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Posted 8/8/22

LOOPHOLES ARE (STILL) LETHAL

Massacres prove no match for America’s intractable gun culture

         For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Here’s a verbatim extract from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. We inserted two blanks. Can you fill them in?

    Without major changes in ___ and public policy, uncounted tens of thousands of people will die each year, with devastating results on their families and their friends. That’s part of the cost of the ___ culture, which, thus far, Americans have been willing to accept.

You’ll find the answers at the end. But for now, let’s assume it’s about guns. After all, in 2020, the most recent year for which CDC offers comprehensive statistics, more persons were shot dead in the U.S. (45,222) than, say, were killed in traffic accidents (40,698). What’s more, only a tiny sliver of gun fatalities – 535, about 1.2 percent – were “accidents.” Nearly all were intentional: suicides comprised about 53 percent (24,292) and homicides about 43 percent (19,384).

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Bottom line: guns are used in an awful lot of on-purpose mayhem. Yet they’re far more loosely regulated than driving, which really is an essential component of everyday life. But at a time when life is consumed by massacres, and fear of massacres, our seemingly best-intentioned leaders continue building on a platform of pretend.

     Pretend? Only days ago, as the country reeled from the slaughter in Highland Park, Vice-President Kamala Harris called for stern action: “We have more to do. We have more to do. Congress needs to have the courage to act and renew the assault weapons ban.” Ditto, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker:
We urgently need federal regulation on the weapons of war and high capacity magazines that are used only for mass murder. Illinois is not an island, and even with … some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, our state is only as safe as the state with the weakest laws — many of which border Illinois.”

     In effect between September, 1994 and September, 2004, the original Federal assault weapons ban – it lapsed as prescribed after ten years – outlawed, among other things, semi-automatic rifles that could accept a detachable magazine and had two or more of five features (click here for Public Law 103-322, 103d Congress and here for a brief version):

  • (i) a folding or telescoping stock;
  • (ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
  • (iii) a bayonet mount;
  • (iv) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor;
  • (v) a grenade launcher.

Some pistols and shotguns were also outlawed, as were magazines and other feeding devices that could hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. A short list of popular firearms that broke the rules were banned by name. Among them were the civilian versions of the Uzi, Colt AR-15 and Intratec TEC-9 semi-auto rifles. However, banned guns and magazines that were legally on hand on the law’s effective date could continue to be possessed and transferred, ad infinitum.

     Did the ban do any good? “Changes in US mass shooting deaths associated with the 1994-2004 federal assault weapons ban: analysis of open-source data” (Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, January, 2019) analyzed 44 mass shootings (four or more fatalities) that took place between 1981 and 2017. Its conclusion, that “mass-shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur during the federal ban period” suggests that the ban was effective. Indeed, its authors recently reported that the ban could have prevented “314 of the 448 mass shooting deaths that occurred” during non-ban periods. Yet they nonetheless cautioned against drawing an explicit cause-and-effect relationship:

    …our analysis cannot definitively say that the assault weapons ban of 1994 caused a decrease in mass shootings, nor that its expiration in 2004 resulted in the growth of deadly incidents in the years since. Many additional factors may contribute to the shifting frequency of these shootings, such as changes in domestic violence rates, political extremism, psychiatric illness, firearm availability and a surge in sales, and the recent rise in hate groups.

Put simply, there was too much else going on. Statistically speaking, the “variables” that would need to be taken into account to credit the law were simply too unruly to measure and incorporate.

     In “Effects of Assault Weapon and High-Capacity Magazine Bans on Mass Shootings” (Gun Policy in America, Rand Corporation, 2022) academics reviewed studies about the effects of assault weapons bans on mass shootings. What they discovered seems hardly conclusive. For example, one author credited State bans with reducing mass shooting deaths, including deaths from school shootings. But bans didn’t seem to significantly reduce the frequency of mass shootings. Again, there were a bucketful of methodological concerns. In all, the reviewers found there was “inconclusive evidence for the effect of assault weapon bans on mass shootings.”

     Your author is deeply skeptical that the original Federal ban, or its proposed replacement, or the State bans, could substantially reduce mass shootings. After all, America has long been awash in guns of all kinds, and unlicensed peer-to-peer transactions are commonplace. Banned weapons that were in the marketplace and in citizens’ possession when the 1994 ban was enacted were grandfathered in. Most significantly, the elaborately-crafted bans have virtually begged to be circumvented. Let’s self-plagiarize from “Reviving an Illusion”:

    Colt renamed the AR-15 the “Sporter”, removed its flash suppressor and bayonet lug and reworked the magazine so that it could hold only ten rounds. Soon everyone was stripping weapons of meaningless baubles and producing essentially the same guns as before.  When the ban, which carried a ten-year sunset clause, came up for re-approval in 2004 it died quietly.

Ten years later, when time came to renew the so-called “ban”, even the vociferously anti-gun Violence Policy Center saw little reason to endorse a re-do:

    The 1994 law in theory banned AK-47s, MAC-10s, UZIs, AR-15s and other assault weapons. Yet the gun industry easily found ways around the law and most of these weapons are now sold in post-ban models virtually identical to the guns Congress sought to ban in 1994. At the same time, the gun industry has aggressively marketed new assault-weapon types such as the Hi-Point Carbine used in the 1999 Columbine massacre that are frequently used in crime. Reenacting this eviscerated ban without improving it will do little to protect the lives of law enforcement officers and other innocent Americans.

     According to the Giffords Law Center, seven States and the District of Columbia presently ban assault weapons. California, Connecticut, New York, and D.C. supposedly have the strictest provisions. Still, each essentially follows the original Federal model. For example, California offers a similar generic definition of an illegal assault weapon. It also bans a long list of guns by name. In an attempt to up the game, it prohibits semi-auto rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have just one (not the Fed ban’s minimum two) extrinsic feature, such as a pistol grip or thumbhole stock. California also bans magazines and feeding devices for any gun that can hold more than ten rounds (click here and here.)

     Problem is, beyond banning very large calibers (.50 and above), neither the Feds nor any State have paid any attention to the underlying reason why assault weapons are so lethal: ballistics. Not one. Let’s self-plagiarize from our 2015 op-ed in the Washington Post:

    One assumes that assault rifles were picked on [by the Federal ban] because they are particularly lethal. Key attributes that make them so include accuracy at range, rapid-fire capability and, most importantly, fearsome ballistics. In their most common calibers – 7.62 and .223 – these weapons discharge bullets whose extreme energy and velocity readily pierce protective garments commonly worn by police, opening cavities in flesh many times the diameter of the projectile and causing devastating wounds.

     Of course, getting hung up on caliber would likely outlaw all semi-automatic rifles beyond .22 rimfire. That, as we mentioned in “A Ban in Name Only,” is how the United Kingdom reacted to England’s 1987 Hungerford Massacre. But like we then wrote, “we’re not Britannia, where a sense of community still prevails.” Acting promptly after the Federal ban, Colt tweaked its AR-15’s external configuration and rebranded it the “Sporter.” And yes, the weapon kept chambering the same powerful .223 caliber cartridge used by military AR-15’s.

     Other manufacturers quickly followed suit. For example, Norinco rebranded its civilian version of the vicious AK-47 rifle, which fires the lethal 7.62mm. projectile. One of their tweaked products (see left), a model 56-S semi-automatic rifle, was used by Patrick Purdy to murder five schoolkids and wound thirty-two in the January 17, 1989 Stockton, Calif. schoolyard massacre. Purdy had legally purchased the rifle in Oregon.

     Purdy’s horrific act assured the prompt enactment of California’s assault weapons ban, which was then beig drafted. Its long list of banned guns specifically includes the Model 56-S, along with the Colt AR-15 and so forth. Not by caliber, though – just by name. Twenty-six years later, when Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik gunned down fourteen and wounded twenty-two in San Bernardino, Calif.,


they used two .223 caliber AR-15 variants: a DPMS Panther Arms A15 (left) and a Smith & Wesson M&P15 (right), which a friend bought for them at a California gun store. All “Panthers” were placed on the Golden State’s banned list, and Smith & Wesson no longer produces the M&P15. But don’t fret! Check out our introductory graphic. That’s S&W’s “California compliant” Volunteer! Per the state ban, its capacity is limited to ten rounds (natch, plus one in the chamber), but it fires the same deadly .223 NATO round as the fully automatic AR-15 your writer lugged around in Saigon, um, fifty-four years ago.

