Posted 4/4/21

ONE WEEK, TWO MASSACRES (PART II)

A troubled Colorado man buys a “pistol.”
Six days later ten innocents lie dead.


     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “No family should ever have to go through this again in the United States.” Imagine waiting with your adult son and two granddaughters in a Covid vaccination line when a shooter in a tactical vest bursts in and unleashes a fusillade, gunning down a patron only steps away. By the time that 21-year old gunman Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa surrendered, ten lay dead in and around a Boulder, Colorado supermarket. Among them was police officer Eric Talley. A father of seven, the fifty-one year old officer was first to arrive on scene, and as he burst in to save lives he suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

     And no, that’s not too much information. Officers and ordinary citizens are often imperiled by inordinately lethal projectiles discharged by weapons thoughtlessly marketed for civilian consumption.  According to police, Alissa had been armed with two weapons: a 9mm. handgun he apparently didn’t fire and the Ruger AR-556 “pistol” (see image above) he discharged during the assault. Purposely configured by its manufacturer to skirt bans on assault weapons and such, the AR-556 is essentially a short-barreled AR-15 with a brace instead of a stock. Chambering the same powerful 5.56/.223 cartridges as the weapon it mimics, it fires a bullet whose mass and extreme velocity enables it to penetrate walls and doors as if they didn’t exist. Ditto the protective vests typically worn by cops on patrol. Here’s an outtake from our 2019 op-ed in the Washington Post:

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    California, six other states and the District “ban” assault weapons. But these laws skirt around caliber. Instead, they focus on a weapon’s physical attributes. For example, California requires that semiautomatic firearms with external baubles such as handgrips have non-detachable magazines and limits ammunition capacity to 10 rounds.

     As we argued, those characteristics aren’t the real reason why assault-style weapons are so dangerous. That’s fundamentally a matter of ballistics. High-energy, high-velocity .223-, 5.56- and 7.62-caliber projectiles have unbelievable penetrating power. And should these bullets strike flesh, they produce massive wound cavities, pulverizing blood vessels and destroying nearby organs. Rifles can deliver the mayhem from a distance. That’s what happened in 2017 when an ostensibly law-abiding gambler opened fire with AR-15-type rifles from his Las Vegas hotel room, killing 58 and wounding more than four-hundred.

     We’re not just concerned about rifles. The muzzle energy of ammunition fired by today’s 9mm. pistols can be twice or more that of the .38’s and .380’s that were popular when your writer carried a badge. While ordinary police vests are able to defeat most 9mm. rounds, should they strike an unprotected area their wounding capacity makes their old-fashioned counterparts seem like toys.

     Alissa’s brother worried that his sibling was mentally ill. He complained about being followed and ranted online that his phone had been hacked. Alissa frequently displayed an aggressive side. His high school wrestling career ended the day he lost a match. Exploding in fury, he threatened to kill his teammates and stormed out. His only known criminal conviction stemmed from a classroom incident in which he “cold-cocked” a student who had supposedly “made fun of him and called him racial names.” Alissa was convicted; he drew community service and a year’s probation.

     Unfortunately, that was only a misdemeanor. As in Federal law, prohibitions on gun purchase and possession in Colorado only extend to those convicted of felonies and misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. Bottom line: Alissa was legally entitled to buy that so-called “pistol.” And just like Georgia, where mass killer Long resided, Colorado doesn’t impose a waiting period. So once Alissa cleared the background check he was free to take his treasure with. And promptly did.

     In Part I we mentioned that Georgia got an “F” from Giffords. In contrast, Colorado was awarded a “C+”. The Mountain State does offer a few more safeguards. While Georgia relies solely on the FBI background check, Colorado also runs a State check. Colorado police and family members can also petition courts to disarm potentially dangerous gun owners. Alissa, though, wasn’t a felon. Neither was he ever formally accused of presenting an armed threat. And as far as that AR-556 goes, Colorado law doesn’t address assault weapons.

     Admittedly, it would take a highly restrictive statute to ban the AR-556. Even California, whose gun law strength is rated by Giffords as number one in the U.S., allows versions of the AR-556 with longer barrels and fixed magazines (click here for an example.) But the 2018 massacre at Florida’s Parkland High School led the City of Boulder to virtually ban such weapons altogether. In a bizarre coincidence, that law was nullified this March 12 by a Boulder County judge who agreed with pro-gun advocates that when it comes to guns, state laws rule. In any event, Alissa purchased the AR-556 at a store in Arvada, the Denver suburb where he and his parents reside.

     As we carped in our op-ed and in “Going Ballistic,” firearms lethality is, first and foremost, about ballistics. And those of the AR-556 are truly formidable. Yet not even California, which Giffords ranks #1 in law strength, pays any attention to this pressing issue. And while the Golden State has enacted much of what Giffords calls for (its full wish list is here), California citizens are still getting gunned down. On March 31st., just as we were trying to put the wraps to this essay, a middle-aged Southern California man burst into a local shop with whom he had a “business and personal relationship” and opened fire with a 9mm. pistol, killing four and critically injuring one. Among the dead was a nine-year old boy. His killer, Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, 44 had locked the gates of the complex when he went in to carry out the massacre. He was seriously wounded by police.

