ROSEBURG, OR – When Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin stood in front of reporters and declared he would never utter the name of the man who opened fire at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, he was immediately hailed — and criticized — for his stance.
But Hanlin, who’s been Douglas County sheriff since 2009, isn’t a stranger to garnering headlines with his steadfast declarations.
A staunch believer in the Second Amendment, he fired off a letter two years ago to the vice president saying he would never comply with any gun control law coming from the Obama administration.
Now that he’s having to contend with a shooting by a man clothed in body armor who carried four guns and killed nine people, some analysts wonder if he will change his position.
It doesn’t look like he will.
Interviewed Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day,” Hanlin said gun control has “certainly got to be part of the discussion” but insisted it was inappropriate for him to air his opinions the day after the shooting.
But under continued questioning, Hanlin finally said, “My position on it has not changed.”
Not saying it
Hanlin said he will leave the task of naming the shooter up to the Oregon medical examiner’s office.
“I will not name the shooter,” Hanlin said Thursday. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act. You will never hear me mention his name. We would encourage media to avoid using it, to not repeat it. We encourage you not to glorify and create sensationalism for him. He in no way deserves this. Focus your attention on the victims, on the families, helping them get through this difficult time.”
Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation identified the gunman as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer.
Social media lit up with cheers and scorn after his remarks.
One Twitter user expressed “serious respect” for Hanlin for not naming the shooter.
Another person said Hanlin’s decision was gutsy and an example for others in law enforcement.
“We need more lawmen and lawwomen like Sheriff John Hanlin. Courageous, tough and fair. We support and stand with you,” wrote Matt Sere.
But not everyone on Twitter was supportive. Colleen C said Hanlin “fought against universal background checks & gun sense laws. He is part of the problem”
Sheriff’s strong stands
In January 2013 — just weeks after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 children dead — Hanlin sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, strongly expressing his displeasure at the Obama administration’s efforts to pass gun control legislation.
“Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” Hanlin wrote. “Any actions against, or in disregard for our U.S. Constitution and 2nd Amendment rights by the current administration would be irresponsible and an indisputable insult to the American people.”
Hanlin also told the vice president that as sheriff he would not enforce any gun control laws or executive orders coming from the Obama administration.
Obama’s post-Sandy Hook gun control push later died in Congress.
Hanlin also spoke out earlier this year against legislation in Oregon — Senate Bill 941 — that would require criminal background checks on private gun sales. Hanlin said the measure wouldn’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals and his department didn’t have the resources to properly enforce it.
Despite his opposition the bill became law and went into effect in August, according to The Oregonian newspaper.