     So what about New York State’s “tough” law? Like California’s ban, it prohibits semi-auto rifles that can accept detachable magazines and have at least one in of a list of prohibited features, such as “a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, a thumbhole stock: and so forth. Here, for example, is a “New York legal” version of the Bushmaster XM-15 .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle that Payton Gendron used to murder ten and wound three at the Tops market in Buffalo on May 14. How does it get away with that pistol grip? Its magazine isn’t detachable! (As it turns out, Gendron used readily available parts to illegally modify the gun to accept a large-capacity detachable magazine.)

     So how does that proposed replacement for the Federal assault weapons ban live up to its “new and improved” label? Just like those “tough” bans in California and New York, the presence of only one “prohibited feature” (such as that nasty pistol grip) would require the gun to have a fixed magazine.

     Problem solved!

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     Well, not really. A far more helpful step would require an honest assessment of the factors that drive firearms lethality. Its impact isn’t just felt by “ordinary” citizens. “A Lost Cause” mentioned that police officers must contend with evildoers who are equipped with firearms whose projectiles readily defeat ballistic garments normally worn on patrol. That, indeed, may be the fundamental reason why cops seemed so hesitant to advance on the madman who used an assault rifle to stage the recent massacre at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. So what can be done? Prior posts (see, for example, “Reviving an Illusion” and “Going Ballistic”) suggest that firearms could be subjected to a point system that scores factors which affect lethality, including accuracy, ammunition capacity, ease of reloading, cyclic rate and, most importantly, ballistics. Guns that score too high could be banned.

     And that takes us back to our opening challenge. It’s from a recent article in our hometown newspaper about the distractions caused by increasingly elaborate in-vehicle digital technology. The answers are “driver behavior” and “infotainment.” Of course, controlling the former by imposing limits on the latter could prove a very tough sell. Kind of like slamming the brakes on guns.

     After all, we really aren’t Britannia.

UPDATES (scroll)

1/9/24  Gun regulations continue to ride a roller coaster. California’s new gun law, which expanded restrictions on where guns can be carried to include public transit and a host of public places, is off again. A Ninth Circuit panel had let the law stand  despite a challenge by gun-rights groups, which complained that it essentially made licensed carry meaningless. But another panel just placed a hold on the bill. So it’s now up to the full Circuit to decide. Meanwhile the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to Illinois’ new gun law. It bans scores of rifles and pistols by make and model and prohibits possessing semi-auto rifles that can accept removable magazines and have any of a host of features. (See below update)

1/2/24  Illinois’ wide-ranging “assault weapons” ban has taken effect. It bans scores of rifles and pistols by make and model. In addition, it prohibits the possession of any semi-auto rifle that can accept a removable magazine and has one or more of a list of features, such as a pistol grip or a thumbhole stock, or has a fixed magazine with a capacity that exceeds ten rounds. Pistol magazines are limited to fifteen rounds. Present owners can keep their guns and magazines but must register them with police. Illinois law (720 ILCS 5/24-1.9) (See above update)

12/15/23  After a three-judge panel left Illinois’ ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in place, the Seventh Circuit turned away a review by the full court. And the Supreme Court just refused to place a temporary hold on the law. So its challengers are left with one option: submit a full-bodied appeal to the nation’s high court. That’s the next and final step.

11/9/23  Going against the current grain, a three-judge panel of the 7th. Circuit Court of Appeals let stand, by a 2-1 vote, Illinois’ ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, which was enacted in response to the Highland Park massacre. But the dissenting jurist cited the “historical” rationale that undepinned the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, and an appeal to the full Circuit, then perhaps to the Supreme Court, seems likely.

10/16/23  California’s on-again, off-again ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than ten rounds is on again as a Ninth Circuit panel placed a hold on a Federal District judges’ ruling that high-capacity magazine bans violate the Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen decision, which requires that gun control laws be historically justified. San Diego U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez had also ruled against the ban in 2019, when he objected that it turned “law-abiding people trying to protect themselves into criminals.”

10/2/23  Will the Supreme Court approve lawsuits against gun makers? Or does the 2005 “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act”, which shields the industry from litigation over gun misuse, allow the unfettered production and marketing of unusually lethal weapons? Lawyer Josh Koskoff, who got Remington’s insurer to settle a lawsuit over the AR-15 used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, is planning a lawsuit over the Daniel Defense AR-15 style rifle used by Robert Crimo III in Highland Park.

8/14/23  By a one-vote margin Illinois’ Supreme Court upheld the State ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines (limits are ten rounds for rifles and fifteen for pistols.) There are exemptions for current owners and for active duty and retired police and military. Governor Pritzker also signed a law that enables lawsuits for recklessly marketing weapons, knowingly transferring them to dangerous persons, and knowingly selling them to “straw buyers” who are acting on behalf of unqualified persons. (See 1/19/23 update)

8/11/23  Suicide in the U.S. hit a reported all-time high last year. According to the CDC, 49,449 persons took their lives in 2022. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over the 48,183 suicides in 2021 and 2.3 percent over the 48,344 suicides in 2018. Firearms are reportedly “the most common method” of committing suicide, responsible for more than fifty percent. Suicide rates have steadily climbed over the past decades, a factor that experts attribute to the growing availability of guns.

5/18/23  Prompted by the 2022 4th. of July massacre in Highland Park, Illinois and the city of Naperville banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Challenges to these laws are coursing through the state’s appellate courts. Meanwhile, the 7th. Circuit, and now the US Supreme Court, have turned aside, without comment, a Naperville gun store’s petition that it enjoin the laws. Petition

5/1/23  On April 25, an Illinois Federal judge appointed by President Biden refused to enjoin Illinois’ new assault-weapons ban, ruling that “the overwhelming interest in public safety” outweighed the law’s possible harms (Herrera v. Raoul). Three days later, in Harrel v. Raoul, an Illinois Federal judge appointed by President Trump enjoined the law, ruling that it improperly interfered with citizens’ ability to “exercise their right to self-defense in the manner they choose.”

1/19/23  Denouncing Illinois’ new gun laws, which outlaw assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, “dozens” of County Sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the measure. Inspired by the July 4th. massacre in tony Highland Park, it was signed into effect by Governor J.B. Pritzker on January 10. Conservative activists and gun groups complain that the restrictions are an unwarranted intrusion into the Second Amendment and have vowed to challenge them in court. (See 8/14/23 update)

8/20/22  A three-month long inquiry into the manufacture of assault weapons that have been used in mass shootings led the House Oversight Committee to propose two pieces of legislation. One would impose a 20 percent tax on the makers of assault rifles, and another would require them to track the weapons’ misuse. Committee report

8/17/22  In the House, the Committee on Oversight and Reform continues to “examine the role of gun manufacturers in flooding our communities with weapons of war and fueling America’s gun violence crisis.” Smith & Wesson’s CEO - his firm made the rifle used in the Highland Park massacre - recently refused to appear. But in earlier testimony, Daniel Defense’s CEO - their weapons were used at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre - insisted that “our nation’s response needs to focus not on the type of gun, but on the type of persons who are likely to commit mass shootings.”



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RELATED ARTICLES AND OP-EDS

The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market (Violence Policy Center, June 2011)

Want an Assault Weapons Ban That Works? Focus on Ballistics.” (Julius Wachtel, Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2019)

Ex-ATF Agent: America is Only Pretending to Regulate Lethal Firearms” (Julius Wachtel, Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2015)

President Obama’s 2013 “Now is the Time” plan to reduce gun violence

RELATED POSTS

What Cops Face      Are We Helpless to Prevent Massacres?      Cops v. Assault Weapons

Loopholes are Lethal (I)  (II)     Going Ballistic     Again, Kids Die. Again, Our “Leaders” Pretend.

Ban the Damned Things!     A Ban in Name Only     Reviving an Illusion

Disturbed Person + Gun: Killer; + Assault Rifle: Mass Murderer



Posted 7/2/22

GOOD LAW / BAD LAW

When it comes to gun laws, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder

    
     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. On June 23rd. President Joe Biden signaled deep frustration with a brand-new Supreme Court ruling that threw out a long-standing New York State law requiring that persons who wish to carry guns demonstrate a special need (New York State v. Bruen, no. 20-843):

    ...This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all....In the wake of the horrific attacks in Buffalo and Uvalde, as well as the daily acts of gun violence that do not make national headlines, we must do more as a society — not less — to protect our fellow Americans....

