Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Portland school shooter was a Mormon teen

Assault rifleNews has begun trickling in that the 15-year-old Portland school shooter was a Mormon, a deacon who was “very serious about his church” and “highly regarded for his spirituality,” according to KGW.

The Huffington Post reports that Jared Michael Padgett, who killed a fellow freshman in the locker room Tuesday and wounded a teacher before turning his gun on himself, “was a straight-arrow kid who had a fascination with guns, planned a career in the military and was deeply devoted to his Mormon faith.”

One of six children, Padgett is described as polite, well-behaved, and quiet. A family friend from Padgett’s ward [Mormon congregation] told USA Today that he “never suspected that he [Padgett] had serious problems” and “saw Jared at church every Sunday.”

The UK’s Daily Mail paints a more sinister picture of a teen who was obsessed with guns and lost his temper last week when he made a school presentation on a book about Adolf Hitler and classmates questioned his interpretation that the Holocaust happened for a reason.

According to that article, Padgett had “liked” the Facebook pages for groups such as “Conservative American Military Veterans Against Barack Obama” and “We Will NOT Be Disarmed.” Moreover,

These strong pro-gun opinions may have been inherited from his family. His brother-in-law Andrew Cooper wrote on Facebook that school shootings could be prevented with more armed guards.

‘Dear President Obama, here, I’ll help you out to create jobs a little, oh and more importantly- SAVE LIVES; advise the states to employ at least 2 specially trained police officers to constantly patrol all school campuses from kindergarden [sic] through all colleges. Duh,’ Cooper wrote in December 2012.

Given the multiple weapons and nine (!) magazines of ammunition Padgett brought with him to school that day, it is likely he initially intended a large-scale mass shooting.

My heart goes out to the victim’s family, and also to Padgett’s, whose parents and siblings must be reeling with horror and shock.

But what will it take for Americans in general (and perhaps Mormons in particular) to stop the insanity and admit that there need to be reasonable limits on the availability of guns in this country?

How many children have to die?





About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • What I find difficult to get my mind around is that a kid who thinks having armed gaurds in schools will result in less killing. He mocks President Obama about not being intelligent enough to figure out how to SAVE LIVES, then goes on a shooting rampage. Save lives…. keep your guns at home, locked up. Violence will always further a problem, never solve it.

  • Well, just to be clear, that was his brother-in-law who wrote those words, not the shooter. But I am in total agreement with the sentiment of your words. Additional guns tend to beget more violence.

  • Anneke, thanks for the link. Wow. Garry Wills. Fascinating connection between Moloch and gun violence:

    “That horror [Newtown] cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector.”

  • Except gun crimes are at a multi-decade low while gun ownership has dramatically increased. That includes the so-called mass shootings that have been committed almost entirely by mentally deranged persons. Blaming objects instead of people does not seem to be the answer or it would have worked before now. Maybe we should look at government actions that started over a decade ago that dramatically cut funding for mental health resulting in people being unable to access proper care. We seem to be reaping what they sowed.

  • “Mormons in particular”….??? So, you’re saying Mormons have cornered the market on the pro gun stance??? That’s a fairly ignorant comment considering there are 15 million of us world wide and we don’t all share the same views. Furthermore, out of all the shootings that have occured in schools within the USA lately, can you please tell me the religions of all the shooters? I guess the only one that matters is the Mormon kid since we Mormons, in particular, need to change our crazy ideas about guns…..

  • Commenters of good faith don’t put words in others’ mouths. Of course that isn’t what Jana’s use of “Mormons in particular” means. Since this shooter was “one of our own,” we have a special chance to ask whether our own culture places enough emphasis on Jesus’ message of love, of turning the other cheek, of meekness and lowliness of heart. Or do we prefer such idols as the (phony) virility of the weapons of war.

  • You are mistaking correlation with causation. Increases in gun purchasing has more to do with the NRA panic mongering, partisan paranoia, than anything resembling public safety. There is a level of “hording” when it comes to gun purchasing these days.

    Visibly armed people have never contributed to reduction of crime. They tend to fare badly against armed opponents. A high percentages of cops shot and killed were ambushed. The offenders targeting the person with the obvious weapon. A good number of police gun fatalities involve being shot with one’s own service weapon.

