Posted 12/5/18


Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  State and Federal laws generally prohibit gun possession by the adjudicated  mentally ill and by subjects of a domestic violence restraining order. According to a nationally-representative survey of 5,653 persons 18 and older, about 10 percent of the adult population self-reports substantial “anger traits” and keeps guns at home, while about 1.6 percent self-reports such traits and carries a gun (those required to do so by their job were excluded.) However, only a very small slice of this problematic group – 13.2 percent of the angry, gun-at-home cohort and only 16.3 percent of the angry gun-packers – has been hospitalized for a mental health problem, thus automatically denying them the right to have guns. It’s their far greater number of non-adjudicated, gun-possessing peers that “Red Flag” laws are meant to address.

     Unlike Red Flag laws that simply command alleged possessors to give up their guns (if needed, search warrants must be separately obtained), Connecticut’s statute, which was first out of the gate in 1999, directs officers to conduct a search and seize the guns they find. It was at first applied sparsely, generating about 20 seizure orders a year. But its use jumped after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, with 100 warrants in 2011, 139 in 2012, 183 for the full year 2013, and 150 or more during each subsequent year through 2017.

     A study published in Law and Contemporary Problems examined the statute’s effects between its enactment and June, 2013. During this period judges issued 762 Red Flag warrants. Twenty-one of the named defendants subsequently committed suicide, six by gun and fifteen by other means (e.g., pills).

     What did the law accomplish? Persons served with warrants who thereafter committed suicide were less likely to do so with guns (6/21, 29 percent) than adults of the same gender in the general population (35 percent), and far less often than gun owners (65 percent.) Applying what’s known about the efficacy of suicide methods, researchers estimated that Red Flaggers attempted suicide 142 times post-seizure, seven times with a gun and 135 times by other means. After an elaborate process, the authors concluded that one life was saved for every ten to twenty seizures. Computations that led to the less effective estimate (1/20) were based on the suicidal inclinations of Connecticut gun owners at large, while the other extreme (1/10) reflected the fact that Red Flaggers were at special risk, with a suicide rate forty times that of the general population.

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     RedFlagCT1Guns are a particularly effective means of killing oneself, so the law’s deterrent effect on gun slinging seems a good thing. Just how good was it? Had members of the group not been “flagged,” retaining their access to firearms and lethal inclinations, they might have turned to guns in, say, seventy percent of suicide attempts. If so, there would have been eighty-two additional gun deaths and ten fewer by other means, yielding a total of ninety-three fatalities instead of twenty-one.

     Psychiatric Services (abstract online) recently published a study that analyzed the effectiveness of Red Flag laws in Connecticut and Indiana. Using a quasi-experimental approach, it compared their post-enactment suicides to control groups of non-Red Flag law states whose pre-law characteristics were weighted to provide a close initial match.

     RedFlagCTAs we mentioned in Part I, Connecticut’s unique Red Flag law authorizes search and seizure. Its effect on suicide was separately computed for two periods: enactment to 2007 and 2007 to 2015, when enforcement sharply increased because of the Virginia Tech massacre. For the first period, the authors reported 1.6 percent fewer firearm suicides than the control group but 5.7 percent more suicides by other means. For the second period the corresponding figures were a 13.7 decrease (matched by few control states) and a 6.5 percent increase (common among the control states). Compared to the controls, the authors estimated that during 2007-2015, when Connecticut suffered 3086 suicides, 933 by gun and 2153 by other means, its Red Flag law prevented 128 of the former but caused 140 of the latter, increasing the overall toll by twelve, or about .4 percent (3086-12/12 x 100).

     RedFlagINIndiana’s Red Flag approach (also reported in Part I) is more conventional. Its gun to non-gun displacement effect also seemed far milder than Connecticut’s. During a ten-year post-law period (2005-2015) the state suffered 9533 suicides, 5105 by gun and 4428 by other means. Compared to the control group, its Red Flag law reportedly prevented 383 gun suicides while causing 44 non-gun suicides, yielding a net decrease of 339 suicides, or about 3.4 percent (9533+339/339 x 100).

     In all, the study praised the tendency of Red Flag laws to reduce gun suicides but warned of increases in non-gun suicides, which seemed particularly pronounced in Connecticut.

     Alas, what Red Flag laws can’t seem to extinguish is the urge to kill oneself. When deeply troubled persons want to commit suicide, discouraging their access to firearms is not an effective long-term solution. In any event, suicide isn’t what these laws were originally intended to prevent. From the very beginning their avowed purpose has been to stamp out the scourge of mass killings that have shaken America to the core.

     Yet Red Flaggers aren’t your archetypical criminal. Convicted felons and some categories of violent misdemeanants, including those convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence protective order, are already prohibited from having guns by state and/or Federal laws. Same goes for persons who have been formally adjudicated as mentally defective (click here for a Federal gun law summary then scroll down for the state law chart.) Red Flaggers, on the other hand, are neither fully “criminal” nor fully “crazy.” Indeed, their marginal status is precisely why gun seizure laws have come to be. And while the process is conceptually simpler than civil commitment, what’s required to use these “obscure” laws may be is far from trivial:

    Do I think [the law] when it was written, when it was drafted, and how it had been utilized pre-Sandy Hook—was effective? No, I don’t believe it was effective. Why? It was an obscure statute. It was something that was labor-intensive. It was something that required an affiant, a co-affiant, supervisor’s review, State’s attorney’s office review, and approval and a judge’s signature and then, of course, execution on that warrant….(p. 196)

     That sentiment, expressed by a former cop, was ridiculed by a police “administrator” who insisted what the entire Red Flag process could be easily accomplished “within a few hours’ time”:

    I mean, most of it is a [three to five] line narrative. You know, “We got a report of a guy wanted to commit suicide. I showed up, he was sitting in the corner with a loaded .357. He said to me, he wanted to commit suicide. I talked to him and he put it down….” The judge’s phone rings at two o’clock in the morning, it’s us, and one of us drives over there with a warrant. He reviews it, signs off on the bottom of it, we go back and we take all the guns. In the meantime, officers are sitting at the location where all the guns are, and securing it…We get the warrant signed, we go back to the house and we collect everything related to the gun….

     These words perplexed your blogger, who spent more than a few hours on the street (albeit, in pre-Red Flag days.) Tying up a beat for hours may be theoretically possible in some places, on a very slow day. One can’t imagine trying to do it in smaller cities, where an entire “shift” might mean three cops, or in larger jurisdictions when there’s been a shooting or other violent crime and calls are coming in.

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     There’s an even more vexing issue, which neither journal article probed. Prompted by the June 28 murder of five employees at an Annapolis newspaper, Maryland enacted a Red Flag law, which took effect on October 1. As we mentioned in Part I, on November 5, in the same Maryland county, an officer shot and killed the subject of a seizure order who got into a wrestling match with the cop’s partner over a gun.

     Stirring up potentially dangerous people is, well, potentially dangerous. Yet Red Flag laws may never meet their goal of preventing a mass shooting unless their use is vastly expanded. But doing it legally and safely calls for robust levels of police staffing, with tactical units readily available to lend a practiced hand. Even then, the environment in which cops work is notoriously chaotic. No matter the precautions, crank things up and someone will get hurt, or worse, and sooner rather than later. Red Flag laws may be “obscure” for a very good reason.


4/10/21  Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced four initiatives to fight the increase of gun violence: (1) An updated ATF study of firearms trafficking that addresses new technologies, such as 3D printers, that allow persons to make guns at home; (2) a regulatory fix that imposes background check and other requirements on the sale of kits that consumers use to assemble unserialized “ghost guns”; (3) another regulatory fix that essentially prohibits the use of commercially-available “braces” to transform pistols into short-barreled rifles; (4) crafting of model protective order legislation to encourage more States to adopt Red Flag laws.

3/25/21  During an argument with his wife a Rhode Island man brought out a gun and asked her to shoot him. She fled and returned the next day with police. While the man agreed to go in for an evaluation, he didn’t consent to have two guns seized. But police did so after he left, and only returned them months later when pressed by his lawyer. He sued over the warrantless search, but Federal courts upheld it under the “community caretaking” exception, which has been applied to vehicles. Whether it extends to one’s home will now be decided by the Supreme Court. (Caniglia v. Strom, no. 20-157.)

1/21/21  A Chicago man who had posted numerous “disturbing” videos on Facebook, including rants in which “he brandished a gun” and “threatened to ‘blow up the whole community’” went on a shooting spree on January 9. Jason Nightengale, 32, apparently chose his victims randomly. By the time he was shot dead by Evanston police three were dead and four were wounded. A fourth victim has since died.