In the Court’s words, the gun-carry rights of “law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs” – meaning, most of us – are protected by the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. And while it's expected that licensing requirements, age restrictions and (reasonable) limits on the places where firearms can be taken will remain in effect, citizens must otherwise be allowed to “pack” at will.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Only two days later, Joe had cause to celebrate. That’s when he signed the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.” While conceding that it didn’t include everything he wished, he nonetheless called the legislation a “historic achievement” and the most significant Federal gun law passed in thirty years:

“While this bill doesn’t do everything I want, it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives.  It funds crisis intervention, including red-flag laws.  It keeps guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves and to others.  And it finally closes what is known as the ‘boyfriend loophole.’ So if you assault your boyfriend or girlfriend, you can’t buy a gun or own a gun.”

     Unanimous support from the “Blues” meant that passage in the House, where they enjoy a 220/210 majority, was certain. (Fourteen “Red” members of that chamber actually signed on.) Yet even as it came on the heels of two soul-crushing massacres, the Act’s prospects in the evenly-split Senate were uncertain. Fifteen “Reds” – five more than what’s necessary to shut down a filibuster – wound up voting “aye.” So Joe got to pick up that pen.

     What did he sign?

Gun possession

     Federal law forbids gun acquisition and possession by a wide assortment of characters. The list includes felons, individuals under felony indictment, fugitives, illegal drug users, persons who have been adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution, domestic abusers, and illegal aliens (18 USC 922 [g] and [n]). Under the Act, these prohibitions explicitly include juveniles who were at least sixteen when the disqualifying event took place (Sec. 12001).

     The Gun Control Act defined a “domestic abuser” as someone who was convicted of committing a “misdemeanor crime of violence” (18 USC 922 [g][9]) against a spouse or co-parent (18 USC 921[a][33]). Expanding the roster of potential lawbreakers, the Act relaxes the required link between victim and assailant to include a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” Meaning, serious dating (Sec. 12005).

     Firearms dealers are required to process prospective purchasers through the National Insta-Check System (NICS) to determine whether the intended buyer has suffered any disabling criminal convictions. Results are usually returned within moments, but if not, licensees must delay delivering a gun for up to three days. Background checks are not required for private gun transfers, and that’s unaffected by the Act. But now that criminal convictions and mental health issues predating adulthood have come into play,  the waiting period was stretched to a maximum of ten day when the buyer is under twenty-one (sec. 12001).

Gun sale and transfer

     Current law forbids anyone – dealer or not – from giving a gun to a prohibited person (18 USC 922[d]). Individuals who “deal” in firearms must also be Federally licensed (18 USC 922[a][1]). So, just what is a “dealer”?

    ...a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, but such term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby... (18 USC 921[a][21])

     Problem is, guns are frequently purchased from unlicensed persons who offer their wares at gun shows or, literally, from their “kitchen tables.” As long as they’re “hobbyists” or just getting rid of “personal” guns, they need not keep records or perform background checks. In practice, this freedom is often abused, and the consequences are all-too predictable (see “Sources of Crime Guns” and “Gun Show and Tell”).

     Because unlicensed persons are a major problem, the new Act broadens the definition of “dealer.” In the past, that’s meant someone whose “principal objective” was “livelihood and profit.” It’s now sufficient if the predominant purpose is to “earn a profit.” What’s more, no such proof is required for individuals who engage “in the regular and repetitive purchase and disposition of firearms for criminal purposes or terrorism” (sec. 12002). (Note the “regular and repetitive”.)

     To avoid snaring ordinary folks, and likely for reasons of politics and ideology, Federal gun laws have always trod a narrow path. Penalties were also limited: five years for unlicensed dealing (18 USC 924[a]) and ten for furnishing guns to a felon (18 USC 922[g][1]). That’s where the new Act seems at its strongest. “Straw purchase” and “trafficking” – neither was mentioned in the old laws – aren’t just “mentioned”: they’ve become their own crimes (sec. 12004):

    Straw purchase. An accused acquires guns “at the request or demand of any other person, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such other person” is forbidden from having a gun, intends to use it to commit a crime, or “intends to sell or otherwise dispose of the firearm” to a prohibited person.

    Trafficking. An accused knowingly transfers guns to a prohibited person.

Punishment is also stiff. Gun trafficking and simple straw buying can draw up to fifteen years, and straw buyers who know or reasonably believe that their guns will be used to commit felonies or terrorism can get up to twenty-five (sec. 1204 / 932 & 933).

Other provisions

     Most of the Act’s content isn’t about guns. Adult and pediatric mental health are addressed with grants and demonstration projects. Funding is allotted for State mental health courts, drug courts, veterans courts and local extreme risk protection order (“Red Flag”) efforts. An elaborately conceived school safety initiative aims to create a national “clearinghouse” and set out best practices. And so forth.

     According to the legislation’s key sponsor, Senator Christopher Murphy (D - Ct), nothing more could have been done, gun-law wise. His “pretty clear sense of what can get 60 votes” ruled out bans on firearms or ammunition or a national Red-Flag law. In fact, it avoids most everything that the Blues have long championed. Such as:

  • Reinstating the Federal assault-weapons ban
     
  • Raising the age to buy any gun, including rifles and shotguns, to twenty-one
     
  • Mandating background checks for private gun transfers (sales would in effect require that a dealer participate)
     
  • Or better yet, requiring that all gun sales go through a dealer
     
  • Extending the waiting period. Presently, if a background check doesn’t get done within three days, buyers must be given their guns. Can that have consequences? According to the FBI, there were nearly three-thousand mandatory transfers to persons who turned out to be legally unqualified in 2019 alone (pg. 22).

     So what’s our takeaway? There is (very) limited cause to celebrate. Defining straw buying and trafficking seems a step forward, and particularly so given the substantial punishments that could theoretically be imposed. But these provisions are yet to be tested on the streets and in Court. Pouring cash into mental health initiatives and “Red Flag” laws (they’re presently in effect in nineteen States and D.C.) also seems promising. Given some very determined opposition, though, offering Federal bucks may not substantially expand these laws’ reach. And the current lack of centralized record-keeping systems for juvenile offenders could turn extending background checks to sixteen-year-olds a decades-long project.

     Put lawmaking aside. Really, the picture isn’t completely bleak. Existing laws and helper statutes such as aiding and abetting and conspiracy have helped corral gun traffickers and their ilk for many years.  Check out, for example, a recent brag memo from the Department of Justice about the unearthing and prosecution of an Indiana-to-Illinois gunrunning ring. And another memo, about a fourteen-person cabal that got caught trafficking guns from the South to Philadelphia. And for a historical perspective, the many examples mentioned in your writer’s article about illegal gun dealing and gun trafficking, published shortly after his retirement from ATF more than, um, two decades ago.

     No matter the slaughter, a fraught sociopolitical climate promises that any move that impinges on the free movement of guns will lead to a very tough fight. Pronounced hostility to gun regulation is evident throughout a 2016 GAO report. Among other things, our nation’s professional nitpickers pointedly reminded ATF that Congressional appropriations forbid converting the records of out-of-business dealers into a machine-searchable format. To this very day, tracing a gun’s redistributive history requires that one pore through reams of paper or their corresponding images. To get around this “nonsensical” restriction, the State of Illinois just established “The Crime Gun Connect Platform,” a computerized registry that helps State agents develop gun trafficking leads by compiling sales information received from ATF into a “real,” searchable database.

     Could things get worse? Absolutely. Skepticism about gun control has become evident at the highest levels of the Federal judiciary. Consider, for example, the Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating New York State’s requirement that applicants for gun-carry permits show “good cause” (New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. v. Bruen, no. 20-843.) (Yes, it was 6-3, with the “blue” Justices in the minority.) Or that recent ruling from a Ninth Circuit panel that threw out California’s ban on selling semi-auto rifles to persons under twenty-one (Jones v. Bonta, no. 20-56174.) Such as the eighteen-year-olds who staged massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde using assault rifles they legally purchased in stores.