    “Maybe we should look at government actions that started over a decade ago that dramatically cut funding for mental health resulting in people being unable to access proper care. ”

    Try 3 decades ago. By the same people who absolutely oppose sane regulation of firearms ownership. Somehow the same people who thought there needed to be an assault rifle in every house also thought that the mentally ill did not need so much care. Its like they wanted to make mass murder easier to commit.

    Btw if we prevented those with a history of mental illness from owning firearms, the president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre would never qualify.

  • But what will it take for Americans in general (and perhaps Mormons in particular) to stop the insanity and admit that there need to be reasonable limits on the availability of CARS and BACKYARD POOLS in this country?

    How many children have to die?

  • We DO have all kinds of regulations on CAR ownership, driving, equipment, etc. We require driver’s licenses, seat belts, child car seats, etc. You have to demonstrate competence before you can drive. We have speed limits, and we forbid cell phone interaction while driving. We prosecute drunk drivers. And we think of all this as common sense. We need such common sense gun regulations, too. [And maybe we need to consider a requirement for powered swimming pool covers, too. I suspect the absence of “mass drownings” has kept us from noticing how many kids die in pools.]

  • Let’s get rid of and/or restrict knives and box cutters. I think they were used in the Islavista rampage and also in 911, leading to the deaths of over 3,000 people.

  • Sure, I have no problem with common sense regulations of guns, they’re dangerous. What I strongly object to is using that need to legislate a de facto ban by making those regulations to stringent that people are unable own or use guns without excessive cost and/or time, or legal risk. And I also strongly object to any suggestion that people should be required to prove a need to own a gun, just as I would object to requiring people to prove a need to own a car.

  • I have noted the irony Charlton Heston quote saying: “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”, since he eventually suffered from the advanced stages of Alzheimer before his death. As such, I hope he did NOT have a gun, and certainly NOT a loaded one. The Church’s policy on firearms is: “Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law.” ( )

    Many people, including Mormons, engage in “all or nothing thinking” especially on the topic of firearms. By some guns are viewed as a absolute right, glorified, and celebrated as a needed solution to extreme problems. Meanwhile, the gospel teaches another model for safety and problem solving (See especially Matthew 5:38-48, 3 Nephi 12: 38-48, and D&C 121: 34-46).

    I am NOT opposed the 2nd Amendment and/or responsible gun ownership and use. However, there needs to be careful training for those who own these firearms, including training involving safe use and storage. Switzerland and Israel have high gun ownership rates, but much lower rates of misuse because of reasonable and careful regulations. Some tragedies will still occur but their frequency can be significantly decreased.

    Youth is a time of extreme emotions and reactions. I find the Portland school shooting tragic and chilling on several level including that the shooter was an active Mormon and the guns were apparently fairly well secured against misuse.

    Thank you Jana for your comments on this important topic.

  • Untimely death at anyones hand is a very sad thing.

    On a different point, if he had killed millions instead of his clasemate and himself, we would have called him Mr. President instead of a deranged individual and given him a medal. With the pulpit and following you have It is a sad thing that the focus isnt placed on the biggest killer in human history and the glory we give it: democide.

    I think writing an article about death at the hands of government would be a very timely because so many are willing to permit and applaud its use.

  • He’s 15, “highly regarded for his spirituality,” and he’s only a deacon? This seems very unusual. Why isn’t this young man who is “very serious about his church” a teacher yet?

    It seems like someone either got the facts wrong or is being overly generous in praising his spirituality and dedication to his church.

    I’m not saying there aren’t spiritual young men who are active in the church and yet are still a deacon by age 15. It’s just that it is so rare that there is likely an interesting story behind it if it is all accurate Quick, send Jana to interview other members of his deacons/teachers quorum!

  • If we treated gus like cars, the NRA woud lose its paranoid idiot base and most of the legitimate complaints would be rendered moot.

    Personally I think the best form of regulation is one used on all cars. Mandatory insurance requirements. It adds an extra level of vetting that the owner is going to be responsible. (btw the NRA actually supports and underwrites liability and theft insurance fr guns)

    Why should a gun, a device made for killing be treated with less regulation than what we use to get to the supermarket?