12/10/20  Thanks to the pandemic and civil disorder, Illinois gun stores have been doing “record-shattering” business this year, with many sales going to new gun owners. Aside from more violence,  authorities fear that increased gun availability will lead to higher suicide rates as well.

11/19/19 Social media posts including “kill all women” and “prowling the Seattle streets for women to assault” were enough for police to get a Red Flag order. But two weeks later a judge ordered the guns returned without a mental health check. Satisfied that these were just bad jokes for the man’s friends, he explained that the law did not let him “give the benefit of the doubt” to police.

11/18/20  This year’s surge in gun sales has led to concerns about a corresponding surge in suicide. Firearms are a sure means of killing oneself, and account for more than half of America’s suicides. Suicide is also the predominant cause of gun deaths, with crimes and accidents accounting for about one-third.

10/24/19 At the urging of Attorney General William Barr, in December 2019 the FBI will host a national training session to prevent mass shootings. Local and state agencies will be exposed to “proven models” drawn from the war against terror; for example, identifying dangerous, “extremely challenging individuals” and compelling to undergo mental health treatment before they strike.

10/12/19 California Governor Gavin Newsom (Jerry Brown’s successor) signed a bill that adds “teachers, school administrators, employers and co-workers” to the list of those who can petition courts that guns be seized. California’s Red Flag laws are no longer at “half mast.”

9/23/19 Illinois’ red flag law, which authorizes judges, acting on petitions filed by family members and police, to order that guns be confiscated for up to six months, has been used 41 times since its enactment on January 1. According to an Illinois gun-control group the law is a valuable “public health tool.” But some major cities, including the state capital, Springfield, are yet to use it once.

8/20/19 None of twenty-one California residents whose guns were seized with Red Flag orders was found to have later committed gun violence. While not crediting Red Flag for the outcome, UC Davis researchers thought the results promising. California’s new Governor, Gavin Newsom, said he’s open to expanding the law; for example, by allowing teachers and employers to apply for an order.

6/27/19 On June 14 Lakeland, Fla. resident Courtney Irby broke into her estranged husband’s house, took his handgun and assault rifle and brought them in to police. At the time he was in jail for assaulting her, and Irby, 32, said she was trying to protect herself and their children. Florida’s Red Flag law only allows police to petition a judge for a “risk protection order” to seize guns, and Ms. Irby apparently didn’t think the authorities would do so. Police arrested Ms. Irby for burglary.

6/26/19 On June 19 Adel Ramos, 45, used a high-powered rifle to shoot and kill rookie Sacramento, Calif. police officer Tara O’Sullivan, 26, during a domestic violence call. Ramos, who had a record and an open warrant for domestic violence, had a shotgun, a handgun and two California-illegal AR-15 type rifles assembled from parts. This tragedy apparently led California Governor Gavin Newsom to change his mind and endorse expanding the State’s red flag laws to allow, among other things, “teachers, employers and co-workers to also petition the courts.”

4/15/19 Colorado became the 15th. state with a Red Flag law, eff. January 1. But some counties have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and vowed not to enforce it.

4/3/19 Colorado’s Democratic Governor is expected to sign a Red Flag bill. But it’s staunchly opposed by Republicans, including a sheriff who vowed to go to jail rather than enforce it. Instead of taking guns, he favors making it easier to hold persons for a mental health check.

3/22/19 In 2018 Maine’s former governor, a Republican, vetoed a Red Flag bill. It’s been re-introduced under the new governor, a Democrat. As the state’s former AG, she supported the bill.

2/21/19 California is the only state that actively tries to confiscate guns from buyers who were convicted of a felony post-purchase. California, Connecticut and Nevada are the only states that require felons prove they have surrendered guns previously bought.

1/25/19 Zephen Xaver, 21, entered a Florida bank, ordered four employees and a customer to lie on the floor, and shot them in the head. All died. As a youth, Xaver’s dreams of taking students hostage led to his referral for treatment. That incident, as well as his recent message about taking hostages and committing “suicide by cop” had come to the attention of police. Xaver recently told a friend that he had bought a handgun.

12/8/18 Ventura deputy Sgt. Ron Helus, one of the twelve persons killed during a December 7 mass shooting at an L.A.-area bar, sustained a lethal wound from a rifle round fired by a CHP officer as they exchanged fire with the gunman. Ventura Sheriff Bill Ayub said the tragedy may not have been preventable: “In my view, it was unavoidable. It was just a horrific scene that the two men encountered inside the bar.”

11/21/18 Click here for a brand-new L.A. Times interview with the legislators who drafted California’s original Red Flag bill.

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One Week, Two Massacres (I)  (II)     Going Ballistic     A Distinction Without a Difference    Red Flag I

Ban the Damned Things!     Again, Kids Die     Preventing Mass Murder     Routinely Chaotic

Massacre Control     A Stitch in Time     Coming Clean in Santa Barbara     The Elephant in the Room

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Posted 11/21/18, edited 11/29/18


California’s Guv nixes expanded authority to seize guns from their owners

Red flag

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. How can guns be taken away from reportedly unstable, possibly dangerous owners? A dozen-plus states have passed laws that authorize judges to issue so-called “Red Flag” orders (more formally, “Gun Violence Restraining Orders” and “Extreme Risk Protection Orders.”) California’s version, in effect since January 2016, comes in three flavors. Two are ex-parte, requiring pleadings by one side only. Both last 21 days: an emergency order, based on a police request, and a non-emergency ban based on testimony and evidence presented by police and/or close family members. Should petitioners wish to renew either order or secure a year-long ban, a hearing must be called so that both sides can be heard.

     As things stand in the Golden State, only law enforcement officers or immediate family members (that apparently includes roommates) can apply for an order of whatever kind. [That eventually changed. See 10/12/19) update, below.] Feeling that to be too limiting, the Legislature recently sent the Governor a bill that would have expanded the roster of authorized petitioners to include “an employer, a coworker, or an employee of a secondary or postsecondary school that the person has attended in the last 6 months.” But on September 26 Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the proposal:

    All of the persons named in this bill can seek a gun violence restraining order today under existing law by simply working through law enforcement or the immediate family of the concerning individual. I think law enforcement professionals and those closest to a family member are best situated to make these especially consequential decisions.

     Then, a mere six weeks after the Guv said “no,” disaster struck. On November 7, 2018, Ian David Long, 28, walked into an L.A.-area bar packed with college students, pulled a .45 caliber pistol and opened fire. By the time the Marine Corps combat vet pulled the trigger on himself twelve innocent souls were dead, among them Ventura Co. Sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Elus, the first officer on scene.

     Sadly, while his horrifying act was unanticipated, the protagonist’s identity didn’t come as a complete surprise. Long’s tantrums had spurred repeated visits by deputies to the residence where the unemployed, deeply troubled young man and his mother lived.  Last year, an officer summoned to the home observed that Long was “somewhat irate and acting irrationally.” But a mental health team decided there was insufficient reason to detain him. More recently, neighbors reported that Long went on a rampage that “sounded like he was tearing down the walls of the house.” Taken as a whole, the circumstances – repeated instances of crazy behavior, calls to police, no decisive action or inquiry about guns – seem remarkably similar to the precursors of the bloodbath in Santa Barbara. Yet by the time of Long’s murderous acting out, California’s Red Flag law, which was intended to prevent such things, had been in effect for nearly three years.

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     Well, mom must have known that her son was armed and dangerous. Why hadn’t she petitioned the court? Likely for that very reason. California’s official courts website cautions against turning in one’s kin and strongly advises family members to let the police do the deed:

    You can ask for a firearms restraining order against a close family member if you are afraid they may hurt themselves, or another person, with a gun. If you are in this situation, it is best to ask the police or other law enforcement to ask for the firearms restraining order…The officer will take the person’s firearms and ammunition while giving them a copy of the order.  You should only ask for an order yourself if the police (or other law enforcement agency) will not do it and you are very concerned.

     According to The Trace thirteen states have Red Flag laws authorizing judges to order allegedly dangerous persons to give up their guns: California, Oregon and Washington in the West; Illinois and Indiana in the Midwest; Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont in the East; and Florida in the South.

     What’s driven these laws? Waves of senseless killings. Connecticut was first out of the gate with a statute drafted in response to the March 6, 1998 murder of four co-workers by a mentally troubled employee of the state lottery. While the bill wound its way through the legislature, two heavily-armed teens killed thirteen and wounded twenty-one at Colorado’s Columbine High School, a tragedy that resounded throughout the nation. That reportedly settled things, and Connecticut’s governor signed the measure on June 29, 1999.