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     These decisions have already had consequences. Citing the Supremes, four CCW permit holders in the nation’s capital filed a lawsuit demanding they be allowed to pack guns while riding in its transit system (Angelo et al v. District of Columbia, no. 1:22-cv-01878). While their complaint allows that certain “narrowly defined sensitive places” may be legitimately off-limits to guns, it disputes including buses and trains on that list. Meanwhile California Attorney General Rob Bonta conceded that his State’s “good cause” requirement for gun carry will have to go. But he insists that the present law’s “assessment of dangerousness”, which draws from “arrests, convictions, restraining orders” and such, will remain in place. Indeed, the law may even be strengthened! A State Senate bill amending it is in the works.

     So far, the core qualifications that gun buyers and possessors must meet don’t seem at risk. Most special requirements such as licensing and training and the places where guns can’t be taken also seem safe. So for jurisdictions that wish to tinker, a few possibilities remain. Meanwhile, ATF and its law enforcement partners will hopefully continue vigorously enforcing the laws that exist. Their efforts, along with whatever tweaks our system may in time accommodate, will have to carry us through the many massacres that regrettably lie ahead.

UPDATES (scroll)

2/2/24  Calling him a “fanatic”, California Governor Gavin Newsom blamed “personal politics and fealty to the gun lobby” for San Diego Federal judge Roger Benitez’s decision to overturn State laws that require ammunition buyers submit to a background check and not turn to out-of-State sources. As he did when throwing out other California gun-control laws, including the State’s assault-weapons ban, Judge Benitez based his ruling, in part, on the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision.

1/8/24  In October 2022 the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act enhanced the process of conducting Federal gun purchase checks for prospective buyers under 21. Among other things, it extended the time frame for reviewing offense, drug use and mental health histories to allow review of local agency and juvenile records. According to DOJ, the additional outreach resulted in the prohibition of 527 firearms sales to young persons that would have otherwise gone through.

1/2/24   Overruling a Federal district judge’s recent ruling that placed it on hold, the Ninth Circuit announced that California’s ban on licensed and unlicensed handgun carry aboard transit and public places such as parks, schools and bars can take effect, as scheduled, on January 1st. Arguments by both sides will be filed during the next two months, and a decision by the full court is expected thereafter.

12/22/23  A new California law would have forbid persons licensed to carry handguns from bringing them on public transit or taking them to a host of public places, including parks, playgrounds, medical facilities and wherever liquor is sold or consumed. But Senate Bill 2 is now on hold. Criticizing it as “repugnant to the Second Amendment, and openly defiant of the Supreme Court,” U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney issued a thumbs-down. California’s A.G. has promised to appeal. (See 9/27/23 and 1/2/24 updates)

12/15/23  After a three-judge panel left Illinois’ ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in place, the Seventh Circuit turned away a review by the full court. And the Supreme Court just refused to place a temporary hold on the law. So its challengers are left with one option: submit a full-bodied appeal to the nation’s high court. That’s the next and final step.

12/13/23  On June 6 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision to mean that it bars lifetime gun possession bans on persons convicted of non-violent crimes (Bryan Range v. U.S., no. 21-2835). According to Hunter Biden’s lawyers, that in effect throws out the Federal law [18 USC 922(g)(3)] that bars gun acquisition and possession by users of illegal drugs. Such as Hunter Biden, whose admitted marijuana use led the U.S. to prosecute him for having acquired and possessed a gun in Delaware, which is covered by the Third Circuit, for eleven days.

11/22/23  Citing the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, the U.S. 4th. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Maryland’s ten-year old handgun licensing law. Going above and beyond the regular background check, it imposed a State licensing requirement that called for fingerprinting, specialized training, and a waiting period of up to thirty days. An appeal by the State is possible. (See 10/2/23 update)

11/17/23  In the prosecution of a five-time convicted felon who used a gun during an armed robbery, a New York Federal judge ruled that the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision rendered the Federal law that bars felons from possessing firearms unconstitutional. But he agreed that it was “a close question.” His decision is now in the hands of the Seventh Circuit, which set a December 19 deadline for prosecutors to file their objection.

10/31/23  San Diego U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s ruling throwing out California’s assault weapons ban was stayed in a 2-1 decision by a Ninth Circuit panel. That follows another panel’s grant of a stay on Benitez’s prior overthrow of the state’s ban on large capacity ammunition magazines. Both challenges are now in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, and decisions are soon expected.

10/20/23  Continuing a series of anti-gun law rulings, San Diego U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez ruled in Miller v. Bonta that California’s assault-weapons ban was unconstitutional. Rifles such as the AR-15, he held, are commonly-possessed everyday firearms “which every law-abiding responsible individual citizen has a constitutionally protected right to keep and bear...for lawful purposes.” But he allowed California’s ban to remain in effect while his decision is appealed. Calling AR-15 style rifles “weapons of war,” California AG Rob Bonta promptly announced his intention to appeal.

10/16/23  California’s on-again, off-again ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than ten rounds is on again as a Ninth Circuit panel placed a hold on a Federal District judges’ ruling that high-capacity magazine bans violate the Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen decision, which requires that gun control laws be historically justified. San Diego U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez had also ruled against the ban in 2019, when he objected that it turned “law-abiding people trying to protect themselves into criminals.”

10/2/23  Connecticut, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, enacted a wide-ranging gun-control law. Among other things, it prohibits the “open carry” of firearms, limits the number of handgun purchases to three a month, tightens definitions of outlawed assault weapons, bans high-capacity magazines, and bans the sale of semi-auto weapons to persons under 21. HB 6667 text

10/2/23  In another example of the effects of the Supreme Court Bruen decision on gun lawmaking, a Federal judge invalidated prohibitions of gun carry in “private buildings, public gatherings and locations that sell alcohol” that are part of a new Maryland gun law. But its ban on handguns in schools and parks will stay on the books. (See 11/22/23 update)

9/27/23  California’s Governor signed two new gun control measures into effect. Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), a response to last year’s Bruen decision, in which the Supreme Court invalidated New York’s gun-carry licensing law, makes issuing a CCW non-discretionary. But gun carry remains prohibited in a host of places, including schools and public transit. Assembly Bill 28 (SB 28) imposes an 11% tax on gun sales. Proceeds are earmarked for violence prevention, school safety measures and gun violence victims. (See 12/22/23 and 1/2/24 updates)

9/21/23  A newly-published study in Criminology and Public Policy examines whether loosening state restrictions on gun carry and CCW licensing affected gun crimes, injuries and deaths between 1981-2019.  Findings suggest that gun assaults increased significantly in states that did away with “live firearm training” requirements for a license, and by a smaller but still substantial amount in states that abolished a prohibition against issuing CCW permits to violent misdemeanants.

8/23/23  Even in an era of mass shootings, legal responses to gun violence continue to be politically driven. Bolstered by the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, “Red” states have deregulated gun carry. Most recently, Alaska prohibited local jurisdictions from restricting gun rights during natural disasters. Meanwhile “Blue” states have tightened background checks, banned some assault weapons and moved against unserialized “ghost guns.” Illinois just enacted a law that prohibits marketing weapons in a way that increases their appeal to underage persons or those who intend to harm others.

7/31/23  One of California’s few “Red” enclaves, Shasta County originally intended to prohibit all gun law enforcement within its borders. But after objections from legal counsel and its own sheriff, who feared that it would encourage felons to walk around armed, supervisors passed a watered-down measure. It’s in the form of a resolution that criticizes gun-control laws and disputes the notion that they help stem violence. “Evil people kill the innocent and do damage with all kinds of instruments,” it reads.

7/26/23  California law allows sharing gun purchase information with accredited researchers. In one example, this data was used to compare persons convicted of violent misdemeanors who bought guns before the law changed to prohibit it, and those who tried to buy a gun after but were denied. (Members of the latter, prohibited group were less likely to reoffend.) But last October a State judge overseeing a lawsuit by gun-rights groups seeking to annul the sharing law enjoined its use. And researchers remain stuck while the matter continues to be litigated.