  • Ylu can’t bring them on planes anymore. Buying them at home depot is a royal pain.

    Why are cars far more regulated than guns?

    Guns have far fewer socially acceptable uses. Fewer than knives or be cutters even.

  • How do the accident rates compare between car ownership and gun ownership? I’d need to know that before I could make a decision one way or the other. But if the accident rate for gun ownership is high enough I don’t see why we couldn’t include an insurance requirement – so long as it is subsidized by the governments. After all, unlike car ownership our right to own guns is explicitly constitutionally protected and for good reason. We can’t let the cost of that insurance act as a de facto gun ban for the poor.

  • An insurance requirement would take out much of the stupidity seen in gun buying. Putting a financial disincentive for gun hording, ignoring safe storage (a major impetus in mass murder by teens and the absurdly high accidental gun death rate). The best part of it is it relies on market thinking for people doing the sane thing, rather than the heavy hand of regulation. Best part of it is it’s 2nd amendment friendly. (there is no reason the 2nd amendment is subject to fewer limitiations than the 1st)

    Accidents with guns have a higher % of lethality on average when compared with accidents with cars. a right to ownership does not mean without sane and rational regulation. Unlike accidents with guns, a car owner is expected to financially recompese people injured by negligent use of their property. Gun owners are in fact encouraged by political lobbyists to be irresponsible and dangerously negligent. (there is nothing sillier than hearing arguments against gun safes, trigger locks or for open carrying).

    Owning a gun is a responsibility, one which carries more potential for imminent harm than a car. A car owner carries insurance as part of a social compact with society to take responsibility for the use of a potentially lethal device. No reason this shoud not apply to firearms.

  • If I were a judge, I would definitely consider the possibility that requiring insurance could be a 2nd Amendment violation, *especially* if it is sold as a financial incentive to prevent hording – i.e., to prevent ownership of guns. That is why I would insist that any required insurance be subsidized by the governments for at least those least likely to be able to pay it, and would be much more comfortable if the insurance was attached to the owner rather than the gun.

    And guns might have a higher lethality rate per accident than cars, but that wasn’t my question. Rather, I asked what the accident rate in comparison to guns is. Any insurer would need to know the answer to both questions. (Though to keep it more apples to apples, it would need to be gun owner to car owner, not gun to car – gun owners are likely to own multiple guns each than car owners are.)

    “Gun owners are in fact encouraged by political lobbyists to be irresponsible and dangerously negligent. (there is nothing sillier than hearing arguments against gun safes, trigger locks or for open carrying).”

    Sorry, but that is nonsense. One of the primary purposes of owning a gun is defense, and it’s kinda tough to actually use it for that purpose if it isn’t accessible.

  • The difference here is: knives and box cutters have practical uses. The purpose of guns is to kill people. If box cutters were objects made for killing people, I would restrict them too.

  • I agree, as in “a well-run business.” And that means that since a well-regulated militia means an armed citizenry, that Congress cannot use the regulatory power granted to it in Article I, Section 8 over the state militias to disarm that citizenry.

  • And the 2nd Amendment protects the right of the people to bear arms precisely because those arms are made to kill people. One of the things that the Book of Mormon teaches us is that sometimes it is necessary to kill people, in defense of ourselves, our families, and our way of life: ” In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children …”

  • I was under the impression that he was the teacher’s quorum president from my friend who is a member of his ward.

  • Insurance requirements are not a limitation. Gun hoarding is not an activity which requires protection of law.

    All insurance means is that the person purchasing the firearms is socially and financially responsible enough to cover the costs caused by negligence on their part from the use and storage of their weapons. As of now we let people who are negligent and careless with their legally owned firearms off the hook. The entire community pays for the stupidity of those who could have taken preventive measures.

    Unlike health insurance, Property/Casualty insurance works only when it is reasonably affordable on an open market. More insureds mean more risk spread out. So premiums have to be reasonable and affordable just by the nature of the product and market. Hardly a significant restriction. Insurance protects gun owners as well. It keeps them from being sued into bankruptcy, by covering their loss for accidents.