     Five more states joined the parade this year: Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. Florida’s statute was propelled by the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjorie Stoneman High School, in a Miami suburb. NRA A-rated Republican legislators quickly drafted a Red Flag measure, which the state’s Republican governor signed into law on March 9. Most recently, Maryland’s law (it took effect this October) came on the heels of a series of killings: a school shooting in March that left two students dead, an armed attack on a newspaper office in June with five casualties, and the killing of three fellow employees by a mentally ill woman who then committed suicide.

     State gun violence orders carry a variety of legal and evidentiary requirements. (For a precise state-by-state rundown, click here.) California’s provisions take a middle ground, facilitating an urgent response but imposing safeguards when deciding for the longer term. For example, its emergency ex-parte (one-sided) 21-day order requires police to offer “reasonable cause” that the respondent “poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another.” Like most such laws, it also stipulates that “less restrictive alternatives” must have been considered and ruled out. Non-emergency orders (these are also 21 days and ex-parte but can be initiated by immediate family members) carry a burden of “substantial likelihood.” Imposing a full one-year ban requires a full hearing as well as “clear and convincing evidence” of dangerousness. (For a rank-ordered analysis of legal standards click here.)

     Indiana is somewhat of an exception. Its Red Flag law authorizes officers who believe that an individual presents “an imminent risk” to pre-emptively seize firearms (but not conduct a search) without a warrant. They must then promptly obtain a judicial endorsement and proceed in the normal fashion.

     Of course, ordering someone to give up their guns doesn’t assure compliance. In twelve Red Flag states police who encounter uncooperative subjects must obtain a search warrant to look for guns, an additional process that carries its own burden of probable cause. In contrast, orders obtained in Connecticut are effectively search warrants:

    Upon complaint…to any judge of the Superior Court, that [there is] probable cause to believe that (1) a person poses a risk of imminent personal injury to himself or herself or to other individuals, (2) such person possesses one or more firearms, and (3) such firearm or firearms are within or upon any place, thing or person, such judge may issue a warrant commanding a proper officer to enter into or upon such place or thing, search the same or the person and take into such officer's custody any and all firearms.

Judges are directed to refer candidates to mental health proceedings when appropriate.

     Connecticut leaves the entire process to the police. Otherwise who can petition for an order varies. According to the Giffords Law Center Florida, Rhode Island and Vermont limit applicants to police. Eight states (California, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) allow, or will soon allow, immediate family members to file petitions as well. Maryland’s taken a step beyond, letting mental health workers kick things off as well. But no one goes any further.

     Had California expanded its list of authorized petitioners to include co-workers and school employees it would have been treading new ground. But some claim that the state fails to use the authority it currently has. A week before Governor Brown issued his veto, an expansive review by the Los Angeles Times revealed that California judges issued “fewer than 200” gun violence restraining orders during 2016-17, the law’s first two years (no distinction was made as to type of order.) As one might expect, Los Angeles County, by far the state’s most heavily populated at ten-million plus, claimed the largest share: 32, or about one per month. Second place went to Santa Barbara County. Notably, with a population less than 1/20th. L.A.’s, it issued twenty-one notices. Given that the county was the setting for the 2014 Isla Vista massacre, which led to the law’s enactment, its enthusiastic use of the statute is unsurprising. Clearly, context matters. More recently, amidst a wave of mass shootings, Maryland judges fielded 114 applications for gun violence orders during October, the law’s first month of operation. Seventy respondents were ordered to surrender their guns, and thirty-six ultimately lost their rights for up to one year.

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     Still, as Maryland quickly discovered, vigorously enforcing Red Flag laws itself carries some risk. On November 5th. Anne Arundel (MD) police served an order filed by a woman against her 60-year old brother. He answered the door while armed, “became irate” and wrestled with a cop for the gun, which discharged during their struggle. The other officer then shot him dead.

     One assumes this won’t be the last incident of its kind. So are Red Flag laws worth it? For a review of studies about their effectiveness, and our take on their conclusions, be sure to come back for Part II!

For updates see Red Flag II

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Posted 6/24/18


The New York Times affirms its liberal cred’s. And falls into a rabbit hole.

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. First, an admission. A copy of the New York Times print edition lands on your blogger’s family driveway – or often, the front lawn – seven days a week. After all, before ideology hopelessly corrupted the news biz, the Times was America’s daily of record. Still, what it deems “fit to print” matters. And when its talented scribes tackle a topic close to your writer’s heart – bad guys (and girls) with guns – it really matters.

     On May 7 the Times published an article that describes how the policies of Jeff Sessions, the new A.G., expanded the enforcement of Federal gun laws. Here’s how it begins:

    Bobby Amos stood outside of an Episcopal church in Alabama last spring, begging police to kill him. He had been suicidal earlier and held a gun to his head, his wife said, and she had hidden the weapon at the church, where he had followed her to retrieve it. There was little to indicate that Mr. Amos, 39, was a danger to anyone but himself that day. He was arrested unarmed outside the church, in need of treatment and counseling, according to his lawyer, Fred Tiemann. Police recovered the pistol from the building.

     First, a bit of law. Federal law prohibits persons with a prior felony conviction, meaning a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year, from possessing firearms. Ordinary offenders can draw up to ten years, while those with three or more violent felony convictions are eligible for a mandatory fifteen. States also regulate gun possession by felons. Their scope is often more narrow. For example, Alabama’s law only applies to persons previously convicted of a crime of violence, while Pennsylvania also bars gun possession by those with multiple convictions for serious property crimes.

     As your blogger (a retired ATF agent) well knows, “one man, one gun” cases have never been popular with assistant U.S. attorneys, who tend to think of them as beneath their station. But as the Times pointed out, and as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has proudly proclaimed, prosecuting gun-toting felons has become a key tool in the fight against violent crime. Since Sessions took over the Feds have been making far more use of what the Times considers the “relatively routine charge” of ex-con with a gun. One of the “beneficiaries” of the new policy was Mr. Amos:

    Federal prosecutors, citing Mr. Amos’s conviction of felony robbery as an adult at age 15, instead charged him with illegally possessing a firearm. He pleaded guilty in November and is serving a three-year sentence in federal prison.

     Steven Gray was another. On New Year’s Day 2017, officers in York, Pennsylvania reportedly caught him tossing a gun. Gray denied it was his, and his DNA apparently wasn’t on the weapon. Even so, Gray was an ex-con, so the cops promptly handed him over to the Feds. Gray was ultimately convicted of Federal gun charges. What the Times article seems to lament is that even if Gray was technically guilty – and that’s nowhere conceded – he clearly posed no great threat. So why did Session’s minions butt in? Gray’s lawyer had the answer: “Sometimes it appears they’re just looking for numbers.”

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     Having worked similar cases, your blogger knows that even the most convivial Assistant U.S. Attorney wants evidence that prospective gun defendants pose a real threat. Did Gray? Apparently the Times  didn’t think so. So we looked online. Bingo! A York Dispatch article describing the circumstances of Gray’s arrest promptly popped up. According to police, Gray fired several shots (well, it was New Year’s morning), officers saw him with a gun, he had to be chased, and he ditched the weapon as cops closed in. Still, Gray was in a way truthful. The gun wasn’t his. You see, it had been stolen.

     What’s more, Gray’s criminal past is considerably more extensive than the “felony drug charge” mentioned by the Times. According to the Pennsylvania court portal his record (click here for a partial printout) dates back to a 2010 felony drug arrest. That charge was apparently settled as a misdemeanor. Two years later Gray was back in trouble, accused of felony assault and harassment. Those were also reduced to misdemeanors, and Gray drew a year in jail and two years probation. His disabling “felony drug charge” (it should have read “charges”) came in 2014. That’s when he pled guilty to two counts of felony drug sales and got concurrent prison terms of one to two years.

Gray cr record small

     Clearly, the man just couldn’t stay straight. He’s also no youngster, having recently turned forty-seven. Did he simply “go bad” in 2010, when he was thirty-nine? Or might he have a prior record elsewhere? Police and the Feds know. Maybe a curious reader will find out and clue us in.