6/15/23  Just released by DOJ, a “fact sheet” boasts about its vigorous implementation of last year’s “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” (BSCA). Among other things, it reports greatly augmented efforts to combat gun trafficking, the scourge of “ghost guns”, and illegal gun dealing. FBI gun purchase background checks now include juvenile mental health records and criminal convictions. Agents and lawyers are getting special training on the expanded definitions of straw purchase and illegal gun dealing, and prosecution of these crimes has substantially increased.

6/9/23  A Twenty-Eight Amendment. California Gov. Kevin Newsom is proposing a Constitutional remedy to address unremitting gun violence. It would create a waiting period and require background checks for all gun purchases, whether or not through a dealer, absolutely ban assault weapons, and set the minimum age for buying any gun to 21. Newsom indicates he will take his proposal to other states and try to assemble the 33 necessary to call for a constitutional convention.

6/5/23  Tennesee does not have a “Red Flag” law. And Governor Bill Lee insists that his proposal, drafted in response to the March 27 massacre at Nashville’s Covenant Christian School, isn’t one. Still, it’s  intended “to address unstable individuals who suffer from mental health issues but do not qualify for involuntary commitment to a facility.” Governor Lee characterized NRA’s opposition to the measure as an endorsement of involuntary commitment, which he feels is far more invasive of privacy.

6/5/23  Nevada-based Polymer80 is paying Los Angeles $5 million to settle a lawsuit that it sold unserialized parts kits from which guns could be assembled (i.e., “ghost guns”) without running criminal records checks. “More than seven-hundred” such guns were recovered by LAPD that year. Filed in 2020, the lawsuit actually predates an August, 2022 Federal rule that defines such kits such as “firearms”.  And ATF and San Diego police just announced the arrest of 29 persons for illegally assembling, making and possessing eighty-two “ghost guns”. (See 3/15/23 update)

5/15/23  “Blues” are hoping that “Red” states, where gun violence has disproportionately increased, will consider gun control measures. And after the March 27 shooting at Covenant school in Nashville, Tennessee legislators dropped plans to arm teachers and let 18-year olds carry guns without a permit. But other “Red” states continue loosening gun laws. In North Carolina, background checks are no longer required for private-party handgun sales. And South Carolina’s governor, who backs stronger penalties for illegal gun possession, favors a bill that would allow carrying a gun without a permit.

5/12/23  Federal law prohibits persons under twenty-one from buying handguns. But eighteen-year olds can buy long guns. On May 10, a Federal judge in Richmond, Virginia ruled in Fraser v. ATF that the age restriction on handgun purchases is unconstitutional. According to District Judge Robert E. Payne, “eighteen to twenty-one year olds fall within ‘the people’ that the Second Amendment protects.” As this decision was made at the lowest rung of the U.S. court system, it is certain to be appealed.

5/9/23  A bill to raise the minimum purchase age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 reportedly has “no chance” to be enacted in Texas. But in the wake of the mass shooting in Allen, it was nonetheless moved along from committee with votes from House “Reds”. Allen’s shooter, though, was in his thirties, so the bill actually relates to Uvalde, whose gunman bought an AR-15 type rifle when he turned eighteen.

5/1/23  With a legacy of gun massacres, including the 2022 shooting at “Club Q” that killed five, the 2012 Aurora theater massacre, where 12 were killed, and the 1999 Columbine High School attack, which left 15 dead, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed new laws that increase the minimum age to buy a gun to 21, create a 3-day waiting period, expand the roster of who may petition under the state’s Red Flag law, and ease the path for suing the gun industry. Naturally, each measure is already under challenge.

4/3/23  In 2021, while pending trial for felony battery, Indiana resident John Holden falsely stated on a Federal gun purchase form that he was not facing felony charges. He later guilty to lying on the form but then moved to have the case dismissed because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bruen. And the Federal judge agreed. In February 2023 the Government appealed to the Seventh Circuit. It reasoned that persons under charges are not the “ordinary, law-abiding adult citizens” referenced by the 2nd. Amendment, and that there is historical precedent for taking guns away from dangerous persons.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis got his wish, as legislators overwhelmingly approved a law making the “Sunshine State” the 26th. to allow concealed carry without a permit, training or background check. “You don’t need a permission slip from the government to be able to exercise your Second Amendment rights” said the Guv. to a cheering crowd. In, natch, a gun store.

3/15/23  President Biden’s March 14 “Executive Order on Reducing Gun Violence and Making Our Communities Safer” directs the Attorney General to take steps to assure that gun dealers comply with Federal firearms laws, that background checks are properly performed on all gun sales, and that “rogue” licensees are weeded out and kept from returning to the gun business. His order also addresses “modernizing” the definition of “ghost guns” and expanding State and local use of “Red Flag” laws. (See 6/5/23 update)

2/20/23  In New York State v. Bruen, the Supreme Court held that “to justify a firearm regulation the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Those words have led some Federal courts to declare that a wide variety of State and Federal gun laws, ranging from prohibitions on “ghost guns” to the possession of firearms by felons, are in fact unconstitutional. And that’s occasioned a great deal of “legal turmoil” across the land.

2/10/23  Despite concerns about “14-year-olds walking down the middle of the street in the city of St. Louis carrying AR-15s,” the Missouri House voted along party lines to strip a forthcoming crime bill from a provision that would have forbid unsupervised minors from carrying guns in public areas. Missouri has allowed permitless concealed carry since 2017. According to Giffords, in 2020 the State “had the fourth-highest gun death rate” in the U.S.

2/8/23  The January 21 massacre at a Monterey Park dance studio that took eleven lives spurred L.A. County Supervisors to propose a package of gun control measures to supplant California law. Most likely to take effect are a ban on .50 caliber handguns and prohibiting gun possession on County property, including beaches and parks. Other laws would require gun owners to carry liability insurance and lock up guns in a home. But pro-gun groups have labeled the proposals as “outrageous” and promise a fight.

Making fond reference to the mother of Tyre Nichols, who attended his State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden praised police efforts against crime but lamented that “what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often.” He urged that localities consider measures from the Floyd Act such as “banning chokeholds” and “restricting no-knock warrants,” which he already imposed on Federal agencies. And after warmly greeting another guest, Brandon Tsay, the young man who wrested the gun from the Monterey Park shooter, President Biden urged a renewed ban on assault weapons.

2/3/23  Federal law (18 USC 922[g][8]) prohibits persons subject to restraining orders barring them from stalking or harassing an intimate partner from having guns. But thanks to a recent ruling by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that law conflicts with the Supreme Court’s 2021 Bruen decision, which requires, among other things, that gun laws be “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Until the full Fifth Circuit and/or the Supremes sort it out, the Texas man who was subject to a restraining order, got caught with guns, and got indicted, is off the hook. AG statement

1/19/23  Denouncing Illinois’ new gun laws, which outlaw assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, “dozens” of County Sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the measure. Inspired by the July 4th. massacre in tony Highland Park, it was signed into effect by Governor J.B. Pritzker on January 10. Conservative activists and gun groups complain that the restrictions are an unwarranted intrusion into the Second Amendment and have vowed to challenge them in court.

1/10/23  Ruling that its breadth of coverage made carrying a gun “a veritable minefield,” a New Jersey-based Federal judge sharply narrowed provisions of a new State law that prohibits guns in sensitive places. It’s again OK to carry guns in “nightclubs, theaters, arenas, concert halls, racetracks and museums.” But “schools, day care centers and hospitals” are still out. In contrast, New York State’s highly restrictive gun law remains fully in force as it moves through appeals.

1/3/23  On March 24, 2021, two days after the Boulder supermarket massacre, Atlanta police arrested Rico Marley, 22, after he was spotted with six loaded guns, including an AR-15 style tile, in the bathroom of a Publix supermarket. But Georgia permits open carry, and Marley insisted he meant no harm. Felony charges were ultimately dismissed and he was released. But the times have changed. Two months later the homeless man was indicted for misdemeanor reckless conduct and he remains locked up without bail.

1/2/23  California’s new law authorizing private citizens to sue firms and individuals who sell or furnish California-illegal firearms or parts kits to a State resident has gone into effect. Maximum recovery is $10,000 per weapon plus reimbursement of legal costs (see 9/29/22 update). SB 1327

12/7/22  Oregon’s tough new gun laws are on hold while court challenges proceed. If the law survives, buyers will have to pass fingerprint and background checks and complete a training course. Magazines with more than ten round capacity will also be prohibited, but existing ones may continue to be used. Unlike Federal law, there is no “loophole” that mandates gun transfers if a background check takes too long. With such restrictions on the horizon, gun sales have soared.

