Like many Americans, Chris Michel woke up Monday morning to the horrific news of the massacre in Las Vegas, which left 58 people dead as well as the shooter Stephen Paddock and nearly 500 injured.
Michel, who owns Dixie GunWorx, tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro that he remembers Paddock coming into his store on three occasions earlier this year. Michel says he spends a lot of time talking with his customers, so he can screen them. To him, Paddock didn't seem suspicious or off in any way. So Michel sold him a gun.
Authorities have identified 47 firearms owned by Paddock — and one of them, a shotgun, was sold to him by Michel.
Now in the aftermath of the mass shooting, Michel is doing some soul-searching. He discusses with Lulu all that has been going through his mind since he heard the identity of the shooter.
On what questions he has been asking himself
The biggest thing ... for me, specifically because I was the one that ended up doing the final sale to him is: Did I miss anything? Did I miss a red flag? Is there some way that I could have prevented this? Was the firearm that we sold him used? Could I have stopped this? ... All those kinds of questions kind of go through your head and in the end, the answer is no. He was a perfectly legitimate customer that asked not the perfect questions, but the right questions to get rid of red flags.
It's hard to look back and go, "What could I have done different?"
I've been up multiple hours of the night thinking about all these kinds of things and it just keeps coming right back to the same thing — that we did everything right on our side. We did everything we could have done to stop this in any shape or form but yet it still happened.
On how he screens potential gun buyers
First off is that we do have federal paperwork that has to be filled out with every firearm sale. But at the same time, we as gun dealers; in my opinion, we're the front line, we're the people that are supposed to be kind of looking for those wrong signals or red flags. ... If I have somebody that comes in and they could care less for everything else in the store, they're just looking for one specific firearm and they're looking for that one specific ammo — those are red flags. Those tell me, "OK, what is he what is he looking for this for?" ...
From time to time, I get angry people that just come in and I can see that they're angry at a situation and little by little, again, we try and talk to them. We try and figure out what's going on, if they're angry, we try and figure out, "Why are you mad?" ...
There is six-page paperwork that's federal, and the customer has to fill out a couple of pages worth and we fill out a couple of pages worth on our side. And there's pointed questions on that paperwork. ... If they answer those specific questions wrong, then we know, "OK, we have some more red flags that are kind of popping up."
On an example of red flags
I had a person not too long ago in the past that I could see was really, really angry with their spouse. ... They were looking for a pistol, a small pistol that they could conceal. They weren't saying the correct things for "I want it for self-protection. I want it to protect my family" — those kind of things.
The way that they were talking about it, the situation was you know: "I'm angry with the way that they did this to me" and "I'm angry with the way that they did that to me" and "I like the size of this one." And then they walked over to the ammunition and when they were standing near the ammunition they were like, "This is the one that's going to protect me the most." ...
I won't deal with anybody that angry in my store. That's just the wrong thing that you should be doing. You shouldn't be buying anything in those kind of mindsets. ... I finally just walked over to this person and I just said, "You know, I don't think you're in the right mindset to be purchasing a firearm. I just don't." And they got angry with me you know, and at that point, they start getting belligerent with me because I'm stopping them from doing something that they want to do.
On reporting these incidents
I can call up, you know, different agencies if I have enough information and give them that information about what's going on. In this instance, I did. It didn't — as far as I know — go anywhere, but maybe it did. I don't have that information but I do know that, you know, a couple of days later I saw the same person was booked into the jail for domestic violence.
And so you know for me, that helps me to sleep at night because just maybe that firearm that I would have sold that person, which they probably could have gone and taken all the background checks and passed everything. But what would it have done if it would have been used in that crime?
So that's where we stop it. You know, if those kind of situations happen again, they do it. It checked out in the end, in my opinion. But again, this person still went to jail.
On whether guns he has sold have been used in committing crimes
This is the first time where it's been national and we've had all kinds of coverage of it. But these kinds of things happen all the time. I have the ATF or the FBI calling up and saying we need information on this specific firearm that passed through your store. I don't usually know the results you know, but it is not an uncommon thing to have the FBI or the ATF to call up and say we need to see this paperwork or we need to know this person's information or what happened with this situation. That happens probably every couple of months.