     So what about Bobby Amos? Might there be something about him that the Times didn’t let on? Well, yes. To begin with, Amos was not convicted “of felony robbery.” He was convicted of four “robberies”, each of the first-degree, meaning that they were committed with a weapon or caused injury. On June 15, 1995 Amos pled guilty to two in Marshall County, Alabama, and on November 13 he pled guilty to the other two in Etowah County, Alabama. Amos got hammered, drawing consecutive terms of twenty and twenty-five years. Incidentally, that information (it’s been rearranged to fit this space) is readily available online. Just fill in his name. Even a reporter could quickly dig it up.

Amos convictions small

     We ordered copies of Amos’ Etowah County court records. (We didn’t bother with Marshall County.) Here is an extract from the first-degree robbery complaint, case WR 94 001874 00, issued by the court on November 30, 1994:

    Before me the undersigned judge/clerk/magistrate of the district court of Etowah county, Alabama, personally appeared James Davis who…says that he/she…does believe that Bobby Neal Amos whose name is otherwise unknown to the complainant did on or about 11/17/94 in the course of committing a theft of $2700.00 dollars of lawful U.S. currency and $406.91 dollars of assorted checks the property of James Davis, did use force…while…armed with…a gun or pistol….

Two days later, Amos struck again. Victim Robert Lee McDowell signed complaint no. WR 94 001879 00, alleging that on 11/19/94 Amos and a gun-toting companion robbed him of his revolver and $2500.

     Amos and his associates targeted victims whom they knew had large sums of cash. That they did so repeatedly, and while armed, explains the stiff sentences. And not to quibble, but court and jail records give Amos’ birthdate as July 2 or 12, 1978. He pled guilty to the Etowah charges on November 17, 1995. Those convictions came when Amos was seventeen; not, as the Times reported, fifteen.

     Most folks would probably agree that discouraging felons from having guns is logical. Yet the Times piece seems deeply skeptical, and particularly about the value of Federal involvement:

    Mr. Sessions’ approach has touched off a debate about whether he is making the country safer from violent crime, as he and President Trump have repeatedly vowed to do, or devoting resources to low-level prosecutions that could instead be put toward pursuing bigger targets like gun suppliers.

Your blogger specialized in pursuing gun traffickers (more about that here). He fully agrees that putting them out of business is worthwhile. It can also be a lot like playing whack-a-mole. Meanwhile, the thug who’ll shove a gun into your face, or mine, won’t be a trafficker: it’ll be someone like Bobby Amos. When they crafted the Gun Control Act of 1968, our nation’s leaders agreed that incapacitating (fancy word for imprisoning) armed ex-cons was everyone’s business. Victims Davis and McDowell would certainly agree.

     And except for its anti-anything-that-Sessions-favors stance, so might the Times. Alas, confirmation bias reared its ugly head. Digging beyond the flimsy excuses offered by the defendants, their wives and lawyers would have undermined the ideologically predetermined conclusion. A superficial assessment was vital.

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     Of course, just because us Times aficionados trend “blue” doesn’t mean we’re all daft. Go online and click on the reader comments. Many support Federal involvement. Here’s the fourth one down:

    As a liberal Democrat with little admiration for Sessions, I find it hard to disagree with him on this. If knowing that illegal carriage of a gun will be prosecuted keeps weapons off the streets, the law is doing its job. When that person with poor impulse control, no matter what color, reaches into his pocket, let him not find a gun.

And to that what can we add but, Amen!


12/2/20   In U.S. v Folajtar, the 3rd. Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that even non-violent felony convictions, such as for felony tax fraud, disqualify persons from possessing a gun. Their opinion quoted D.C. v. Heller (2008), a Supreme Court decision that rejected an outright ban on guns in the home but endorsed “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons.” What kind of felon was never settled, and Ms. Folajtar is expected to appeal the Circuit’s decision to a more conservative Supreme Court.

10/13/20  DOJ announced that a concerted effort by ATF, U.S. Attorneys and state and local agencies to reduce gun violence by “investigating and prosecuting individuals who illegally buy, sell, use, or possess firearms” led to 14,200 Federal prosecutions of gun-toting felons and their suppliers during FY 2000.

8/19/20  A.G. William Barr cited examples of casework in eight Operation Legend cities. So far most of the Federal arrests are for felons illegally acquiring or possessing firearms, and for the possession or usie of firearms in furtherance of a Federal drug offense or crime of violence.

8/14/20  Indianapolis, where homicide has reportedly increased by 51 percent, joined DOJ’s “Operation Legend.” The roster now includes Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee and St. Louis. Operation Legend commits the ATF, FBI, DEA, and U.S. Marshals Service “to help state and local officials fight high levels of violent crime, particularly gun violence.”

8/5/20  Chicago police are quickly turning over felons caught with guns to ATF agents brought in under “Operation Legend.” Federal penalties feature longer terms, and release requires that at least 85 percent of a term be served, avoiding what some consider the state’s “revolving door.”

4/22/20 In Chicago, Jose Flores, an ex-con, awaits Federal sentencing for acting as the “middleman” in buying two assault rifles for his gang, the Latin Saints. When arrested he was carrying a handgun with an obliterated serial number. Flores was being held without bond because of his dangerousness, but according to his lawyer he suffers from asthma and is at special risk during the pandemic. U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer released him to await sentencing while confined at home.

11/15/19 Attorney General William Barr rolled out “Project Guardian,” an initiative that would enhance Federal-local efforts to tighten up gun background checks, target armed criminals and ensure that serious felons who get caught with guns are considered for Federal prosecution.

9/30/19 NYPD officer Brian Mulkeen was accidentally shot and killed by other officers after he fired at an armed felon whom he encountered at a crime-ridden housing project in the Bronx. Although overall crime in  New York City is down, the area, patrolled by the 47th. Precinct, had ten shootings to date in 2018 but fifteen so far this year.

8/15/19 A Philadelphia man who had served Federal prison time for being a felon with firearms fired repeated barrages at police serving a narcotics search warrant. Six officers sustained minor wounds. The suspect eventually surrendered. An AR-15 rifle and a handgun were recovered.

8/13/19  On August 12 veteran California Highway Patrol officer Andre Moye, 34, was shot and killed and two colleagues were injured when a convicted felon whom officer Moye pulled over for a traffic violation opened fire with an “AR-15 style” rifle. Their assailant was reportedly a gang member who had served prison time for an armed assault.

2/21/19 California is the only state that actively tries to confiscate guns from buyers who were convicted of a felony post-purchase. California, Connecticut and Nevada are the only states that require felons prove they have surrendered guns previously bought.

2/16/19 Five years ago a faulty background-check process enabled a 45-year old man with a 19-year old aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi to buy a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun at an Illinois store. His conviction came to light when he subsequently applied for a carry permit, but the gun was not seized. On February 15, as he was being fired from his job, Gary Martin, 45, used the weapon, which was outfitted with a laser sight, to kill five co-workers and wound one. He went on to wound five police officers before cops shot him dead.

8/23/18 Federal prosecutors charged a 47-year old Las Vegas man who bought hundreds of guns and resold them using the Internet. Dozens were later recovered in crimes, most recently the murder of a Sacramento, CA sheriff’s deputy. ATF news release  US Attorney news release

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Ideology Trumps Reason

Posted 3/17/18, edited 3/18/18


Like the Dem’s, the GOP addresses gun lethality with make-believe


     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. It was January 17, 1989. President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George H.W. Bush had three days left in office when Patrick Purdy, a deeply disturbed ex-con, used a store-bought AK-47 type rifle to kill five children and wound twenty-nine others and a teacher at a Stockton (Calif.) elementary school.

     Bush then took over (those old enough to appreciate such things might remember his eminently forgettable V.P., Dan Quayle) Five-plus years later, on September 13, 1994 Bill Clinton signed the law commonly referred to as the Assault Weapons Act into effect. As a Yale Law School grad, the prez must have known that the measure, which was prompted by a series of shootings including the Stockton massacre, had been craftily worded to create the least possible impediment to the firearms industry. Indeed, the so-called “ban” was so easy to circumvent that when it expired ten years later the rabidly anti-gun Violence Policy Center shrugged:

    …immediately after the 1994 law was enacted, the gun industry evaded it by making slight, cosmetic design changes to banned weapons—including those banned by name in the law – and continued to manufacture and sell these ‘post-ban’ or ‘copycat’ guns.

     How toothless was the Federal law? How weak were its suggested replacements? As we’ve discussed in prior posts (click here and here), the original “ban” and subsequent schemes tinkered with ammunition capacity and external baubles such as handgrips and flash suppressors. None dared address that one aspect that makes “assault weapons” so dangerous to citizens and cops: fearsome ballistics, which defeat police body armor, pierce the front doors of homes and kill cops, and force outgunned police to deploy armored cars.