    If I didn’t make myself clear before THE NRA SUPPORTS this kind of insurance. THEY WRITE POLICIES FOR IT

    As with all forms of property/casualty insurance, responsible behavior is given a financial incentive, irresponsible behavior is given additional costs. You can tailor insurance to cover one’s personal situation much more easily than the one-size-fits-all approach of government regulation.

    Your question of the accident rate misses my point. Cars have a much greater accident rate but infinitesimally smaller serious injury/fatality rate per incidence. The issue for insurance is really the rate of accidents/act compared to the economic impact of the event. Flood insurance insures an unlikely but extremely damaging event. Death, severe injury or dismemberment is extremely damaging to say the least.

    “One of the primary purposes of owning a gun is defense, and it’s kinda tough to actually use it for that purpose if it isn’t accessible.”

    Except that is not true in most cases. The primary purpose of owning guns outside of professional requirements for the most part in this country is collection, recreational shooting and hunting. The home protection argument is a dismal failure. People say “home protection” in public, but the gun buying behavior and ownership habits speak a far different story.

    Statistically fatal accidents with unsecured firearms is exponentially more likely than warding off home intruders. Keeping your home “safe” with unsecured firearms is more likely to make it more dangerous. All you have done is given an example of the irrational and irresponsible arguments used in defense of negligent behavior.

    The insurance requirements also make “straw purchasing” much more difficult without creating actual restrictions on gun ownership. It adds a level of documentation which make such illegal activity more risky. Plus insurance allows for actual statistics of gun related incidents to be recorded without worry about Big Brother or politicking.

    What I am describing is a perfect example of libertarian approaches to gun ownership. Minimal government regulation, relying on market forces to encourage responsible behavior. A sane, conservative ,responsible gun owner friendly, measure if there ever was one.

  • It also says that right is part of being in a well regulated militia. Which means gun ownership is still subject to practical regulations for the intended use. The idea that the 2nd Amendment is not subject to limitations is ridiculous. All civil liberties have practical limits. Even speech, religion and association.

  • I go into the local Federal courthouse once or twice a week, and each time I do, I am requjired to go through a metal detector, and put my briefcase through an x-ray machine, all supervised by armed guards. If our school boards were really worried about armed attacks on students, they could do what judges and other government officials do, and establish armed guards. But most school boards look at the real likelihood of an attack, and decide it is not worth the expense, that they would rather spend money on other things, like teacher salaries.

    The students of Sandy hook elementary were moved to another school building, but to provide them additional assurance that they were safe, the school board arranged for armed guards to be present.

    President Obama’s daughters are guarded by armed Secret Service officers at all times. When they are in class at Sidwell Friends, an elite private school attended by children of diplomats, they are guarded by a team of other armed guards. If it is good enough for Sasha and Malia, why isn’t it good enough for Fred and Shauna?

    If there had been an armed guard at the school, perhaps the young man would have just stayed home.

    On military bases, there are many young men who are “fascinated with guns and the military”. Aside from Islamic Jihadists like Nidal Hasan, very few of those soldiers ever go out and kill other people who are not already shooting at them. Trying to turn these few paltry facts into a complete psychoanalytic theory explaining this unusual behavior is foolish. The “facts”–being a teenager, fascination with military weapons (primarily expressed through computer games), even being a Mormon, are also present in the lioves of millions of other boys who have never and will never do anything like this. Having access to a firearm does not turn people into murderers. Having deep psychological problems does, even if the weapon used is a knife or a car (e.g. in Santa Barbara).

    Jana, if you think Mormons are more in favor of the right to bear arms than the average American, do you think that the probability of gun violence by Mormons is higher than among other Americans? I don’t see any evidence that there is any such correlation. To the contrary, the social science research shows Mormons are more law abiding, and more actively compassionate, than the average American. So the Mormon population appears to be a counter- argument against your notion that “more guns = more senseless murders”.

    The cities with the highest rate of gun crime, like Washington, DC, and Chicago, are also places where there are the greatest obstacles to lawful ownership of a firearm. The fewer guns available to law abiding people = more gun crime by criminals who don’t mind violating gun restrictions. Why should anyone be surprised? Until the Millenium, when the violently evil will be taken out of the picture by God, we should not give criminals power over the law abiding.

