PARKLAND, Fla. — Three days after 17 students and educators were shot and killed by a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Steve Hemmert concluded he no longer wanted his two assault-style rifles in his home.
“How can I advocate that no one should have them when I had them myself?” he asked.
On Saturday, Hemmert, an attorney who lives near Stoneman Douglas, handed his guns over to Miami police as part of its gun buyback program. He then shared a photo on Facebook.
“With some hesitation born of nostalgia, I turned in two AR style rifles to the Miami Police Department as part of their gun buy-back program today,” he said in the post, which has since been shared more than 80,000 times. “I have always considered myself a responsible gun owner. My 14 year old daughter and I built one of the ARs — from scratch — together. But after the events of last month, I have decided enough is enough.”
Hemmert, a former U.S. Army Reservist, said he’s had semiautomatic center-fire rifles with detachable magazines — similar to the AR-15 accused shooter Nikolas Cruz used in the Parkland shootings — for about 10 years.
He kept his two rifles in separate lock boxes and considers himself a “responsible gun owner” but after seeing how easily Cruz was able to get a gun, he “concluded there’s just not enough controls available.”
“How can we, as parents, force our kids to live in a world where they have to be afraid of being killed at school?” he wrote in the post. “My daughter recently told me that her plan is to only wear sneakers to school from now on, in case she needs to run. And I realize that, unlike some of my neighbors, I am lucky to still HAVE a 14 year old daughter.”
While he said he never would have considered himself “a big gun advocate” he did enjoy recreational shooting as a hobby. He’d shoot his rifles about four times a year, he said.
Then Parkland happened.
“Just watching all of that stuff unfold so close to my house was horrifying,” he said. “I can’t imagine thinking it’s fun to shoot something that killed all my neighbors.”
But he didn’t just want to sell the guns or dispose of them in fear they’d end up in the wrong hands. He began researching ways to get rid of them and then his girlfriend shared a video posted on the Miami police department’s social media accounts advertising its gun buyback program.
“Our gun buybacks are a great opportunity to take some guns off the street and out of the hands of criminals that might use them to commit numerous types of crimes,” said Cmdr. Freddie Cruz of the Miami police department. “This is a voluntary program. There will be no questions asked.”
Hemmert said he called to make sure the guns would be destroyed.
Kiara Delva, a police spokeswoman, said Monday the 128 guns — ranging from handguns to rifles — turned in Saturday were being processed and then would be “demolished” if they were not stolen or used in a crime.
Hemmert, who received $500 in gift cards, said he posted his experience because now that’s he’s “eliminated the hypocrisy of these guns” from his house he can “feel comfortable calling on our government to ban them.”
“Any honest gun owner will admit that the only lawful reason to own an AR is because they are fun to shoot (and they ARE fun to shoot),” he said in the post. “But my desire — and the desire of all the other AR owners out there — to have fun toys no longer outweighs the value of the 17 lives that were taken down the street last month. Or the lives of countless other people whose lives have been taken by these toys — these weapons of war.”
He ended his lengthy post with optimism.
“I want to be part of the solution,” he said.