     On April 20, 1999, about half-way through the Federal ban’s ten-year run, two teens staged a massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing twelve fellow students and a teacher and wounding twenty-one others. One of their guns, a Hi-Point 9mm. semi-automatic carbine (it was reportedly used to discharge nearly 100 rounds) came from a friend who got it from an unlicensed seller at a gun show. Hi-Point had purposely designed and manufactured this rifle to avoid the prohibitions in the Federal assault weapons law, and it remains in production in assorted calibers and configurations (including “California Compliant”) through the present day.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Columbine was followed by the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where a senior used two pistols to kill twenty-seven fellow students and five staff members and wound seventeen others. Although a judge had once declared the shooter mentally incompetent, his status was never relayed to the Federal background check system, so he was allowed to buy the guns used in the massacre. This gap in reporting was corrected in a bill signed by President George W. Bush in January 2008, one year before he left office. (Although Congress was under Democratic control, both firearms were handguns, so the incident wasn’t useful in supporting occasional attempts to renew the assault weapons law.)

     But the Sandy Hook school massacre was different. In December 2012 a mentally-troubled (but not adjudicated) youth used his mother’s Bushmaster XM-15 rifle (an AR-15 variant) to murder twenty children and six employees. To date the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history, it took place as President Obama was finishing the third year of his first term. As one might expect, this tragic event invigorated the Democrats’ push for a renewed assault weapons ban. Of course, just like Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama, who once edited the prestigious Harvard Law Review, had to know that the purposely built-in limits of assault weapons laws make them virtually useless in the real world of gun massacres. But as a good Democrat, he pressed for the measure and attacked its GOP opponents with gusto. As one might expect, although the proposal was only slightly more restrictive than the expired law, with the GOP running the House it predictably went nowhere.

     Then came last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Now in control of both the presidency and Congress, the Grand Old Party faced a dilemma. Digging into its basket of excuses, it promptly redirected the conversation to the worst gun massacre in American history, last October’s killing of fifty-eight persons and wounding of four-hundred eighty-nine on the Las Vegas strip. What enabled the carnage according to the GOP? Not the killer’s arsenal of (legal) AK-47 variants but an unfortunate accessory: the “bump stock” that enabled him to mimic full-auto fire.

     Wait a moment! There was no “bump stock” at Marjory Stoneman, only a legal AR-15 rifle. No matter. Whether to draw attention away from the real problem, or simply appease a bunch of high schoolers who ditched class for a day, President Trump finally suggested a ban. On bump stocks:

    Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the Attorney General to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized…very soon.

     As luck would have it, the president’s directive ran into a slight problem. Well aware of its shaky position regardless of who’s at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, ATF, the agency charged with overseeing Federal gun control efforts (full disclosure: my one-time employer) has always been exceedingly careful to interpret firearms laws as narrowly as possible. Its desperation to “get along” was recently reflected in a January 2017 “White Paper” penned by the agency’s associate deputy director, which (of all things) favored legalizing firearms silencers and loosening regulatory oversight. (For our post on point click on “Silence,” below. For an in-depth news account click here. Incidentally, some agency wags characterized the document as a job application for the Director’s slot, which remains vacant.)

     So what does ATF think about bump stocks? It passed judgment on those a decade ago. As far as the agency’s concerned, they’ve always been legal:

    “Bump fire” stocks (bump stocks) are devices used with a semiautomatic firearm to increase the firearm's cyclic firing rate to mimic nearly continuous automatic fire. Since 2008, ATF has issued a total of 10 private letters in which it classified various bump stock devices to be unregulated parts or accessories, and not machineguns or machinegun conversion devices....

These words came from ATF’s December 2017 filing in the federal Register, which invited comments to a proposed regulation that would place bump stocks within the statutory definition of a “machinegun.” Stung by the Las Vegas massacre, the NRA announced that it favored studying the measure. At the same time, it also called for a Federal law to extend right-to-carry throughout the U.S. Meanwhile our Twitterer-in-Chief came out in support of arming America’s teachers. Just imagine the commercial possibilities! New lines of guns and holsters specially designed so that instructors can place highly accurate, devastatingly lethal fire from the chalkboard!

     Sadly, when it comes to America and guns, ideology and selfishness have always ruled. Even in the most gun-hostile states, assault rifle “bans” emphasize everything except what really counts: ballistics. For an example of these laws’ ineffectiveness one need go back no further than December 2015, when a self-styled terrorist couple used state-legal AR-15 clones to murderous effect, killing fourteen and wounding twenty-two at a workplace party in San Bernardino, California.

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     We usually like to close with a catchy sentence or two, but here that doesn’t seem quite as important. In any case, let’s hope that whatever happens with “bump stocks” and pretend gun “bans”, neither courageous high-schoolers nor their elders will be fooled. As long as exceedingly lethal firearms continue being manufactured and sold while our “leaders” wink and nod, kids, adults and cops will keep being slaughtered. You can count on it.


6/3/20  Marketing practices are the focus of an FTC complaint filed by the father of a victim of the Parkland massacre. According to the document, which gun control groups also joined, Smith & Wesson sought to boost the sale of assault rifles, such as M&P-15 .223 cal. used in Parkland, by, among other things, recklessly glorifying its link to military combat rifles, which the M&P closely resembles.

3/14/19 Ruling against Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the AR-15 used in Sandy Hook, the Connecticut Supreme Court decided that Federal Law which shields gun makers from responsibility for their products’ misuse does not bar lawsuits under a state law that prohibits “harmful marketing” practices; in this case, promoting the weapons’ use for “offensive military style combat.”

9/11/18 A JAMA study that compared 248 “active shooter incidents” during 2000-2017 revealed that those involving semi-automatic rifles led to significantly more persons wounded, killed, and either wounded or killed. Percentage of those shot who died did not significantly vary.

9/6/18 To pre-identify students who may wish to harm themselves or others, many secondary schools and universities have hired companies to monitor posts on social media. Some students have been expelled, but there is little consensus about the value of these efforts.

8/12/18 Schools throughout the U.S. have locked down campuses and vastly increased the use of metal detectors and full-time armed guards; Florida, for example, will deploy the latter on nearly every campus. So far, it’s the only state that will also use part-time, non-sworn “guardians.”

5/19/18 On May 18 Dmitrios Pagourtzis, 17, stormed into his Texas high school and opened fire with his father’s pump-action shotgun and .38 caliber revolver, killing ten, mostly students, and wounding ten others, including the school police officer. Pagourtzis also scattered pipe bombs around campus. A good, well-liked student, he had made some disturbing social media posts and his diary contained written plans for the attack and his suicide. But he surrendered to police.

3/21/18 Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, brought his father’s 9mm. handgun to a Maryland high school and opened fire. A school cop fired back. By the time it was over Rollins was dead, a 16-year old girl (his supposed target) was critically hurt and a 14-year old boy was shot in the leg.

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Red Flag (I) (II)     Ban the Damned Things!     Massacre Control     Bump Stocks

Silence Isn’t Always Golden     A Ban in Name Only     A Matter of Life and Death     Reviving an Illusion

Posted 2/20/18


There’s no “regulating” the threat posed by highly lethal firearms

Mass shootings

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “We could not have been more prepared for this situation, which is what makes it so frustrating.” Broward County high school teacher Melissa Falkowski’s despairing words aptly convey the consequences of allowing highly lethal firearms to proliferate in civilian hands. With seventeen presently confirmed dead, the toll of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, exceeds that of the Columbine high school shooting, where twelve died, but is considerably fewer than the twenty-seven who fell at Sandy Hook Elementary. And if we include non-school shootings, far less than the fifty-eight recently murdered in Las Vegas.

     Skim through the “Gun Control” section of this blog. Check out some of the posts linked below. It’s not that America didn’t anticipate what would most certainly happen again, nor, however futilely, try to get ready. Falkowski said that her school trained for such an event. “Broward County Schools has prepared us for this situation and still to have so many casualties, at least for me, it’s very emotional. Because I feel today like our government, our country has failed us and failed our kids and didn’t keep us safe.” When she and her students realized that this was no drill and that an “active shooter” was really about, simply following protocol (i.e., locking the classroom door and being quiet) clearly didn’t suffice. Improvising the best they could, the teacher and her nineteen frightened students huddled in a closet and nervously awaited SWAT.