    And yes, the statistics show that far more children die from drowning–not so much in backyard pools but in bathtubs or irrigation canals or rivers–than from firearms. And the rate of “child” deaths from guns is inflated by including gang members. The number of children killed in vehicle accidents by drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs is many times higher. And that is why school boards roll the dice and decide to not do anything active to guard children against attacks, because the risk of it happening in one of their own schools is very low.

  • Your original statement was: “An insurance requirement would take out much of the stupidity seen in gun buying. Putting a financial disincentive for gun hording …” Translation, an insurance requirement will reduce the number of guns owned by private citizens. So yes, I would consider such statements to be proof of a violation of the 2nd Amendment. So like I said, I have no problem with requiring insurance for owners of guns, so long as the required insurance is actually based on real-life conditions rather than whatever will most reduce gun ownership, and so long as that insurance is subsidized by governments for the poor.

    Oh, and that claim that guns in homes are much more likely to be used in accidents, criminal assaults, homicides, or suicides rather than self defense? The Kellermann study that stat is based on is badly flawed. First, it only covered fatal shootings, so didn’t include cases where a gun was defensively brandished or fired but no one was killed. Second, the way that the data was gathered was flawed: Kellermann and his coauthers would ask the relatives of someone that was killed in or near their home if a gun had been kept in that home, and if the answer was yes the researchers would *assume* that that was the gun used in the killing; in only eight of 444 cases did the researchers specifically note that the gun involved had been kept in the home. Third, then they would ask a random selection of individuals within a mile of the home if they owned guns and had had any homicides – imagine doing a similar survey of people that have to visit hospitals, you’ll probably end up with a correlation between visits to the hospital and death, and logically conclude that hospitals kill people. The study is nonsense.

  • Yes, according to the 2nd Amendment, a well-regulated militia means a population that has not been legally required to disarm itself, therefore governments cannot use set out to disarm the general citizenry. Originally that applied only to the federal government (which might have been able to do so through its constitutional power to regulate the militia), but thanks to Incorporation through the 14th Amendment that now applies to state governments as well.

    So yes, common sense laws to ensure that gun owners know how to safely use and keep guns are not a problem, so long as they do not place an undue financial or legal burden on the general citizenry.

  • Very well said. This idea of gun culture that permeate America has bled into the Church and I really don’t get how any Christian can support such ideals.

  • Luke 22:36: “[Jesus] said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

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  • Most disturbing and judgmental comment on this whole thread. Nice work, Ben. Unreal. Do you make such assumptions about everyone who isn’t on your perfectly walked path? You’ve got no idea what his background is. What if he converted at a later age? Did you consider at all that not everyone’s path looks just like the prescription?

  • Really? Your using that? Do you guys honestly believe Christ himself would be in the camp of “well, it’s in the 2nd amendment. Sorry it’s killing so many, so senselessly, and small children too, but it is indeed your right.” If that’s what the Mormon version of Christ would be like, yikes.

  • Platitudes are often ignorant and dishonest.

    The fact is; The vast majority of mass shootings occur where there are gun bans. Schools, churches, malls, government buildings, etc…

    When Mormons disarmed the public, they massacred/murdered many of their subjects. (Mountain Meadows massacre)

    When Nazis disarmed the public, they massacred/murdered many of their subjects.

    Guns should be taken away from sociopaths and violent criminals. Regretfully many people that are leaders; are sociopaths and violent criminals. A well armed public helps keep our leaders in check. That’s one of the many reasons our Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.

    When I went to school, we would meet after school in the school parking lot with guns and ammunition to go on school sanctioned shooting events with our teachers after school.

    When my father went to school, they would meet after school with guns, ammunition and teachers for a school sanctioned shooting events in the basement of the school. The basement of the school was a shooting range.

    When my grandfather went to school; many of the schools and churches had gun racks. People (including children) would carry guns on the way back and forth from schools, churches and towns for self protection and for hunting to put food on the table.

    Each generation seems to have more eroded rights and seems to become less responsible and less knowledgeable at handling firearms. School and shootings are becoming more frequent.

    The two largest non-combat mass killings in the United States were not done with guns. Box cutters/airplanes, dynamite, and gasoline were responsible for some of the largest mass killings in the United States.