have begun to take shape. On Tuesday, Jay Carney, spokesman for President Barack Obama, said curbing gun violence is a complex problem that will require a “comprehensive solution.”
Carney did not offer specific proposals or a timeline. He said Obama will meet with law enforcement officials and mental health professionals in coming weeks.
Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s junior U.S. senator and a former state attorney general, joined the debate, saying the type of assault rifle used in the killings should be banned. He said restrictions on assault weapons are sensible regulations that will not infringe on the constitutional right to own guns.
As voices supporting tighter firearms restrictions multiply, gun sellers and advocates have been largely silent. Employees at two Napa gun shops, Darin’s Gun Exchange and Sweeney’s Sport Store, declined comment on Tuesday.
Later Tuesday, the National Rifle Association broke a four-day public silence, releasing a statement to announce a press conference Friday in Washington, D.C. to address the Newtown killings and promising “meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”
The NRA, which claims some 4 million members, had taken down its Facebook page and stopped Twitter updates since 9:36 a.m. Eastern time on Friday — about the same time as the Sandy Hook massacre.
Two major national gun sellers have distanced themselves from the Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle — a civilian version of the M-16 used by the U.S. military — that police say Adam Lanza, 20, used to kill 20 schoolchildren and six educators before killing himself.
The Nation reported Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wiped the weapon’s page from its website on Monday, as the magazine was going to press with an article on the discount chain’s role in selling the AR-15 and other firearms.
On Tuesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods, a chain with stores in 44 states, suspended sales of the AR-15 and other “modern sporting rifles,” as it calls semiautomatic weapons, from its online and retail shops. The Danbury News Times reported Dick’s has withdrawn all firearms from its store in Danbury, Conn., the branch closest to Newtown.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.