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Nation

Grieving father drives gun debate after Calif. shootings

LOS ANGELES — Richard Martinez says he never set out to be a face of the gun-control movement and has no interest in taking deer rifles and shotguns from the hands of hunters. After all, he used to be one.

But Martinez plans to do whatever he can to keep guns out of the hands of people who use them for mass killings, the latest of which took the life of his 20-year-old son and five other students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Martinez, a 60-year-old criminal defense lawyer, took center stage in the gun debate when he showed up uninvited before a sheriff’s news conference a day after the May 23 killings. He stepped before a bank of microphones, and in a voice filled with rage and grief blamed the death of Christopher Michaels-Martinez on ‘‘craven, irresponsible politicians’’ who won’t pass stricter gun-control laws.

‘‘They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live?’’ he wailed. ‘‘When will this insanity stop?’’

On Thursday, an exhausted Martinez said he had hardly slept since that day, his hours filled with planning his only child’s funeral while fielding calls from around the world. News organizations from Canada, Great Britain, and Australia want to interview him. Other people just want to say they’re sorry.

‘‘I tell them, ‘Look, I don’t need your sympathy. What I need is for you to DO something,’ ’’ Martinez said during a lengthy, phone interview.

That something, he said, would be urging the nation’s leaders to engage in a serious discussion about restricting the availability of powerful, semiautomatic weapons such as the ones a lonely, troubled young man used to randomly shoot Michaels-Martinez and two other students near campus after stabbing three people to death at the apartment the killer shared with at least two of those victims.

Police think Elliot Rodger, 22, shot and killed himself after crashing his car as officers moved in.

Nearly overnight, Martinez has become a recognizable figure in hotels, restaurants, and on the streets near the Santa Barbara campus.

‘‘I didn’t choose this,’’ Martinez said, adding that he believes responsible people have a right to keep guns for hunting, target shooting, and their own safety. ‘‘I grew up on a farm and I had guns,’’ he said.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army and served two years as a military police officer in Germany. He had to draw his weapon once to put an end to a domestic dispute. ‘‘I was prepared to use it if I had to,’’ he said.

Martinez, however, said he just cannot fathom the proliferation of high-powered, semiautomatic weapons in America.

‘‘How,’’ he asked of Rodger’s weapons cache, ‘‘does a troubled kid who clearly had problems wind up with 400 rounds of ammunition and three semiautomatic handguns?’’

A single father, Martinez said he was close to his son. They called each other and texted several times a week. Two years ago, they traveled to the East Coast together when Michaels-Martinez was trying to decide which college to attend.

Martinez said his son expected to graduate from UCSB in 2015 after just three years and planned to follow his father’s path as a lawyer.

Less than an hour before he died, the son was on the phone excitedly telling his father that his new girlfriend planned to introduce him to her parents the following week. Martinez later met the parents at a memorial service for victims of the rampage.

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