12/2/22  A Johns Hopkins study found that the adoption by thirty-four States of permissive (“shall-issue”) gun carry laws led to a near-10 percent increase in firearm assaults during a ten-year study period. That increase more than doubled if violent misdemeanants were also made eligible. Within the shall-issue States, the consequences were far worse if they did not require live-fire training or did not screen out applicants that were “unstable or immoral” or had a history of violence.

11/30/22  Gun-rights groups are suing to overturn California restrictions on, among other things, assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, home-made “ghost guns,” and age restrictions. These actions, which have been filed in San Diego’s assertedly gun-friendly Federal court, are based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State v. Bruen, which held that gun laws must be “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” In the Justices’ predominant view, New York’s requirement that gun-carry applicants show “good cause” wasn’t, so it didn’t survive.

11/8/22  New York State tried to fine tune the Supreme Court’s ban on requiring gun carry applicants to show a special need with new rules that required them to demonstrate “good moral character.” But a Federal judge quashed the move. New York appealed, and now the judge has reissued the order. It also prohibits New York’s attempt to ban guns in “sensitive locations” such as bars and movie houses.

10/27/22  Texas has allowed permitless handgun carry for a year. When Alabama joins the group in January, half the States will allow it. But there are downsides. Harris County (Houston) D.A. Kim Ogg complains that minor offenders are now armed. Arguments between ordinary citizens and episodes of road rage have also turned lethal. Good intentions are no cure. A Grand Jury recently rejected charges against a well-meaning citizen who fired at a fleeing bandit but wound up killing a nine-year old girl.

10/13/22  Overruling the lower-level judge who quashed New York State’s new gun law (see 10/10 update), a Federal circuit court temporarily allowed it to take effect until the matter can be heard by an appellate panel.

10/10/22  A Federal judge issued a restraining order enjoining New York State from enforcing provisions of a new law that tightened the licensing process for gun-carry applicants and expanded the list of places where guns could not be possessed to include public venues such as libraries, museums, bars and Times Square. The challenged law was enacted in reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent nullification of a statute that required gun carry applicants to demonstrate “good cause.” Opinion

9/29/22  Following the example set by Texas, which recently authorized private lawsuits against abortion providers, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law in July that allows private individuals to sue anyone involved in producing or selling prohibited firearms. That includes unserialized “ghost guns” and firearms considered to be illegal assault weapons under State law. Pro-gun groups have in turn filed a lawsuit challenging the law (see 1/2/23 update). Senate Bill 1327

9/12/22 Visa, American Express and Mastercard announced they will be assigning international merchant (ISO) codes to transactions conducted with their cards at specialty gun and ammunition retailers. Guns used in massacres - the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando is one example - have been bought with credit cards, and coding is thought to be a way to help flag suspicious purchases. Objections from gun makers and gun rights groups are anticipated.

9/3/22  In reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent Bruen decision that in effect enshrines the right to carry a gun, California legislators crafted a bill that tightened background checks and training requirements for gun-carry permits and expanded the  places where guns are barred. But the law’s support wasn’t enough to pass it under special rules that would make it immediately effective. So the “Blue” state’s severely chastened legislators will have to try again next year.

8/31/22  Bemoaning that the carnage caused by assault weapons made some Uvalde school massacre victims unidentifiable, requiring that families supply DNA, President Biden announced his determination to renew the lapsed Federal assault weapons ban. Such guns, he insists, have no place “outside of a war zone.”

Going into effect tomorrow, a comprehensive New York State gun control measure imposes substantial training and licensing requirements on persons who intend to take advantage of a recent Supreme Court decision that nullified a New York law requiring that applicants for gun-carry permits show a “special need.” New York’s new law also includes a list of “sensitive places” where guns are not allowed, which includes “schools, churches, subways, theaters and amusement parks.” And, of course, Times Square. Bill text

8/30/22  Distressed that its home state of Massachusetts was considering banning one of its staples - assault rifles - Smith & Wesson recently relocated its headquarters to more gun-friendly Tennessee. According to the Washington Post, favorable tax rates, cheaper wages and, especially, friendlier legal attitudes towards guns have led “at least 20” gun manufacturers, including Beretta and Remington, to shift staff and production facilities from “Blue” to “Red” states. In effect, they’re moving “South.”

8/12/22  “Everybody is armed” says the leader of a Philadelphia nonprofit. His city is indeed awash with guns. That may part of the reason for its sky-high toll of 338 homicides as of August 11. Including nonfatal injuries, 1403 Philadelphians have been shot as of August 7. Both counts are higher than last year’s, and the number of homicides is the most since at least 2007. According to the New York Times, the mayhem is concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods of “the country’s poorest big city.”

8/3/22  Amidst a spate of massacres, Georgia’s permissive gun-carry laws apparently led Atlanta to cancel its yearly Music Midtown Festival. In 2014 Georgia’s “Safe Carry Protection Act” enabled gun carry most everywhere. While a court decision has enabled long-term leaseholders to regulate gun possession on their premises, that privilege is not extended to short-term events such as the festival.

7/14/22  Hundreds of persons, including survivors of the Highland Park Fourth of July massacre, marched on the U.S. Capitol to demand a new Federal assault weapons ban. Meanwhile, in reaction to massacres in Highland Park, Uvalde and Buffalo, and to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting State authority to regulate gun carry, several “blue” States including New Jersey, New York and California have enacted sweeping new measures to regulate gun possession and sale.

7/12/22  At a gathering of members of Congress, survivors of gun massacres and family members of their victims, President Biden praised the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. “Despite the naysayers, we can make meaningful progress on dealing with gun violence...” Nonsense, yelled Manuel Oliver, whose son was shot dead at Marjory Stoneman High School on Valentine’s Day, 2018. What’s really needed, he insists, is an executive office that’s focused on gun violence. He was escorted away.



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Posted 5/16/22

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MASSACRE

Pretending to regulate has consequences

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “He didn’t stand out — because if he did, I would’ve never sold him the gun.” That’s what the Endicott, New York gun dealer said about the youth who bought a rifle at his store in January.

     It wasn’t an ordinary rifle. After passing the required background check, Payton Gendron, 18, walked out with a Bushmaster XM-15, an AR-15 style assault weapon that fires the .223 caliber cartridge. As we’ve often pointed out, these immensely powerful projectiles can inflict fatal wounds nearly anywhere they strike (“Going Ballistic”). Some States, including California and New York, have enacted so-called “assault weapons bans” that supposedly tone things down. These “solutions” are ridiculously half-hearted. For example, to limit ammunition capacity, New York laws restrict the XM-15 and its brethren to fixed, ten-round ammunition magazines. But as the dealer pointed out, “any gun can be easily modified if you really want to do it.” And that’s what Gendron reportedly did, obtaining a kit by mail-order that, after a bit of installation, allowed the weapon to accept removable, high-capacity magazines, thus turning it back into a true implement of war.

     Gendron resided with his parents and siblings in Conklin, a southern New York town of about 5,000 residents. On Friday, May 13 he got in his car and made the two-hundred-plus mile drive to Buffalo. Along with the XM-15, he brought along a Savage rifle, which he got as a birthday gift from his parents two years earlier, and a shotgun. (We saw a photo of the birthday celebration, including the gun box, online.)

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     On arrival Gendron promptly cased the store. He was back the next afternoon. Carrying the XM-15, Gendron exited his car and began firing. He shot four persons on his way into Tops, killing three. On entering he encountered the security guard, Aaron Salter, Jr., a retired Buffalo cop. Mr. Salter fired his handgun, but the bullet bounced off his assailant’s body armor. Gendron shot and killed Mr. Salter. He then went on to murder another six persons and wound two. When confronted by police Gendron put the gun to his head. But he ultimately surrendered.

     Gendron was inarguably consumed by racial animus. His many media posts included an online “manifesto” that espouses white supremacy, touts racist “replacement theory” and praises prior massacres. Having apparently long prepared for what he considered to be an inevitable event, Gendron set out his murderous intentions in stunning detail, from shooting the security guard whom he expected to run across to murdering Black shoppers. And as it turned out, all but two of the persons he shot were indeed Black.

