John Waldren was visiting his 10-year-old son’s school as students were participating in an active shooter drill.
Children were being told the best places to hide in an attempt to stay safe if a gunman got into their school. And it rubbed Waldren the wrong way.
“I said to the teacher, ‘You’re teaching the kids that are going to be the shooters where to find the most kids in one place,’ ” he said.
The 43-year-old Detroit native and owner of the Georgia Ballistics gun store said it made him think about his role in the violence against children that has been plaguing the state and nation.
Waldren closed his Duluth store abruptly May 30. He’s not selling off his inventory, he said, so he’s not doing it to make money. The guns will be in storage until he decides what to do with them.
“I’m not asking for donations. I’m choosing to do this, and I have no problem choosing to deal with the repercussions that come from this,” he said. “If you do that, it ruins the validity of what you’re doing.”
Waldren said he struggled with knowing how often guns are stolen from the cars of “law-abiding citizens” and end up being used to harm people. According to a study by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, at least one gun is stolen from a car every 15 minutes in the United States.
“I’m still very Second Amendment. I just don’t want to sell things when you can buy something with me, then you can go somewhere and they tell you that you can’t bring your gun in,” he said. “So you leave it in the car. And then it can get stolen and end up in the hands of criminals who use that gun to commit crimes.”
Waldren moved to Georgia in 2017 and opened Georgia Ballistics in 2021 as a “pandemic-lockdown-proof” business. But the number of children dying in school shootings made it difficult for him to continue his business, he said. According to Education Week, a national publication that focuses on K-12 education issues, there have been 24 shootings at schools so far this year that resulted in injury or death.
Jerry Henry, executive director of the gun rights group Georgia Carry, said he doesn’t think the closure of Waldren’s store will have any effect on criminals getting their hands on guns and committing crimes.
“The good news for him is he’s free to do whatever he wants to do,” Henry said. “If that’s his calling in life and that’s what he thinks is the best thing to do, more power to him. I just don’t see how it’s going to do any good one way or the other. In reality all he’s doing is giving other people more business. I wouldn’t do it, but that’s him.”
Elaine DeSimone, a volunteer with the Georgia chapter of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, said Waldren is following his conscience by closing his store to avoid contributing to the number of guns on Georgia streets.
“If guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world — instead, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States,” she said.
Between 2019 and 2021, the number of children and teens killed by bullets increased 50% in the United States, according to a Pew Research Center study. Firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death between ages 1 and 19. The majority of gun deaths among children were homicides, the study found.
Waldren said he still strongly believes it is a right for Americans to purchase and carry guns, but he said he didn’t want to unknowingly contribute to the deaths of children in what seems to be a weekly school shooting.
“I don’t want to be part of a sick circle of (gun violence),” Waldren said.