Crew-cut and downcast, his face reflecting the anguish of the community he serves, Douglas County, Ore., Sheriff John Hanlin has steadfastly declined to discuss his views on gun control at his appearances in the days after the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.
But those opinions are very strong and, in some cases, very public.
In 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Hanlin wrote Vice President Biden “to make a formal request that you NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment. Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings.”
The second purpose of his letter, he added, was to notify Biden that “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies.” Hanlin added that he would not allow federal officers to enforce “any unconstitutional regulations or orders” in Douglas County.
Earlier this year, Hanlin spoke out against expanding Oregon’s system of background checks for gun purchasers, which passed the legislature and was signed by Gov. Kate Brown (D).
And three days before the release of his letter to Biden, according to the New York Times, Hanlin put a link on his personal Facebook page to a YouTube video that suggests the shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., was not the work of a lone gunman and that some of the parents interviewed in the aftermath were actors.
“This makes me wonder who we can trust anymore,” Hanlin wrote. The post has since been removed.
In a brief interview with CNN, Hanlin told a reporter: “I know what you’re referring to, but that’s not a conspiracy theory that I have.” He also told the network Friday, as his department was investigating the rampage in which 10 people died, that gun control “certainly has got to be part of the discussion,” but not at this time.
“My position on it has not changed,” he added.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement Saturday that Hanlin’s “words are dangerous and misleading.”
“Anyone who would suggest that background checks, which are supported by 90% of Americans and the vast majority of gun owners, are anything other than a sensible measure to keep guns out of the wrong hands either does not understand how background checks work or simply has an agenda other than public safety.”
Hanlin has been with the sheriff’s department for 26 years and is serving his second term as sheriff. He is a native of Douglas County and grew up in the Roseburg area, according to his biography on the department’s Web site. He attended Umpqua Community College, where Chris Harper Mercer killed nine people and himself and wounded nine others in Thursday’s mass shooting.
Hanlin has worked as a narcotics detective and commanded the detectives division before becoming sheriff.
From his first appearance Thursday, Hanlin has refused to use Mercer’s name, a position that has attracted support online and elsewhere.
“I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific act of cowardice,” Hanlin said at his first news conference, when he urged the media to do the same. “You will never hear me mention his name.”