     Gendron used a helmet-mounted camera to stream the slaughter on Twitch. Although the video was quickly taken down, copies wound up on Twitter. We’ve viewed the two-minute-plus clip. Far too grisly to post, it graphically depicts several shootings. Authorities announced that “positive identification of many of the victims has been delayed by the severity of their wounds.” And that the wounds were highly severe – that, after all, is what assault rifles are intended for – is clearly evident from the toll of ten dead and three wounded.

     So what’s the solution? As we mentioned in “A Stitch in Time,” early intervention is obviously essential. Many jurisdictions allow police and family members to seek judicial orders that direct troubled persons to give up their guns (“Red Flag” I and II). When issued, these prohibitions can be entered in databases that gun dealers must check before transferring firearms. Still, a qualified someone must take the initiative and expend the necessary time and effort to seek an order. And agreeable judge must be present on the other end. It’s an intensive process, and results aren’t guaranteed.

     It’s been suggested that monitoring social media could identify likely killers in advance (see, for example, “When a ‘Dope’ Can’t be ‘Roped’”). Of course, time is of the essence. And the sheer volume of postings can make for an overwhelming task. Artificial intelligence measures can supposedly help cull the wheat from the chaff. But using A.I. in an unfocused fashion raises serious concerns about privacy.

     Sometimes, though, we become aware of problematic individuals, such as the three characters profiled in “Preventing Mass Murder”, before they strike. While Gendron was much younger than Bowers, Sayoc or Beierle, like them he was not an ordinary sort. Described by a former classmate as “a little bit of an outcast,” Gendron turned up in “a full hazmat suit” when classes resumed post-pandemic. More significantly, as his high-school days came to an end, Gendron ran his mouth in a way that led teachers to call in the cops. On him.

     How did that come about? Students had been asked to discuss their post-graduation plans. There are several versions of what Gendron said when his turn came up. In one, he supposedly announced that he longed to commit a murder-suicide. In another, that “he wanted to do a shooting, either at a graduation ceremony, or sometime after.” Whether it was his personality, or his delivery, or (most likely) a combination of the two, Gendron’s comments didn’t come across as the “joke” he would later insist was intended. State troopers responded and took him in for an involuntary mental health evaluation.

     In your writer’s “career” as a student and, much later, as a college instructor, nothing like that ever happened. Not even close. But that assumedly rare event happened to Gendron. After spending a day and a half in the hospital, he was released. Best we can tell, nothing further was done, and he graduated on schedule. And about a year later he spent nearly a grand on his XM-15.

     We made our attitude about assault weapons quite clear in “Ban the Damned Things!” But it’s also “quite clear” that not even California, whose gun laws are supposedly the strictest in the nation, is ready to take these unusually lethal weapons out of circulation. Apparently, neither are the Feds. In fact, a Ninth Circuit panel recently ruled that California’s prohibition on the sale of semi-automatic rifles to persons under 21 violates the Second Amendment. So we simply keep pretending. Instead of addressing the underlying problem – the lethality of the projectiles fired by assault rifles – we place half-hearted limits on magazine capacity and prohibit hand grips and such. And when young men such as Gendron, and Nikolas Cruz (he murdered seventeen with an AR-15 type gun), and Adam Lanza (he murdered twenty-six with an AR-15 type gun), and Patrick Crusius (he killed twenty-three and wounded an equal number with an AK-style rifle) laugh at these “restrictions” and commit their unspeakable deeds, we shrug our shoulders and comment about the, um, “rarity” of the events.

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     Neither Cruz nor Lanza were supposedly motivated by race. Crusius, though, had posted extensive hateful racial comments online (his scorn was directed at Mexican immigrants.) All three clearly suffered from severe psychological problems. According to his lawyers, Crusius, who still awaits trial, had been mentally disabled throughout high school. Still, none of these characters were ever involuntarily committed. Just like Gendron, each remained legally qualified to buy and possess guns. Crusius and Cruz reportedly bought theirs at retail (Lanza used his mother’s rifle.)

     We suspect that in the end, Gendron’s obsession about race – and, likely, Crusius’ – will be understood not necessarily as the cause of the massacres but as a reflection of the shooters’ deep-seated mental problems. That’s not to excuse their murderous acts but to highlight the immense difficulty of effectively regulating the acquisition and possession of firearms, let alone assault rifles. As long as we continue to allow these highly lethal weapons to be sold, ill-intentioned persons will continue to acquire and misuse them. It’s guaranteed.

UPDATES (scroll)

10/16/23  California’s on-again, off-again ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than ten rounds is on again as a Ninth Circuit panel placed a hold on a Federal District judges’ ruling that high-capacity magazine bans violate the Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen decision, which requires that gun control laws be historically justified. San Diego U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez had also ruled against the ban in 2019, when he objected that it turned “law-abiding people trying to protect themselves into criminals.”

8/30/23  Jacksonville shooter Ryan Palmeter, who murdered three persons at a Dollar Store, was a former Dollar employee. He was shooed away by a guard from another Dollar location before embarking on his massacre. A college drop-out, Palmeter had a deeply troubled mental history. Years earlier he had run away from home, leaving a suicide note. This time he left behind “the diary of a madman.”

8/28/23  Wielding an AR-15 rifle and a Glock pistol, a racially-driven 21-year old White man shot and killed a Black woman outside a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida. Ryan Palmeter then burst inside, murdered a Black shopper and a Black employee, and committed suicide. Years ago Palmeter was taken in by his parents for a mental exam, but the circumstances of his release did not prohibit him from legally buying his weapons at a local gun store earlier this year.

8/18/23  Retailers that supplied Payton Gendron with the body armor and AR-15 type he used in the Tops supermarket massacre, YouTube and its parent companies, which helped him develop his twisted “mentality,” and his parents, who failed to keep him away from guns, are defendants in complementary lawsuits filed in Buffalo state court by the son of a victim and by sixteen Tops employees and patrons. A similar lawsuit was filed earlier by survivors of three victims, and the state attorney general has sued the gun supplier for helping Gendron “evade state laws on high-capacity assault rifles.”

7/5/23  Attired in a ballistic vest and carrying an AR-15 rifle, a handgun, extra ammunition magazines and a police scanner, a 40-year old man randomly opened fire as he walked the streets of Philadelphia’s poverty-stricken Kingsessing neighborhood, where he lived. He killed five persons, ages 15 to 59, and wounded two children. Kimbrady Carriker shot at police but soon surrendered. His only reported criminal record are gun and drug misdemeanor charges in 2003, for which he got probation. Carriker is said to have made “disturbing” social media posts prior to the shooting. A video shows him firing.

7/3/23  A tripling in the number of applications for firearms restraining orders (i.e., “red flag laws”) and a doubling in citizen submissions of “clear and present danger” reports to police have followed on last year’s Fourth of July massacre in Highland Park, Illinois. According to the State Police director, widespread awareness of these options has increased their use. But Illinois’ use of red flag laws still lags, and moves are afoot to strengthen their provisions and encourage their use. (See 7/4/22 update)

5/9/23  Russian social media site “Odnoklassniki” was where Mauricio Gracia, who murdered eight shoppers outside an Allen, Texas mall with an AR-15 type rifle, posted comments predicting “race wars and the collapse of [American] society.” According to the Army, Garcia joined the U.S. Army in June 2008 but only lasted three months before he was kicked out for mental health reasons. During the assault Garcia wore a “RWDS” (Right Wing Death Squad) patch that’s in vogue with right-wing extremists.

5/8/23  Lethal gunplay besets the nation. On May 6 a gunman attired in tactical gear and armed with an AR-15 style rifle stepped out of his vehicle and opened fire on shoppers outside an Allen, Texas mall, killing eight and wounding seven, several critically. Mauricio Garcia, 33, was soon shot dead by a police officer. A suspected right-wing extremist, he had reportedly been discharged from the Army “due to mental health concerns”. On the preceding evening, in what’s thought to be a gang-related incident, a man burst into a packed bar/restaurant in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and opened fire, killing a nineteen-year old and wounding six, none seriously. An arrest was reportedly made. And earlier that day, fights at house parties near Cal State Chico devolved into gunfire that killed a 17-year old and wounded five others, ages 17-21.

