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Oregon shooter's mother was an avid gun enthusiast who stockpiled weapons for fear of confiscation

Details emerge painting a picture of a mother who armed and trained her disturbed son


Sophia Tesfaye
October 5, 2015 7:43PM (UTC)

14 guns.

The 26-year-old man who walked into a writing class last Thursday armed with six guns, spare ammunition magazines and body armor to carry out the latest American mass shooting, had even more weaponry stockpiled in the home he shared with his mother. In total, law enforcement officials confiscated 14 guns belonging to Christopher Harper-Mercer or his mother, Laurel Harper.

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Officials said the guns were all traced back to a federal firearms dealer and seven of the weapons had been purchased legally by Harper-Mercer or other family members over the last three years.

According to multiple reports, the shooter's mother boasted online about her arsenal and feared that gun ownership would soon be restricted.

"When the mood strikes," Harper reportedly wrote on Facebook, "I sling an AR, Tek-9 or AK over my shoulder, or holster a Glock 21 (not 22), or one of my other handguns, like the Sig Sauer P226, and walk out the door." Shotguns, she said, "are a little too cumbersome to open carry."

According to officials, the Harper family moved from Torrance, California to Winchester, Oregon, in 2013. "I moved from So. Calif. to Oregon, from Southern Crime-a-mania to open carry," Harper noted in that same Facebook post advocating for open carry laws.

Harper, a registered nurse who shared an apartment with her son, spoke "openly about her love of guns," according to one of her patients.

"She said she had multiple guns and believed wholeheartedly in the Second Amendment and wanted to get all the guns she could before someone outlawed them," Shelly Steele told the New York Daily News. Steele hired Harper to provide care for her sickly teenage son and said that Harper enjoyed talking to her husband, an avid hunter and former member of the military, about taking her son to shooting ranges.

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Steele said that Harper complained to her husband that the shooting range nearest their home "wasn’t very private.”

“You needed to have a range master with you, and she didn't like anyone watching,” Stelle explained, “she wanted more privacy.”

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"She told my husband she just purchased some new guns a few weeks ago and took him shooting. I thought the whole situation was very strange. If you know your son has mental health issues, do you encourage a fascination with guns?"

Harper-Mercer graduated from Switzer Learning Center in 2009, described by the New York Times as "a private school for students with learning disabilities, emotional issues and other special-education needs."

Harper-Mercer's father, Ian Mercer, said he hadn't seen his son since he left California in 2013 and had no idea that his son and ex-wife owned so many guns.

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“How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal?” Mercer asked during a CNN interview this weekend. "If Chris had not been able to get hold of 13 guns, this wouldn't have happened" Mercer said.

Mercer, who said he had never held a gun, clearly differed with his ex-wife on gun ownership: "Even people that believe in the right to bear arms, what right do you have to take people's lives? That's what guns are, the killers. Simple as that. Simple as that. It's black and white. What do you want a gun for?"

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Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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