CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard Geese, 57, remembers a time before each mass shooting was immediately followed by the dread of the next deadly encounter expected to be right around the corner.
Geese resides in Champaign today but in 1995, he was stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina when a fellow soldier opened fire during a routine PT exercise.
“You know what every single person goes through in every single shooting because you never forget,” Geese shared during an interview at his home.
The memory weighs especially heavy exactly a week after seven were killed and dozens more injured by gunshots in the Chicago suburb city of Highland Park when more than 70 rounds were fired into a crowd celebrating Independence Day.
“Every time there’s a mass shooting, you never forget,” Geese said.
He recalled the chaos on that cool, foggy fall morning — October 27, 1995 — when he survived a shooting attack targeting his infantry regiment within the 82nd Airborne Division.
“This was just another routine PT formation,” Geese said.
Visibility was limited. Soldiers were gathered in a grassy field, “like a big football field…It’s down in a bowl, and there was a wood line on three sides of it, and there’s a little hill on the front. But on the front, there are also grandstands.”
“When the shooting started, you couldn’t tell where it was, where it was coming from. You had no idea. You could hear it, but you couldn’t see it.”
Fellow soldier William Kreutzer Jr. was later convicted of killing an officer and wounding 18 other soldiers. The man who died, Maj. Stephen Badger, was two rows from Geese’s position and fell right before his eyes.
“I never forget the absolute fear I had. Yeah, because like I said, you know, this wasn’t 82nd Airborne engaging a shooter, this is a bunch of guys and T-shirts and shorts running for their lives. You know, we were just horrified,” Geese said.
By noon, there was another PT formation, Geese said. “We just kept driving.”
“Everyone thought it was just like a comet, just something that never, ever happens.”
Geese said he didn’t dwell on it much for several years after that day. He retired from the Army in 1996 and returned home, settling in central Illinois.
Everything came flooding back when a gunman killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
“I couldn’t understand,” Geese remembered. “You know, high school students were in their own high school shooting their friends, you know, that just really, really took a long time to process.”
Then came December 14, 2012 and the massacre of 20 six and 7-year-olds and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Geese called that moment “rock bottom” for the U.S.
“That was probably one of the saddest days of my life,” he said.
“I can’t imagine looking at even what I went through, through a 9-year-old’s eyes.”
Elementary school students were targeted again in Uvalde, Texas in May. And when gunfire hit parade-goers on the 4th of July in Highland Park, there were sobering reports of kids who knew exactly how to respond.
“You know, the boogeyman doesn’t scare kids anymore. It’s, it’s the real-life things now,” Geese joked before saying in a more serious tone, “It’s got to affect these kids…I mean, just parents even having to look at your kid and, you know, talk to them about a shooter drill.”
Geese has changed the way he runs errands, goes to restaurants and handles any outings in the decades since the shooting at Fort Bragg. When he first retired from the army in 1996, he didn’t see the need to own guns, but now, they’re a part of most household discussions.
“You know, you start thinking more tactically,” he said.
“Going to the movies, you know, I mean, this used to be the place you went to relax. Now, all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘I don’t wanna sit too close to this door,’ ‘I want to make sure I have an eye on this,’ ‘I want to know where the exits are.'”
He keeps handguns and a shotgun ready as a last resort defense. But Geese draws the line at assault rifles, which he defined as anything semi-automatic or automatic with a 20+ round magazine.
“It’s my boys that are going to be on the receiving end of that,” he explained, referring to his two sons who are police officers.
A ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag in his front yard serves as a reminder of how their weapons, and even bulletproof vests, are no match against an AR-15 or other assault-style rifle.
“I was in the infantry for 12 years,” he explained. “I didn’t take the easy route. I was the tip of the spear, literally.”
“They can they can put any kind of a slant on it they want,” Geese continued. “But the only thing the assault rifle is good for is to kill people.”
“I’m a second amendment guy, but I also am honest enough with myself to say, ‘Okay, yes, I like to have my firearms, but I don’t need that one.”
He’s asking other Americans to take that same inventory, knowing the carnage will continue without change.
“The right to live is more important than the right to have an assault rifle,” he concluded.
“You can drive a vehicle, you just don’t have to drive a tank. You can fly a helicopter, you just don’t have to fly an Apache. You know, you can have a gun, you just don’t have to have that gun. And, you know, I think that’s a start, you know, at least get everything on a level field. Right now, you know, mass shooters have the upper hand.”
Every shooting referenced above — the ones that stand out to Geese over the years — were carried out using assault-style rifles.
Gun violence reasearch group Everytown for Gun Safety found they accounted for 16% of U.S. mass shootings between 2009 and 2020, but assault weapons were behind a quarter of the death toll and 76% of all mass shooting injuries.
As for large-capacity magazines — allowing a shooter to fire in rapid succession– those were involved in more than half of mass shootings in those 12 years.
Lawmakers push for Assault Rifle ban
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — In the wake of the Highland Park mass shooting that left 7 people dead, Illinois lawmakers are exploring ways to prevent tragedies.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Maura Hirschauer (D-West Chicago) was filed in January to ban assault weapons in Illinois. It had no movement during session, but in the days after the Highland Park mass shooting, 50 democratic lawmakers signed on to the bill.
But a large group of lawmakers throwing their support doesn’t mean this is becoming a law.
“It’s symbolic to a certain degree because we’re sending a strong message with that many co-sponsors that we stand unified,” Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said. “We don’t support weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people that are not in the armed services to fight the enemy.”
This isn’t the first time Illinois legislators proposed an assault weapons ban. A nearly identical bill was filed in 2019 with no progress. In 2018, an assault weapon ban bill passed the senate, but died in the House.
Seven other states – California, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii – all have assault weapon bans. Several local governments in Illinois, including Cook County, and the city of Highland Park also have bans on assault weapons.
Governor J.B. Pritzker and Highland Park mayor Nancy Rotering joined President Joe Biden on Monday to celebrate the passing of the Safer Communities Act, the bi-partisan gun legislation Congress created after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The new law strengthens background checks for people under the age of 21, and funds mental health and crisis intervention programs.
“When 83 bullets can be fired within less than a minute, there’s something wrong with people having weapons that can do that,” Governor Pritzker said.
Biden called for a national assault weapons ban, and Pritzker echoed the need for a national law over a patchwork of state legislation.
“You know, we can do our best and we believe strongly in the state of Illinois, in protecting our citizens from these kinds of weapons.” Pritzker said. “But if the states around us don’t, then what are we to do?”