     Nikolas Cruz, the nineteen-year old shooter, had been a troubled teen. His erratic behavior led to numerous run-ins with peers, teachers and neighbors and to home visits by police. In 2016 Cruz posted online images of fresh, self-inflicted cuts on his arms and indicated that he planned to buy a gun. That led to a peremptory investigation by a Florida state agency, which ultimately accepted a mental health counselor’s conclusion that Cruz “was not at risk to harm himself or others.” But Cruz’s behavior didn’t improve and he was expelled from Stoneman Douglas. It’s now evident that he was the “Nikolas Cruz” who posted “Im going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube channel last fall.

     Still, Cruz’s life wasn’t completely disorganized. A family had taken him in, he was attending GED classes and worked at a dollar store. This job was the likely source of funds for the AR-15 rifle he used in the massacre, which he legally purchased in 2017 at “Sunrise Tactical Supply,” a Coral Springs gun store.  (Yes, eighteen year-olds can buy rifles. But not a handgun!)

     Federal law prohibits acquisition or possession of firearms by anyone “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” (18 USC 922[g][4]). Florida state law is roughly equivalent, but has elaborate safeguards apparently intended to assure its provisions are narrowly construed (790.065[2][a][4] et seq.) However, Cruz had never been formally adjudicated mentally ill, so the options for dealing with him were severely limited. His online activity, while in retrospect deeply disturbing, would have been insufficient to detain Cruz; had he consented to an evaluation, it’s doubtful that a physician would have found him incompetent.

     In January the FBI got a hotline tip that Cruz had expressed a “desire to kill people” in social media posts. It was ignored. Given all the crazy, violent stuff that happens each day, being a jerk, talking about guns and posting crazy stuff online probably isn’t enough. Consider the case of another mass killer, Adam Lanza. In 2012 the unemployed, reclusive anorexic shot and killed his mother, then used her AR-15 style rifle to murder twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he had once attended. According to a detailed official account, Lanza was diagnosed with serious mental problems as a teen. Unfortunately, he went mostly untreated. After the shootings, a woman with whom he connected online said that he was obsessed with mass murderers and profoundly depressed.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Had Lanza been brought to police attention, what could have officers done? Without his cooperation, very little. Connecticut law prohibits those with voluntary (rather than only court-compelled) admissions for a “psychiatric disability” from purchasing firearms. However, Lanza had never been hospitalized for mental treatment and there was little to suggest that he posed an imminent threat. Anyway, he didn’t need to buy guns: he used his mother’s.

     Other mass shooters were even less likely to gain official attention. Consider Stephen Paddock, the high-stakes Las Vegas gambler who committed the worst gun massacre in American history. What seems most unusual about the tragedy is Paddock’s apparent normalcy and lack of motive. Some clues about his behavior have come to light. Paddock, who reportedly wagered as much as one million dollars a night, was supposedly suffering from “bouts of depression” caused by heavy losses. An autopsy revealed the presence of components of Valium, a potentially aggression-inducing drug that Paddock had been using to fight anxiety. Voluntarily taking Valium would not have restricted his firearms rights under either Federal or Nevada state law. So buy guns he did.

     To drive the dilemma home scan the Wikipedia entries for other mass killers, say, Omar Mateen, who gunned down forty-nine persons and wounded fifty-eight at an Orlando nightclub, and Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who murdered fourteen at an employee get-together in San Bernardino, Calif. Based on what was then known, none seemed sufficiently “crazy” to gain attention, let alone involuntarily commit. It’s only when we peer through the retrospective lens that the warts come out. Bottom line: mass killers can easily blend into the background and slip through whatever filters society puts up.

     What can be done? Eight years ago, in “Say Something,” we suggested that speaking out can help prevent the slaughter of family members and co-workers by angry men:

    With more people having and carrying more guns you and I and our families are at increasing risk of being shot by someone who may suddenly go berserk.  Counting on armed citizens to come to the rescue is delusional – in fact, they’re part of the problem. So here’s an idea. Let’s use the White House as a bully pulpit for a national campaign to remind everyone – gun owners, their friends, family members and co-workers – that guns and anger are a lethal combination.  “Friends don’t let [angry] friends pack guns.”  “If your [angry] friend has a gun, say something.” Take out ads in print and on TV, put up billboards, place posters at gun stores and firing ranges. It’s something worth considering.

More recently, “A Stitch in Time” suggested that police officers are ideally placed to identify mentally ill persons who may turn violent and refer them for help, voluntary or not, before the next crisis costs someone’s life:

    First, there must be a process for filtering out persons who most need special attention….This would at a minimum include a substantial history of contacts and…input from field officers, who are in the best position to decide whether…the admittedly subjective threshold of dangerousness has been breached.

     By all means encourage citizens to “say something.” Had officers contacted and admonished Lanza, it’s possible that he would not have carried through with his plot, at least not then. Police, though, are usually busy on other things. They may also be reluctant to stir things up, particularly when their authority is limited. And as we suggested above, many mass killers seem less likely than deranged, impulsively violent persons to act in ways that draw attention.

     Moving away from the whom, let’s concentrate on the what. Each of the above-mentioned massacres was perpetrated with variants of the Colt AR-15 rifle: a Smith & Wesson M&P15 .223 caliber for Cruz; a Bushmaster XM-15 .223 caliber for Lanza; an arsenal of AR-types in .223 caliber and .308 caliber for Stephen Paddock; a SIG Sauer .223 caliber for Omar Mateen; and for Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, two .223 caliber AR-15 variants: a DPMS Panther Arms A15 .and a Smith & Wesson M&P15.

     But wait: didn’t the Federal Assault Weapons ban supposedly put highly lethal weapons out of circulation? What if it was renewed? In “A Ban in Name Only” we pointed out that the law, which limited magazine capacity to ten rounds and prohibited external baubles such as flash suppressors, ignored what really matters. What makes “assault weapons” lethal is portability, lack of recoil, accuracy at range, rapid-fire capability, and, most importantly, their fearsome ballistics. Projectiles fired by such weapons penetrate body armor and create “temporary wound cavities” more than a dozen times the bullet diameter (from Vincent Di Maio, Gunshot Wounds, click here and here).

     America’s cops face that threat each day. Ballistic vests normally worn on patrol are no match for powerful projectiles such as the .223, .308 and 7.62 (the caliber of the AK-47 variant that James T. Hodgkinson used to shoot up a Congressional baseball practice last June.) Just how deadly are these rounds? According to the FBI, 88 officers were feloniously killed with rifles between 2006-2015. The top three calibers responsible were 7.62 (27 deaths), .223 (25 deaths), and 30-06 (6 deaths.) Nineteen of these deaths were caused by rounds that penetrated body armor: three officers fell to the .223 caliber, three to .308, and six to the 7.62. It’s no surprise that American police have taken to using armored cars.

     England also has a strong gun and hunting culture. But that’s where the resemblance ends. After the 1987 Hungerford massacre, where a 27-year old man gunned down sixteen persons with a handgun and two rifles, Britain banned all semi-automatic rifles beyond .22 rimfire. A subsequent mass shooting led to a virtual handgun ban. Now mostly limited to bolt-action hunting rifles, ordinary Britons have carried on chins-up, that is to say, superbly.

     In contrast, when America felt pressed by a series of massacres, it passed a make-believe ban (enacted in 1994, it expired in 2004, and hardly anyone noticed.) Seven States and D.C. have come forward with supposedly more stringent laws. They mostly follow the California model, which prohibits specifically named semi-automatic rifles, including the original Colt AR-15 and its replacement, the “Sporter”, and requires that those with certain external features such as a handgrip have fixed magazines that can accept no more than ten rounds.

     At the risk of redundancy, we’ll point out that as far as lethality goes, these additional “restrictions” are meaningless. Farook and Malik, for example, perpetrated the San Bernardino, Calif. massacre with a pair of California-legal AR-15 clones. (News accounts, summarized in a Wikipedia entry, detail how the couple easily modified the weapons to increase their ammunition capacity and facilitate reloading.)

     In “Massacre Control” and earlier posts we suggested that a point system could be used to score lethality-related characteristics such as ammunition capacity, cyclic rate, accuracy at range, and, most importantly, ballistics. Guns whose total exceeds a certain threshold would be banned. Unfortunately, as California’s breast-thumping “tightening” of gun laws demonstrates, there is simply no appetite for seriously addressing lethality, nor its most crucial element: ballistics.

