Emotional trauma, for whatever reason, can be devastating. I suspect many of us have been there at some point in our lives, and like the author of this letter, we were saved by something or someone who did or said something that they may not have even known that saved us, indeed saved us.
In the 1990s I was at a point where I could identify with people who were willing to commit an act of terror because they felt very strongly about an injustice that society was not interested in addressing. Under the right circumstances, I could have been recruited to join a terrorist group. Lucky for me, there were people in my life who were so loving and kind, it caused me to realize that there is no justification for taking a life because of grief or frustration.
It could happen to any of us.
“I was almost a school shooter,” Aaron Stark wrote in a letter to Denver’s local station 9 News. “I am not a school shooter because I didn’t have access to guns.”
The letter, which was printed in full by the station’s show Next with Kyle Clark, goes on to discuss Stark’s violent childhood, his struggles with mental health, access to guns, love and why he eventually did not end up committing violence in 1996.
Last Wednesday, a 19-year-old man allegedly shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Stark says he wrote the letter because his wife and daughter said they couldn’t understand why the alleged shooter lashed out like he did. “Sadly, I can,” Stark wrote. “This is a hard conversation to have, but we must have it.”
On Tuesday, Stark took his message to national television, where he explained in an emotional interview to MSNBC’s Katy Tur why he wrote the letter and what he thinks can be done to stop school shootings.
“I think we really need to have a hard look at the effect that guns have,” Stark said. “Do we really need to have assault weapons? Do we really need to have people being able to go buy an AR-15 when they’re not able to even buy a pistol because they won’t pass the background checks?”
“But the thing about my post was, it’s more than just guns,” Stark continued. “It’s a multifaceted issue. And if you focus on just the guns, then you’ll ignore the rest — but if you focus on just the mental health, then you’ll have missed the gun part.”
Stark believes society should focus on love and reaching out to kids who feel like they have nothing to lose, like he felt back in 1996. While he was a teen, Stark says he was alternately homicidal and suicidal. And in addition to the assault weapons ban (which was in place from 1994 to 2004) several acts of kindness stopped him from committing violent acts.
In one such instance, Stark says he was was planning on killing himself when a friend, who baked him a pie and threw him a gathering, saved his life.
“I wasn’t going to survive that night if that hadn’t happened,” Stark told Tur. “People reach out and sometimes they don’t even know the effect they’re going to have. A kind word, a hug, saying ‘Hey how are you, do you want to come have food with me? Come watch a movie?’ could literally save someone’s life.”