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Grieving father takes spotlight in US gun debate

May 30, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Martinez says he never set out to be a face of the U.S. gun-control movement and has no interest in taking rifles and shotguns from hunters. After all, he used to be one.

But Martinez plans to do whatever he can to keep guns out of the hands of people who use them for mass killings, the latest of which took the life of his 20-year-old son and five other students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Martinez, a 60-year-old criminal defense lawyer, took center stage in the gun debate when he showed up uninvited before a sheriff’s news conference a day after the May 23 killings and blamed the death of Christopher Michaels-Martinez on “craven, irresponsible politicians” who won’t pass stricter gun-control laws.

“They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live?” he asked. “When will this insanity stop?”

On Thursday, an exhausted Martinez said he had hardly slept since that day, his hours filled with planning his only child’s funeral while fielding calls from all over the world. News organizations from Canada, Great Britain and Australia want to interview him. Other people just want to say they’re sorry.

“I tell them, ‘Look, I don’t need your sympathy. What I need is for you to DO something,’” Martinez said during a lengthy, late-night phone interview with The Associated Press.

He said people should urge U.S. leaders to engage in a serious discussion about restricting the availability of powerful, semi-automatic weapons.

Martinez said he believes responsible people have a right to keep guns for hunting, target shooting and their own safety.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army and served two years as a military policeman in Germany. He said he had to draw his weapon once to end a domestic dispute.

“I was prepared to use it if I had to,” he said.

Martinez, however, said he can’t fathom the proliferation of high-powered, semi-automatic weapons in American society.

“How does a troubled kid who clearly had problems wind up with 400 rounds of ammunition and three semi-automatic handguns?” he asked.

Police believe 22-year-old Elliot Rodger shot and killed himself, ending his spree, after crashing his car as officers moved in.

Martinez said his job as a defense lawyer had sometimes brought him into contact with people charged with gun crimes. It also led him to represent the parents of troubled young people who ran up against a public mental health system that Martinez said didn’t provide the necessary care.

That’s why he said he won’t blame the parents of his son’s killer.

“I’m not going to write a book, I’m not going to sue anybody,” he said, explaining that such actions would only cheapen the memory of his son.

“I just want to try to make it possible so that other people don’t have to go through this.”

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