     Unlike Georgia’s Robert Long or Colorado’s Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, Gonzalez had a criminal record. In 2015 he was charged by Orange County, Calif. authorities with multiple counts including cruelty to a child. He ultimately pled guilty to misdemeanor battery and served one day in jail. Our court record search confirmed that two criminal cases were filed against Gonzalez within a two-day span in April 2015: one was an “infraction,” the other a misdemeanor. According to authorities, his conviction for the latter was expunged in 2017 after he successfully completed probation. Alas, even tough ol’ California doesn’t prohibit persons with expunged records from having a gun. So by all appearances, Mr. Gonzalez was free to gunsling to his heart’s delight.

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     Where does this leave us peace-loving folks? Would we be safer if background checks were required for private party transfers? If waiting periods were the rule? If cops and family members could petition for gun seizures? If rifles couldn’t have removable magazines? If there were strict limits on ammunition capacity? If manufacturers couldn’t use nonsensical tweaks to magically transform assault rifles into handguns? Gun-control advocates say yes, absolutely. Stronger gun laws, they’re convinced, reduce gun violence. And they insist that the data bears them out.

     Is that true? We’ll have a look at the numbers next time in, alas, Part III.

UPDATES

4/9/21  President Biden announced a regulatory initiative that would expand the definition of a firearm to include kits that presently allow persons to assemble unserialized “ghost guns.” Regulations would also keep manufacturers from transforming rifles into so-called “pistols,” such as the gun recently used in the Boulder massacre, by the expedient of replacing stocks with “braces.” But other gun-control moves, such as a ban on importing assault weapons, would require legislation, and in this political environment enacting new Federal gun laws seems a reach.

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Washington Post op-ed: “Want an assault weapons ban that works? Focus on ballistics.

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Posted 3/24/21

ONE WEEK, TWO MASSACRES (PART I)

An Atlanta man buys a pistol. Hours later eight persons lie dead.


     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. According to the World Health Organization, “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” is an impulse control disorder “characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges.” In the U.S., though, the levers of power are held by the American Psychological Association. And it’s repeatedly refused to officially recognize a like syndrome, “hypersexual disorder,” as a bonafide mental disorder. APA’s dictionary, though, does offer a catchy definition of yet another wannabe, “sexual addiction”:

    The defining features of a sexual addiction include sexual behavior that is out of control, that has severely negative consequences, and that the person is unable to stop despite a wish to do so. Other features include persistence in high-risk, self-destructive behavior; spending large amounts of time in sexual activity or fantasy; neglect of social, occupational, or other activities; and mood changes associated with sexual activity.

     Whatever one calls Robert Aaron Long’s condition, there’s no doubt that the twenty-one year old resident of Atlanta was obsessed with sex. A former roommate at a local rehab facility where Long spent several months receiving treatment for sex addiction said that his buddy was “tortured” by his compulsive thoughts, and especially so because he was very religious. Long complained that he simply couldn’t stay away from massage parlors, which he frequented for sex: “He’d feel extremely guilty about it. He’d talk about how he was going to harm himself.” Yet Long also shared good things about his upbringing. A favorite memory was of getting a gun when he was ten.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Long’s “passion for guns and God” was mentioned in The Daily Beast. His since-deleted Instagram account reportedly featured the tagline “Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life.”

     Apparently, not so much. Long’s parents had reached the end of their ropes. Fed up with their son’s obsession with pornography and his repeated visits to parlors for “massages with happy endings,” they kicked him out of the house. That supposedly happened on March 15. On the very next morning Long bought a 9mm. pistol at a gun store. Like most buyers, he apparently quickly passed the Fed’s automated “Insta-Check.” Georgia doesn’t have its own waiting period or background check, so Long promptly left with the gun.

     His murderous spree began within hours. It would claim eight lives. Long’s first stop was in the Atlanta suburb of Acworth, wher he burst into Young’s Asian Massage. His fusillade left four dead: owner Xiaojie Tan, 49, masseuse Daoyou Feng, 44, handyman Paul Andre Michel, 54, and customer Delaina Yaun, 33. Long also shot and seriously wounded Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, a passer-by. He then drove to Atlanta’s “Cheshire Bridge” area. Long opened fire inside Gold’s Spa and, across the street, at Aromatherapy Spa. In all, four employees were killed: Yong Ae Yue, 63, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Soon Chung Park, 74, and Suncha Kim, 69.

     Informed that their son was wanted, Long’s parents told police that his car had a tracking device. A highway patrol officer spotted the youth and performed a pit maneuver. Long’s car spun out and he promptly surrendered. His pistol was in the car. Word is he was on his way to Florida, where he intended to continue his murderous spree.

