America TonightMon-Fri 9:30pm ET/6:30pm PT

Mass shooting survivor: Gun violence ‘boils down to easy access’

In 1986, John Moffatt survived a school shooting; nearly 30 years later, he is still advocating for gun control

LEWISTOWN, Montana — John Moffatt still remembers the day he almost lost his life.

In 1986, the assistant principal of a high school in Lewistown, Montana, was preparing for the school’s first big event since renovations: the girls state basketball tournament. But as he walked through the building in the early afternoon, he heard a boom. He ran toward it, up the stairs, to a short hallway, where he saw a student he recognized — running toward him, holding a gun.

A few seconds later, the two were side by side. The student shot Moffatt and knocked him down. Moffatt was on his hands and knees, unable to stand up, when he looked up and saw the student, six feet away, take aim again. He fired — but missed, and fled.

“I got hurt badly,” he said. “But I was the lucky one.”

The small town would later find out the shooter was 14-year-old Kristopher Hans, who killed one and injured three others because he was upset about his grades. 

But to Moffatt, the teen could be any shooter that’s made headlines in the 353 mass shootings this year.  

Every time there’s a mass shooting, survivors are haunted by the memories of the day they escaped death, and are reminded of the fact that little has changed since then.

There were 18 school shootings in the 1980s. There have been more than 100 so far this decade.

Some survivors become advocates. Others retreat and go on with their lives, choosing not to speak of “living to tell” again.

Moffatt says America needs to realize the spiraling number of mass shootings boils down to one thing: too many guns.

“So there's just a preponderance of guns, you know, there's a gun for every person in the country if not more. And so when you have that much, when you have that many guns floating around, I think we're always going to have a problem with gun violence,” Moffatt said.  

Few people have thought as long and hard about that as Moffatt. He’s so dismayed by the rise in mass shootings, at schools and elsewhere, across America that he joined the movement in nearby Missoula to pass stricter gun control on the city level.

Moffatt says stricter gun control is just the beginning.

He wants to look at background checks, at mental health funding and banning assault weapons — for decades one of the most politically divisive gun issues in Congress, among advocates and the NRA.

“What is the one thing that separates us from every other developed country in the world?” Moffatt asked. “It boils down to easy access, and in many cases, easy access by people that shouldn't have access at all to guns what point do you have to say, ‘Hey, this is getting a little crazy. You know, what's the purpose of these things?’”

Despite the current political climate, he remains optimistic that politicians can come to a solution.

“I think there's room for some balance where somebody could enjoy all of the things that legitimate gun owners do. And yet, keep it so the rest of the population doesn't have to worry about you know somebody showing up in a movie theater with an AK-47.”

More From America Tonight

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter