When National Public Radio wanted to test the National Rifle Association’s claim that the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” it went looking for one man.
It found the Tacoma comedian still living in his hometown, still paralyzed from the Nov. 20, 2005, Tacoma Mall shooting – and still certain that by confronting convicted shooter Dominick S. Maldonado that day, he saved others from harm.
“I had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and I had a gun that day,” said McKown, who worked in one of the mall shops. “I’d been trained, and this is what I’d said I’d do in those circumstances.
“If the Police Department had been on the scene, I’d have gotten out of the way. They weren’t, so it was my job to stand up and try to stop him.”
Maldonado had already shot and wounded six people that day before being confronted by McKown, who had his hand on his gun — but didn’t have it drawn.
“I told him, ‘Young man, I think you need to put your weapon down.’” McKown recalled Friday. “Then I drew my gun and aimed it at his face.”
In the instant before McKown might have fired, Maldonado fired five times, hitting McKown with three shots, grazing him with two others. The first shot struck McKown, now 45, in the stomach and ripped through his spinal cord.
“I didn’t know it then, but (Maldonado) walked into the shop next door to where I was on the ground, and didn’t fire another shot,” McKown said.
The walls of McKown’s living room show the national response his actions — and his wounds — inspired.
Then-President George Bush wrote to him, and several organizations named McKown a hero. Another hero the day of the shooting, a Fort Lewis-based sergeant named Moses Martinez, was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for tending to McKown.
Moses had the medal engraved with McKown’s name and gave it to the comedian.
Now that gun control has again polarized lawmakers, McKown was asked whether he agreed with anything in the proposed gun-control laws.
“If untracked guns are going to be sold at gun shows, then register the large-capacity magazines,” McKown said.
Though he’s not an NRA member – “I’ve got ADD; I keep forgetting to join” — McKown believes the issue of gun control is off-target. He agrees with those who insist the problem is the mental health system.
“We trust the people with severe mental health problems to take their meds,” McKown said. “When they don’t, bad things happen.”
Being shot and paralyzed from the waist down didn’t change McKown’s thoughts on his own gun. He still has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, still carries his gun when he leaves home, unless he’s going to a bar.
And yes, McKown said, he’d do much the same thing today as he did Nov. 20, 2005.
“Now I wouldn’t have the option of running away,” he said, motioning to his wheelchair.
“If I see someone breaking into a car, that’s a 911 call. If I see someone shooting up a public place, I can make that call, too. I will intervene unless or until I see someone more qualified.
“If you see someone choking, you ask, ‘Is there a doctor here?’ But if there’s not, you try to help. If some maniac tries to shoot up the place, I’ll be there to try and stop him.”
McKown is still active in comedy, though many nightclubs don’t have stages with wheelchair access. Working with a co-op of comics known as Comedy Kaleidoscope, he has filmed four episodes of “Comics on Comics” — comedians talking about comic book characters — and two of them can be seen on YouTube.
“I’m disabled, finances are an issue, and I have random, chronic pain,” McKown said. “I might have one bad, bad day a week. I might have 10 good days, then a bad week. I’m working on a pair of books, one on my life starting with the day of the shooting, another a fantasy.
“When I’ve been out of the house in public, I’ve probably been recognized every day since I was shot. I think they appreciate what I did. I tried to be a hero.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com