By Sarah Gray
February 20, 2018

“I was almost a school shooter,” Aaron Stark wrote in a letter to Denver’s local station 9 News. “I am not a school shooter because I didn’t have access to guns.”

The letter, which was printed in full by the station’s show Next with Kyle Clark, goes on to discuss Stark’s violent childhood, his struggles with mental health, access to guns, love and why he eventually did not end up committing violence in 1996.

Last Wednesday, a 19-year-old man allegedly shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Stark says he wrote the letter because his wife and daughter said they couldn’t understand why the alleged shooter lashed out like he did. “Sadly, I can,” Stark wrote. “This is a hard conversation to have, but we must have it.”

On Tuesday, Stark took his message to national television, where he explained in an emotional interview to MSNBC’s Katy Tur why he wrote the letter and what he thinks can be done to stop school shootings.

“I think we really need to have a hard look at the effect that guns have,” Stark said. “Do we really need to have assault weapons? Do we really need to have people being able to go buy an AR-15 when they’re not able to even buy a pistol because they won’t pass the background checks?”

“But the thing about my post was, it’s more than just guns,” Stark continued. “It’s a multifaceted issue. And if you focus on just the guns, then you’ll ignore the rest — but if you focus on just the mental health, then you’ll have missed the gun part.”

Stark believes society should focus on love and reaching out to kids who feel like they have nothing to lose, like he felt back in 1996. While he was a teen, Stark says he was alternately homicidal and suicidal. And in addition to the assault weapons ban (which was in place from 1994 to 2004) several acts of kindness stopped him from committing violent acts.

In one such instance, Stark says he was was planning on killing himself when a friend, who baked him a pie and threw him a gathering, saved his life.

“I wasn’t going to survive that night if that hadn’t happened,” Stark told Tur. “People reach out and sometimes they don’t even know the effect they’re going to have. A kind word, a hug, saying ‘Hey how are you, do you want to come have food with me? Come watch a movie?’ could literally save someone’s life.”

Stark’s full letter is posted below:

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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