On how it feels to be connected to something so horrific
I wish that in some way, shape or form, you know, this massacre in my opinion, it would not have happened and somebody could have seen something to prevent that. You know, we're dealing with it on a majority of levels, not just you know here in the store. There's victims out there, and I don't want to take away from them in any way, shape or form. Because I know that the people that are wounded and deceased, there is so much more that they have to go through than we do.
On his view regarding bump stock legislation
I would probably be very open to hearing regulation and what could come from it. I sell a number of different accessories and weapons, and I've seen these over the years come and go. I've always thought of them as more of a novelty item. Nothing that's super out there. There's not very many people that I'm aware of that own them. But at the same time, I am also somebody that doesn't believe the average everyday citizen should own a machine gun.
On his views about stricter gun laws
I'm not saying that I can understand it because my point of view is a little different. I definitely get where they're coming from and the fear that it can bring. And so I definitely can see that side of it. I don't believe we need more regulation in the United States. I think that there's thousands upon thousands of firearm laws that are on the books right now. I do believe though 100 percent that we should have more enforcement of these laws. ... The enforcement side of it, I think, in my opinion, would be a way of ruining or stopping some of these plans that are made by bad people.
On whether he has had an uptick in business this past week
At the end of the week, me and my accountant sit down and we'll look at it and see if there has been an uptick. You know, primarily in the past — yes, anytime something like this happens it brings it right to the forefront for people on both sides. There's people that want to protect themselves and there's people that are not wanting that. And so at this point, I really couldn't tell you. We've been a lot busier ... and so that's something that I have seen. But is it more on the curiosity or is it more on the purchasing? I just don't have that answer at this point in time.
On why he is talking to the media
I think the biggest part of that is because primarily in the past, most of your firearm retailers that again are on the front line, they're not the ones that are being heard. Most people aren't listening to their side or listening to what they have to say. And so for me, it's a lot easier to get out there and just state the facts from our side.
On the process to flag a potentially harmful gun buyer
My gut is telling me that there probably should be something that is a little bit more formal on that [than word-of-mouth among gun vendors]. But at the same time, if you did that, every time we experience somebody in the grocery store today that's angry about something, would we want to put them into the same system or into the same process? I think that it would be a lot harder to regulate something like that and to go down those roads. So you know the verbal or the word-of-mouth is what's working. ... In this situation, we are talking about firearms, but firearms are not primarily the way that people do mass murders.
On whether the massacre changed his mind about how the system works
I would go back to enforcement over more regulations. You know, with this specific situation, there's nothing that I can see that would have changed the outcome in any way shape or form. ... Somebody was bad, bought stuff legally, used it illegally, and now we're trying to look back and say, 'How could we have stopped that?' And again, I don't know or have not heard of one process that would change that outcome.
NPR's Maquita Peters produced this story for the Web.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Like many Americans, Chris Michel woke up last Monday to horrific headlines of a massacre in Las Vegas.
CHRIS MICHEL: I didn't know who or what was going on at the moment. And then as soon as I was into a couple different news feeds, his name cropped up, and I remember exactly, you know, who he was and that he had been in our store.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The shooter, Stephen Paddock, was a customer at Michel's gun store in St. George, Utah. He visited three times earlier this year.
MICHEL: Everyday guy - he'd be the guy you'd sit next to in church or you'd bump into in the grocery store. And he'd say, excuse me. And you'd walk right on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was he telling you that he wanted and why he wanted guns?
MICHEL: You know, he just told us he had moved to the area recently and that he was looking to get back into his hobbies.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did he seem to know what he was talking about? I mean, did he seem familiar with the different weaponry and caliber bullets and all the other stuff?
MICHEL: You know, he was familiar enough with everything to pass off as a novice. You know, he came in, and he would ask different questions about firearms or ammo or this accessory. Or how would this accessory work on this firearm? - and things like that. But, again, just normal, everyday questions that I'd get from any number of customers.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michel sold Paddock a shotgun. And in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Michel is asking himself a lot of questions.