     O.K., we can’t make guns significantly less lethal. What about restricting their acquisition? On first glance, purchase laws seem like a great idea. But Sutherland Springs, Texas shooter Devin Kelley, who had a disqualifying military court-martial conviction for spousal abuse, bought the .223 rifle he would use to murder twenty-six parishioners in a store. How could that happen? Well, because of an oversight, military authorities never passed on the fact of his conviction to the FBI. In any event, most mass killers aren’t felons. Or adjudicated mental defectives. Or subject to a gun-violence restraining order, an approach that some States have adopted. Many, including Cruz, Paddock and Mateen, bought their firearms at gun stores.

     Then again, it’s hardly necessary to belly up to a counter. Farook and Malik got their .223’s from a friend who bought them at a store. Lanza used his mother’s guns. As discussed in past posts (see, for example, “Where Do They Come From?”) there are so many avenues to gun acquisition – family and friends, illegal “street” dealers, gun shows, the Internet – that getting a gun requires hardly any effort. Had the gun dealer turned Kelley away he could have easily gone to a gun show – Texas has them regularly – and picked up several rifles from a private party without as much as showing I.D.

     Bottom line: as long as lethal semi-automatic rifles continue to be produced, sold and traded, half-hearted “bans” won’t work. That’s why England took its big step, banning all beyond .22 rimfire. And why we must follow.

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     Must? Did you say, must? Shouldn’t we first consider things in an objective forum? For sure. After cranking out “Massacre Control” (incidentally, his 300th. post) your blogger contacted the heads of university criminal justice programs around the country, urging them to stage a symposium that would examine the issue objectively. So far, all have passed.

     Really, in this gun-besotted land, where the forces of selfishness and “me-ism” prevail, only one thing seems likely. Another massacre. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another….

p.s. If you’ve come this far, check out the very last title in “Related Posts,” below. “Disturbed...” is our blog’s very first gun control essay. It was posted December 12, 2007.


2/17/21  On July 22, 2018 a mentally-ill gunman randomly opened fire with a stolen .40 caliber S&W pistol on a Toronto (Canada) street, killing two and wounding thirteen. He then committed suicide. A Canadian court recently let victims’ lawsuit against Smith & Wesson proceed, ruling that the  maker  could have long implemented mechanical safeguards that only let a gun’s licensed user fire the weapon. Canada, which banned military-style rifles last year after a heavily-armed man took twenty-two lives, is considering launching a program to buy back these weapons, as they can no longer be legally used.

2/15/21  Commemorating the seventeen lives lost to an AR-15 toting shooter at a Florida schoolhouse on Valentine’s Day three years ago, President Joe Biden called for a Federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, background checks for all gun transfers, and re-imposing civil liability on gun makers for the foreseeable consequences of the products they sell.

2/8/21  The two FBI agents killed while serving a search warrant on February 2 in Sunrise, Florida were shot dead by projectiles from an "assault-style" rifle that were fired through the front door. Three other agents were wounded. Their assailant, David Huber, 55, was being  investigated for crimes against children. He committed suicide.

11/13/20  Syed Raheel Farook, brother of terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, was sentenced to probation for helping his Russian-born sister-in-law emigrate to the U.S. by arranging a pretend marriage between her and Enrique Marquez Jr., the man who obtained the guns for the San Bernardino massacre.

10/23/20  Enrique Marquez Jr., 28 was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for conspiring with Farook and Malik, who perpetrated the San Bernardino massacre, to commit terrorist attacks and for supplying the AR-15 rifles used by the couple. Marquez bought the weapons at a gun store.

8/14/20  Applying a standard of “strict scrutiny,” a Federal appeals panel ruled, 2-1, that California’s ban on magazines that hold ten or more rounds (i.e., “high-capacity”) violates the Second Amendment.  Mass shootings don’t require such magazines. And state bans won’t necessarily have an effect, since assailants often use multiple firearms and bring in large-capacity magazines from other states.

8/4/20  A 2018 YouGov nationally representative survey of 1,100 adults about regulating firearms lethality revealed considerable overall support for banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. However, Republicans, conservatives, gun owners and, especially, NRA members, were far more likely to consider mass shootings as “the price of liberty.”

7/9/20  Louis Lane, 31, was fired from his Red Bluff (Calif.) Walmart job in 2019 for not showing up. On June 27 he returned armed with an “AR-type” rifle and opened fire, killing one and wounding four before police shot him dead. In 2018 his “suspicious behavior” in the parking lot of a Nevada airport led police to detain him. Officers found a loaded pistol in his waistband and a 7.62mm rifle and “numerous” loaded magazines in his vehicle. But he avoided becoming a felon. A felony concealed weapons charge was dismissed and he pled guilty to misdemeanor under the influence (he had reportedly been using meth and alcohol).

6/3/20  Marketing practices are the focus of an FTC complaint filed by the father of a victim of the Parkland massacre. According to the document, which gun control groups also joined, Smith & Wesson sought to boost the sale of assault rifles, such as M&P-15 .223 cal. used in Parkland, by, among other things, recklessly glorifying its link to military combat rifles, which the M&P closely resembles.

3/28/20 Two articles in a special issue of Criminology & Public Policy, “Assessing the potential.....” by Christopher S. Koper, and “Evidence concerning the regulation....” by Daniel W. Webster,  Alexander D. McCourt, Cassandra K. Crifasi, Marisa D. Booty and Elizabeth A. Stuart, report that restricting large-capacity magazines reduces the frequency of mass shootings. Handgun buyer licensing (but not background checks or assault weapon bans) were also found effective in the latter study.

12/12/19 On December 10 self-styled “Black Hebrew Israelites” David Anderson and Francine Graham gunned down Jersey City police detective Joseph Seals, then stormed a Jewish market and engaged in a protracted firefight, killing three citizens and wounding two officers before police shot them dead. Anderson and Graham took an AR-15-style rifle, a shotgun and two 9mm. pistols into the store. A silencer-equipped weapon and a pipe bomb were found in their van. Anderson, an ex-con with prior arrests for weapons offenses, had apparently posted hateful messages on social media and mentioned past massacres.

10/26/19 Dick’s Sporting Goods sells guns. But it no longer sells assault-style weapons or high capacity magazines and requires all gun buyers to be at least 21. That decision was made by C.E.O. Ed Stack after the 2018 Parkland, Fla. high school massacre. He concedes these steps won’t eliminate all mass shootings. “But there will be less loss of life if an assault-style rifle isn’t used. And if we do all those things and we save one life, in my mind it’s all worth it.”

9/20/19 According to Colt Firearms “a pretty sharp decline in rifle sales” and a “significant inventory buildup by our distributors” has led it to suspend production of civilian versions of the AR-15. Colt will focus on police and military orders, which, it says, are “absorbing all of Colt’s manufacturing capacity for rifles.”

9/1/19 A male in his 30s armed with a rifle hijacked a mail truck and went on a shooting rampage in the West Texas cities of Odessa and Midland. He killed seven and wounded nineteen, including three officers, before police shot him dead.

8/24/19 Guns recovered by police in California often come from Nevada, whose gun laws are far looser. California legislators are planning to ask their Nevada counterparts to prohibit assault weapons and high-capacity magazines such as used by Santino Legan, the 19-year old Nevada man who legally bought an AK-47 type weapon at a Nevada gun store on July 9, then used it to kill three and wound a dozen at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival on July 28.

8/15/19 A Philadelphia man who had served Federal prison time for being a felon with firearms fired repeated barrages at police serving a narcotics search warrant. Six officers sustained minor wounds. The suspect eventually surrendered. An AR-15 rifle and a handgun were recovered.

8/15/19 Authorities say that the gun used to kill CHP officer Moye (see below update) was a “ghost gun,” meaning untraceable. It was apparently built by completing a partially-machined lower receiver that can be legally bought without a serial number, then assembling it into a weapon using legally-available parts.

8/13/19  On August 12 veteran California Highway Patrol officer Andre Moye, 34, was shot and killed and two colleagues were injured when a convicted felon whom officer Moye pulled over for a traffic violation opened fire with an “AR-15 style” rifle. Their assailant was reportedly a gang member who had served prison time for an armed assault.

8/9/19 Weeks before the El Paso massacre, the gunman’s mother worried that he wasn’t “mature or experienced enough” for the assault-type rifle he had ordered. She called police but apparently didn’t convey that her son posed a lethal threat. He moved out and legally got his rifle.

8/4/19 Early this morning an unidentified man wearing body armor and carrying a .223 rifle and multiple magazines opened fire in a Dayton (OH) nightclub area, killing nine and wounding more than two dozen. Police shot him dead. This was reportedly America’s 22nd. mass shooting this year (at least four dead excluding the gunman.)

