As It Happens

This longtime NRA member gave up his AR-15 rifle after Uvalde shooting

Richard Small has been a member of the National Rifle Association for over 25 years. In the aftermath of the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, he decided to turn in his AR-15 rifle to police.

Richard Small says he realized his assault-style rifle has 'no actual, meaningful purpose'

Richard Small, a retired high school teacher in Texas and a lifelong gun lover, decided to turn in his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to police, in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. (Submitted by Richard Small)

Story Transcript

Richard Small has been a member of the National Rifle Association for over 25 years. In the aftermath of the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, he decided to turn in his AR-15 rifle to police.

Small said he started thinking about it when he and his wife, Marina, both retired schoolteachers, drove from their home on a small ranch in Charlotte, Texas, to Uvalde, about an hour and a half northwest. They went to visit the memorial set up outside Robb Elementary School and pay their respects to the 19 students and two teachers killed there by a gunman last Tuesday.

Small said his wife went up to some people and started talking to them, while he hung back under a nearby tree.

"Obviously I was feeling some remorse also and started thinking about it, and I said, 'Well, here I stand, the weapon that was used, I have,'" he told As It Happens guest host Tom Harrington. "I don't use it. I don't take it out. It's always locked in a gun safe. And I said, 'You know what? I'm going to get rid of this,' I says. 'It has no actual, meaningful purpose.'"

He was also spurred on by seeing images of the children who died in the shooting.

"One of those kids in the pictures reminds me of my grandson right now who's the same age. They could have been twins," said Small. "And when I saw him on the TV with the news, I told my wife, I turned and looked at her and I said, 'Look, he could be William,'" he said.

After Small returned home, he called Charlotte police chief Rick Luna, to let him know he would head to the station to turn in his gun. The chief didn't answer but Small went down to the station anyway and when he arrived, he called to an officer outside the station, who walked over to the chain link fence. 

"And I said, 'I live here in Charlotte. I have a weapon, an AR. It's in the truck.' I said, 'It's unloaded, it's unloaded, it's unloaded.' And I said, 'I want to turn it in,'" he recalled.

"'It's registered and everything,' I said. 'But I've just had it with it,' I says. 'It doesn't serve me any purpose.'"

The officer was uncertain, said Small, so he called Luna again, from his place outside the fence. Luna gave the OK for Small to turn over the weapon. Photos of him turning over the gun were published in the Washington Post.

Small said he hoped the force would either use it in their police work or destroy it, but he didn't want to sell it, even though he knows he could easily have done so, because he was afraid another civilian would use it. 

Small said that one of the children killed in the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde reminded him of his grandson. Small turned over his AR-15 rifle to police. (Submitted by Richard Small)

Gun turn-in sparks shock, support

Small's move caused a bit of a stir. 

"My neighbour next door to me … I have a small ranch. He has a small ranch also. My wife told him the other day; he almost fainted. He said, 'What did he do? Is he OK?'"

But, Small said, his wife, Marina, was "elated" with his actions. "I felt better too," he said.

Marina's cousins texted to say they were in support of Small's move, and he said his daughter, who is also a teacher, was proud as well. 

Small said he would be happy to see new laws put into place regulating certain guns, like the AR-15, which he points out is the civilian version of the M16 he used when he was in the U.S. military.

"And matter of fact, that's why I did this. I says, 'I sure hope they they ban these things,'" he said. He was also critical of how easy it was for the gunman in Uvalde to get a gun — the shooter was able to buy two AR-15s just days after his 18th birthday.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden drive past a memorial site in the town square of Uvalde set up for those killed in the school mass shooting, on their way to Robb Elementary School, Sunday, May 29, in Uvalde. (Wong Maye-E/The Associated Press)

Small said he was still thinking about what he was going to do about his NRA membership.

"I don't think I'm going to renew because I don't want to be a hypocrite. And I hadn't thought about that yet," he said. He noted that some of the of information the group puts out is "propaganda."

As for the gun he turned over to police, the move was so unusual the force is still trying to figure out exactly how to process it. Small said if legally he needs to officially sell it to the force, he would sell it to them for a dollar. 

But, he said, he felt obligated to do what he did.

"I've stepped across the line and I'm just going to go ahead and continue."

Written by Andrea Bellemare. Interview produced by Leslie Amminson and Chris Harbord.