     Six of Long’s victims were of Asian descent. That brought on a torrent of speculation that Long, who is White, was motivated by racial animus. But while pundits have feverishly cited the tragedy as the undeniable product of racism, we haven’t come across any reliable information that Long was a bigot. Indeed, he insisted that he wasn’t a racist but was angry at the spas for feeding his sexual obsessions. They were, he allegedly told the cops, “a temptation that he wanted to eliminate.”

     Indeed, such “temptations” abound in the Cheshire Bridge area where Gold’s and Aromatherapy are located. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the zone has been long known as the city’s “unofficial red light district” (click here for the paper’s earlier, comprehensive account about the area’s notoriety.) During 2011-2013 Atlanta police arrested ten employees of Gold’s Spa who “offered to perform sexual acts on undercover officers for money.” Each of the arrested was female, and several listed the spa as their place of residence. According to USA Today all three massage parlors are listed on erotic review site “Rubmaps,” and user comments mention their special “benefits.” Young’s Asian Massage is supposedly being investigated for prostitution, and police received complaints about possible sex work and exploitation at the other two spas as recently as 2019. Yet city officials insist that as far as they know the businesses operate legally.

     So we’ll leave it at that. Our focus is on a concern that your writer, a retired ATF special agent, can personally attest to: the ease with which deeply-troubled persons can “legally” acquire guns at retail. Posts in our Gun Massacres special topic have repeatedly discussed the problem. Long seemed clearly in the grips of a mental crisis. But he wasn’t a felon. He was never involuntarily committed to a mental institution nor formally adjudged mentally defective. So nothing in Federal law prohibited him from buying a gun, impulsively or otherwise.

     Many States have adopted a variety of measures to address such gaps. Some extend the prohibition on gun possession to certain categories of misdemeanants. And/or expand the definition of disabling mental conditions to include voluntary treatment. And/or impose mandatory “waiting periods” before firearms can be delivered. A few have even enacted “Red Flag Laws” (also known as  “extreme risk protection laws”) that empower judges, based on information from police and family members, to order the confiscation of guns from risky individuals

     When it comes to Long, though, none of that was available. Georgia, whom the Giffords gun-control group regularly awards an “F”, has not enacted any restrictions that go substantially beyond Federal gun laws. It doesn’t offer a way to preemptively seize guns. Neither does it impose a waiting period on gun deliveries. It’s basically “walk in with the loot, walk out with the heat”.

     Had he been forced to wait ten days before picking up the gun, would Long have still carried out the massacre? Could a delay have blunted its impulsive underpinnings? Might a deeply-troubled young man have rethought his intentions? It’s impossible to say, but at the very least eight people would have stood a chance of staying alive.

     But Long didn’t have to wait, and the consequences are plain to see.

     In past years we’ve written about other gunslinging youths with long-standing mental issues of which family and friends were well aware. For example, Elliot Rodger. A 22-year old college dropout, he had received mental treatment since childhood. Rodger eventually settled in Isla Vista, a Santa Barbara (CA) neighborhood populated by students. He would soon produce and share a lengthy and chilling “manifesto” that excoriated co-eds for spurning him sexually:

    I will punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex. They have starved me of sex for my entire youth, and gave that pleasure to other men. In doing so, they took many years of my life away.

     During 2012-2013 Rodger bought three 9mm. pistols at two gun stores and practiced with them at a range. On May 23, 2014, two weeks after a call from his worried parents prompted a visit by Sheriff’s deputies (they were satisfied he was o.k. and left) Rodger stabbed three students to death. He then went on a shooting rampage, killing three more students and wounding thirteen. Rodger then shot himself dead.

     Then there’s Jared Lee Loughner. Also twenty-two, and also a one-time student – he had been expelled from an Arizona college for erratic behavior – Loughner opened fire with a 9mm. pistol at a January 8, 2011 Tucson political event. Six fell dead and thirteen were wounded. One of the latter was then-Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az), who went on to found the well-known gun control group whose website we referenced above. Loughner bought his gun at a local gun shop five weeks earlier. On the morning of the massacre he went to get ammunition but his odd behavior led one store to turn him away (he got what he wanted at another store.) After his arrest Loughner was placed on medication and confined to a mental ward. He ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to “forever.”

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      Just like Long, Elliot Rodger and Jared Loughner readily bought guns at a store. Both were free of felony convictions. While each was (like Long) a longtime mental basket case, neither had been committed to a mental institution nor formally adjudged as mentally defective. Both had reached that magical age – twenty-one – that qualified them to purchase a handgun. (Eighteen is the Federal minimum for buying a rifle or shotgun at a store.)

     Before Boulder happened we intended to present data – we’ve put together some fascinating numbers – that probes the effects (if any) of waiting periods and such on State homicide rates. But things have changed. So once we collect enough information about the Colorado massacre we’ll be back with Part II. Hopefully that will conclude the series.

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Red Flag (I)  (II)     Do Gun Laws Work?     Massacre Control     A Lost Cause

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