8/3/19 Forty-six persons were shot in an El Paso (TX) shopping center by a twenty-one year old man wielding an assault-type rifle. Twenty have died. Police arrested the shooter, Patrick Crusius. He was dressed in a black t-shirt and was wearing earmuffs and dark glasses. Crusius’ online posts depicted him with a rifle, praised the New Zealand massacre and criticized America’s “invasion” by Latinos.

7/31/19 Santino Legan, the 19-year old Nevada man who used a California-banned rifle to kill three and wound a dozen at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival on July 28, legally bought his AK-47 type weapon at a Fallon, Nevada gun store on July 9. Police shot him dead. In a recent Instagram post Legan praised a novel that glorifies white supremacism.

7/14/19 New Zealand began buying back semi-automatic weapons it banned in April, one month after the massacres at two mosques by Brendon Tarrant. Semi-auto rifles are now legal only in .22 caliber and with magazine capacities of less than ten rounds. Semi-auto shotguns have been restricted to five rounds.

6/26/19 On June 19 Adel Ramos, 45, used a high-powered rifle to shoot and kill rookie Sacramento, Calif. police officer Tara O’Sullivan, 26, during a domestic violence call. Ramos, who had a record and an open warrant for domestic violence, had a shotgun, a handgun and two California-illegal AR-15 type rifles assembled from parts. This tragedy apparently led California Governor Gavin Newsom to change his mind and endorse expanding the State’s red flag laws to allow, among other things, “teachers, employers and co-workers to also petition the courts.”

3/16/19 Before live-streaming his murderous rampage, which took the lives of 49 parishioners at two New Zealand mosques, the heavily armed, internet-obsessed killer used Twitter, Facebook and an online hate site to promote a white uprising. Brendon Tarrant, 28, held a firearms license that allowed him to legally buy the two semi-auto rifles and two shotguns he used in the attack.

3/14/19 Ruling against Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the AR-15 used in Sandy Hook, the Connecticut Supreme Court decided that Federal Law which shields gun makers from responsibility for their products’ misuse does not bar lawsuits under a state law that prohibits “harmful marketing” practices; in this case, promoting the weapons’ use for “offensive military style combat.”

1/3/19 Several mass shooters bought their guns and ammo on credit. Omar Mateen got started on his purchases twelve days before the shooting. He wound up spending nearly twenty thousand dollars on guns and ammo using six credit cards. He worried that the authorities might be informed about the purchases, but the credit card issuers paid no heed.

12/10/18 Asked why Devin Kelley’s disqualifying conviction for spousal abuse wasn’t reported to the FBI records division as required, the Air Force agent who investigated the assault by Kelley blamed “stress and excessive workload” that “prevented agents [in his unit] from doing the basic tasks.” A superior confirmed the presence of a “high operations tempo” (p. 99). NY Times article

10/27/18 This morning a virulent anti-Semite armed with an “assault-style rifle” and three handguns stormed into a Pittsburgh Jewish synagogue and opened fire, killing eleven and wounding six, including four officers. The suspect, Robert Bowers, 46, was wounded and surrendered.

10/5/18 A 74-year old veteran and disbarred lawyer who bragged about his abilities with military-style rifles unleashed a barrage from “a high powered rifle” on officers serving a search warrant at his Florence, South Carolina residence. One officer was killed and six were wounded. Five citizens were also hurt. Police deployed an armored vehicle to extricate the injured. More

10/2/18 With few exceptions, such as Florida (see 3/9/18 update), States have not responded to mass shootings by tightening up gun laws.

9/11/18 A JAMA study that compared 248 “active shooter incidents” during 2000-2017 revealed that those involving semi-automatic rifles led to significantly more persons wounded, killed, and either wounded or killed. Percentage of those shot who died did not significantly vary.

8/12/18 Schools throughout the U.S. have locked down campuses and vastly increased the use of metal detectors and full-time armed guards; Florida, for example, will deploy the latter on nearly every campus. So far, it’s the only state that will also use part-time, non-sworn “guardians.”

8/7/18 Nikolas Cruz, the Marjorie Stoneman shooter, told police that that a “demon voice” in his head ordered him to “Burn, Kill. Destroy.” He said he had tried to commmit suicide in the past and regretted that officers did not kill him.

7/6/18 LAPD and ATF arrest ten L.A.-area gang members who were assembling assault-type rifles from parts and selling them to criminals. Forty-five of these untraceable, unserialized “ghost guns” were seized, along with silencers and drugs. The suspects were charged with state violations including illegally manufacturing assault rifles, possessing silencers, and conspiracy.

5/31/18 Videos on Nikolas Cruz’s cellphone announced that he would be the “next school shooter of 2018” and explained why: “I live a lone life. I live in seclusion and solitude. I hate everyone and everything. But the power of my AR you will all know who I am...I had enough of being told that I’m an idiot and a dumbass. You’re all stupid and brainwashed by the political and government programs.”

4/23/18 On April 22 a naked, delusional man armed stormed into a Nashville restaurant and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, killing four and wounding seven. Travis Reinking, 31, was arrested the next day. He had been arrested in July 2017 for breaching the White House perimeter. Four guns including the AR-15 were taken from him and later released to his father.

4/6/18 On April 3 Nasim Aghdam, a woman in her 30s, opened fire with a pistol at YouTube in San Bruno, wounding three. She then shot herself dead. Aghdam, a YouTube user angry with the company’s policies, legally purchased the gun from a San Diego gun store in January.

3/21/18 As early as 2016 school employees and the deputy sheriff mentioned below were so concerned about spoken threats made by Nikolas Cruz that they recommended he be committed for evaluation. His deceased mother’s friend, where he was living, repeatedly called 911 and gave him an ultimatum to get rid of his gun. But police reportedly said nothing could be done.

3/11/18 In the New York Times and Washington Post, illustrated features about the grievous damage inflicted on the human body by ultra high-velocity projectiles such as those fired by AR-15 style rifles.

3/9/18 Florida’s Governor signed into law a bill that lets some school employees carry concealed handguns, bans “bump stocks” and extends the State’s 3-day waiting period for handgun purchases to long guns. It also raises the minimum age to buy a rifle to 21, a provision that the NRA is challenging in court as a violation of the Second Amendment.

3/9/18 The Florida deputy whom President Trump and others excoriated for not entering Marjorie Stoneman High School said that a victim found outside and other indicia led him to believe that the shooter was outside. The first local police officer on scene followed his lead and also set up outside.

2/28/18 Dick’s Sporting Goods, a Pennsylvania-based chain that operates nearly 700 stores across the U.S. under various brands, said it will no longer sell assault-style semiautomatic rifles at any location. Its Chief Executive, Richard Stack, supports an outright ban on such weapons.

2/24/18 A woman who called the FBI’s tip line about Cruz on January 5 said she was worried he might sneak into a school “and just [start] shooting the place up.” A family friend had also recently conveyed fears about Cruz and his guns to the sheriff’s office. Cruz himself called 911 and said that his mother’s death was giving him problems.

2/23/18 A forensic psychiatrist told the New York Times that mass shootings are unlikely to be prevented through mental commitments: “Most of these shooters are angry, antisocial individuals you cannot spot in advance, and even if you could, you don’t have the right to institutionalize them.” Another authored an op-ed to the same effect.

2/21/18 Copycat threats are keeping L.A.-area authorities busy. In one incident deputies arrested a 17-year old high school student who had threatened to shoot up his high school “in three weeks.” At his home deputies found two AR-15 rifles plus other weapons and ammunition. Police also arrested a 27-year old man who had threatened a college. Two loaded AR-15’s, two handguns and a large quantity of ammunition were seized at his residence.

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Sources of Crime Guns in Los Angeles, California     Washington Post     Boston public radio

The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market


Going Ballistic     Two Sides of the Same Coin     A Distinction Without a Difference     “Friendly Fire”

Red Flag (I) (II)     Preventing Mass Murder     Again, Kids Die     Massacre Control     Bump Stocks

A Lost Cause     Do Gun Laws Work?     Silence Isn’t Always Golden     A Ban in Name Only

A Dead Man’s Tales     A Stitch in Time     A Matter of Life and Death     All in the Family

Cops Need More Than Body Armor     The Elephant in the Room     Say Something

Bigger Guns Aren’t Enough     Gun Crazy     Reviving an Illusion     Where do They Come From?

What About Body Armor?     Long Live Gun Control

Disturbed person+gun=killer, disturbed person+assault rifle = mass murderer


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