By Jon Herskovitz and Katie Reilly
About a month after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin in Oregon posted a video on his Facebook page from conspiracy theorists who said the event might have been a hoax. A few days later, he wrote to Vice President Joe Biden, telling him to stay away from gun control.
Hanlin was thrust into the spotlight on Thursday, when a gunman opened fire at a college classroom in Douglas County, killing nine people and wounding several others before police shot him to death.
The sheriff from a woodlands section of Oregon quickly became a focal point of the national debate about mass killings at schools. Some criticize him for opposing measures to make it more difficult to obtain firearms, and others see him as a man of integrity standing up for the constitutional right to bear arms.
“Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” he wrote in a letter to Biden in 2013, about a month after Sandy Hook, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and then killed himself.
On Friday, the sheriff told CNN: “The discussion over firearms and control of firearms will occur,” adding that he would speak on the subject later but now was not the time.
Hanlin, who has been with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office since 1989, was elected sheriff in 2009. In 2012 with his support running high, he ran unopposed.
Gina Stewart, an attorney in Roseburg, said local law enforcement led by the sheriff were doing a great job, especially in light of strained budgets in recent years.
“I don’t personally agree with his views on the Second Amendment but they reflect largely the views in this community regarding guns,” Stewart said
“This is a hunting community. There are a lot of people who hunt.”
Born and raised in the Roseburg area, he attended Umpqua Community College – where the shootings took place – his official biography said. He has two sons, according to a biography by the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association.
A hunter and fisherman, Hanlin’s views on gun ownership are similar to many other residents in the state that is sparsely populated and guarantees the right to arms.
Oregon is also one of seven U.S. states that allow concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks local laws.
Supporters of such laws argue that having more guns on campus would prevent the mass shootings that have become commonplace in recent years. Opponents say such measures mean more danger for all on campus.
‘Looking for attention’
Hanlin was at the forefront of the opposition to a measure debated earlier this year in Oregon that would expand background checks on gun sales. He testified at a legislative committee in April.
“Creating more regulation and control over the transfer of firearms will only affect the honest, law-abiding majority of Oregon gun owners,” he wrote in March of this year.
The governor signed the legislation into law in May.
On his Facebook page, Hanlin shared posts in favor of gun ownership, including one from Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, that said “Remember when the Colonists stood in line to register their muskets…” …me either.”
On Friday, almost his entire Facebook page was no longer available for public viewing, including his link to the Sandy Hook video and the posts about gun ownership.
Hanlin has refused to publicly identify the suspect in the latest shootings, insisting on Friday he would do nothing to glorify the gunman or his cause. The stance has won him support at home and nationwide.
Area resident Trey Bailey, 19, knew a girl who was shot, and said Hanlin was correct because the shooter was desperate for notoriety.
“All he was looking for was attention and that’s not the way you should do it, period,” Bailey said.
After Sandy Hook, Hanlin took to social media to support legal gun ownership and opposed the Obama administration’s push to enact new gun control measures.
He had also posted on his Facebook page a widely circulated video that claimed Sandy Hook was perhaps launched by the government wanting to take away guns from citizens.
“That makes me wonder who we can trust anymore,” he wrote.