MICHEL: Did I miss anything? Did I miss a red flag? Could I have stopped this? He was a perfectly legitimate customer that asked the right questions that would get rid of any red flags. You know, I've been up, you know, multiple hours of the night thinking about all these kind of things. And it just keeps coming right back to the same thing - is that we did everything that we could've done to stop this in any shape or form. But yet it still happened.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you talk me through a little bit how you screen customers? Do you turn people away? What are the red flags that you might be looking for when you are talking to people about firearms?
MICHEL: Yeah. The first off is that we do have federal paperwork that has to be filled out with every firearm sale. But at the same time, we as gun dealers - in my opinion, we're the frontline. We're the people that are supposed to be kind of looking for those wrong signals or red flags. Things that we look for is specifically pointed questions. If I have somebody that comes in, and they could care less for everything else in the store - they're just looking for one specific firearm, and they're looking for that one specific ammo, those are red flags.
From time to time, I get angry people that just come in. And little by little, again, we try and talk to them. We try and figure out what's going on. If they're angry, we try and figure out, why are you mad? Did you just get cut off in traffic? Did you just lose cell phone service during a really important business meeting? - you know, those kind of things. We want to find out what's going on with them so that we can turn around and look at it and go, is that really your motive? Are you looking for a firearm for the right purposes or the wrong purposes?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm wondering, how often does this happen? And could you give me an example of a situation like that?
MICHEL: You know, I had a person not too long ago in the past that I could see was really, really angry with their spouse. And they were looking for a pistol, a small pistol that they could conceal. The way that they were talking about it - the situation was, you know, I'm angry with the way that they did this to me. And I'm angry with the way that they did that to me. And I finally just walked over to this person. And I just said, you know, I don't think you're in the right mindset to be purchasing a firearm.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you report them?
MICHEL: Yeah. I mean, I can call up, you know, different agencies if I have enough information. And in this instance, I did. I do know that, you know, a couple days later, I saw the same person was booked into the jail for domestic violence. You know, for me, that helps me to sleep at night because just maybe that firearm that I would've sold that person - what would it have done if it would've been used in that crime?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Were there other instances where maybe something bought from your store, you know, was used to commit a crime, or is this the first time that you've had to deal with something like this?
MICHEL: You know, it comes around. This is the first time where it's been national, and we've had all kinds of coverage of it. But it is not an uncommon thing to have the FBI or the ATF call up and say, we need to know this person's information or what happened with this situation. That happens probably every couple months.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, many Americans are very supportive of gun rights. But many Americans, especially after an event like this, feel that they'd like to see stricter gun laws. They're people who are scared, who feel powerless in the wake of these mass shootings. Do you understand that point of view?
MICHEL: You know, I'm not saying that I can understand it because my point of view is a little different. I definitely get where they're coming from and the fear that it can bring. I don't believe we need more regulation. There's thousands upon thousands of firearm laws that are on the books right now. I do believe, though, 100 percent that we should have more enforcement of these laws. Again, there is no way in my opinion that we could have put a ruling in place that would've stopped this this individual from receiving these firearms.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you've mentioned that you're on the front lines. And you're almost scanning people to see what their emotional or psychological state is. When you turn them away, are you worried that they're going to go to another gun dealer? And is that where enforcement comes in?
MICHEL: You know, here, where we're at, we have, you know, a number of dealers. And most of them we can call up and say, hey, FYI. Or, usually, when I call up the law enforcement and say, hey, this is what we just experienced, they will turn around and call up any of the other dealers that are around town and kind of spread the word as much as possible.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does that feel structured enough for you - that it's sort of word of mouth as opposed to an actual process?
MICHEL: That's a great question. You know, my gut is telling me that there probably should be something that is a little bit more formal. But at the same time, if you did that every time we experience somebody in the grocery store - OK? - that's angry about something, would we want to put them into the same system or into the same process?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's not the grocery store. It's a firearms store.
MICHEL: You're correct right now. But it's the next thing - the hardware store, the guy that goes around and does the same thing in the middle with a hammer. Again, what happened in this situation is that somebody was bad, bought stuff legally, used it illegally. And now we're trying to look back and say, how could we have stopped that? And I don't know or have not heard of one process that would change that outcome.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Chris Michel, owner of Dixie GunWorx. He sold a gun to the Las Vegas shooter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.