5/5/23  In Moultrie, a small rural town in Georgia, police responded to a call about shots being fired outside a home. Days later, the apparent shooter, 26-year old Kentavious White, shot and killed his mother and grandmother, then went to the McDonald’s where he was employed and shot and killed his manager. White then committed suicide.

5/4/23  And the massacres continue. In Atlanta, former Coast Guardsman Deion Patterson, 24 opened fire in the waiting room of a midtown medical facility, killing one woman and critically wounding four. He then fled and reportedly carjacked a vehicle, which was recovered in the suburbs. Patterson, who was reportedly on medication for anxiety and depression, was subsequently arrested. And in central Florida, police shot and killed Al Joseph Stenson, 38, after tracking him to a motel from an apartment complex where he had allegedly murdered a 40-year old woman and her three children, whom he supposedly knew.

5/2/23 Oklahoma authorities searching for two female teens, ages 14 and 16, who were reportedly traveling with convicted sex offender Jesse McFadden found each of their bodies, and those of four more persons, in a rural compound. McFadden, who had served a prison term for rape, was about to go on trial for “soliciting sexual conduct with a minor and possession of child pornography.” The father of one of the teens said that she was soon scheduled to compete at a pageant in Tulsa. “And now she ain’t gonna make it because she’s dead. She’s gone.”

Deputies called to a homeless compound in a poverty-stricken area of California's Mojave desert found three women and a man in an RV. Each had been shot many hours earlier: three were already dead, and the fourth would die in the hospital. All reportedly used crystal meth. A local welfare worker said that economic problems brought people to the desert. “Maybe they had a bad experience in one of the big cities. They come out here, and they’re passing through. But then they end up staying.”

5/1/23  Five persons aged 8 to 40, all apparently Honduran immigrants, were shot dead in a rural area of Cleveland, Texas by their next-door neighbor after they asked that he stop firing his AR-15 style rifle in the yard. Deputies had previously confronted Francisco Oropeza, 38, about doing so, but apparently let him keep the gun. Oropeza, who had been drinking, fled towards a forest some miles away.

4/26/23  Shooting broke out at a large after-prom party in a residence near Jasper, Texas. More than two-hundred fifty Jasper High School graduates were in attendance. Eleven youths were wounded, and three were hospitalized. A vehicle at the party was apparently linked to a second, subsequent shooting in Jasper. Four “persons of interest” have been identified but there have been no arrests.

4/24/33  Mass killings are at potentially-record setting pace in 2023. A joint AP/university effort that sets the victim count at four, not including the shooter, has recorded 17 of these events thus far this year, taking 88 innocent lives. According to the database, which includes 2,842 mass shootings since 2006, our present-year loss was previously reached in only one year, 2009. Mass shooting database

4/21/23  Alabama authorities arrested three more youths in the Dadeville birthday party shooting. Also charged with reckless murder are Tuskegee resident Johnny Letron Brown, 20, Auburn resident Willie George Brown Jr., 19,  and a sixth teen whose age (he’s fifteen) precludes him from being named. All six are said to have opened fire with handguns as the celebration “was in full swing.”

4/20/23  Tuskegee, Ala. residents Tyreese and Travis McCullough, ages 17 and 16, and Wilson LaMar Hill Jr. a 20-year old Auburn man, have been charged with “reckless murder” for gunning down the four youths at the birthday party in Dadeville. None had been invited but likely came with guests. Authorities say that only handgun shells were found, and that there is no indication that a rifle was used.

4/17/23  On Saturday evening, April 15, a large group of youths and adults gathered in a small-town Alabama dance studio to celebrate a teen’s sixteenth birthday. But an adult was soon told that someone had brought a gun, and she announced that armed persons had to leave. Five minutes later shooting broke out. Her son and three other youths were killed and twenty-eight persons were wounded, several critically. As of yet no information about the shooter or their motive has been released.

4/11/23  Livestreaming on Instagram, Connor Sturgeon, 25, opened fire with a rifle on co-workers in the Louisville bank where he worked. By the time police shot him dead he had killed five and wounded eight, including two of the responding officers. One, Nickolas Wilt, 26, just graduated from the academy. He and another person remain in critical condition. Sturgeon had earned a Master’s in finance and according to classmates seemed normal. But in an essay he wrote of problems “fitting in.” Sturgeon had also been informed that he was losing his job. He legally purchased the weapon, an “AR-15” style rifle, one week ago. Kentucky does not regulate assault weapons.

2/28/23  On the heels of a January massacre in which two members of the Norteņo gang murdered six members of a family associated with a rival gang, authorities served search warrants at multiple residences in Tulare County, Calif. Drugs and parts for assembling “ghost” guns and assault rifles were seized, and twenty-six Norteņos were arrested. A coordinated sweep of state prison cells led to the seizure of “cellphones, weapons and ‘gang intelligence’” (see 2/4/23 update).

2/18/23  In a small rural community south of Memphis, a 52-year old man whom the local sheriff said had never caused problems grabbed a shotgun and two handguns and went on a rampage. By the time it was done six persons, ages 59-78, lay dead. Richard Dale Crum’s victims included his ex-wife, his stepfather, the stepfather’s sister, two handymen, and a man who had been simply sitting in a pickup. Crum was arrested at his home, without incident.

2/4/23  After being wounded in a shootout with ATF agents, Norteņo gang member Angel “Nanu” Uriarte, 35, and his partner, Noah David Beard, 25, were arrested for perpetrating a massacre at a Tulare County, Calif. residence last month. Summoned to the home by a panic-stricken resident, deputies found the bodies of six persons, ranging from a 10-month old baby to a 72-year old grandmother. It’s believed that two members of the family belonged to the rival Sureņo gang (see 2/28/23 update).

1/26/23  According to San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus, Zhao Chunli, the 66-year old Half-Moon Bay farmworker who shot and killed seven coworkers, also mostly elderly, “specifically targeted” his victims. It didn’t seem to be about race or ethnicity: the wounded man and two of the dead were of Mexican ancestry, and the other five men killed were, like their murderer, of Asian descent (see 1/24/23 update).

1/25/23  More lethal gunplay rocked the nation. Jarid Haddock, a 21-year old Yakima man, used a pistol to “randomly” shoot and kill three strangers in and near a convenience store on Tuesday. He later committed suicide. Haddock was once arrested for stealing a car. After some difficulties with drug use, he completed a diversion program and charges were dismissed. And in Oakland, gunfire erupted during the Monday evening filming of a music video at a gas station. A hail of nineteen bullets left one person dead and four wounded. Gang rivalries are blamed, and so far no one has been arrested.

1/24/23  With another victim succumbing to their wounds, the death toll of the shooting at the Monterey Park dance studio now stands at eleven. Tran’s weapon has been identified as a MAC-10 pistol, which is banned in California. Investigators now theorize that he was suffering from emotional issues and was driven by jealousy. Tran had recently complained to police of fraud and theft and said that his family had tried to poison him decades ago. A search of his residence turned up a rifle, a large amount of ammunition, and indications that he was making silencers.

That massacre took place on Saturday, January 21, the eve of the Lunar New Year. Only two days later, on January 23, another elderly Asian man opened fire with a pistol at two farm facilities in California’s Half-Moon Bay region, just south of San Francisco. Chunli Zhao, 67, an agricultural worker, shot seven colleagues dead and wounded one. He then parked in a Sheriff’s lot and was arrested. Including the massacre in Monterey Park and the murder of six at a Tulare County residence on January 16, California has endured three massacres in eight days (see 2/4/23 update).

12/31/22  Genealogical DNA is credited for leading authorities to the alleged killer of four University of Idaho students, who were stabbed to death in November as they slept in an off-campus apartment. Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, a criminology graduate student at nearby Washington State University, was arrested in Pennsylvania and will be returned to Idaho to face charges. He also had a white Hyundai, same as the vehicle allegedly used by the killer. A motive remains unknown.

12/17/22  Illinois man Robert Crimo Jr. was charged with seven counts of “felony reckless conduct,” one for each person that his son, Robert “Bobby” Crimo III, shot dead when he carried out the 4th. of July massacre in Highland Park. Prosecutors allege that the father was well aware of his son’s dangerousness but nonetheless sponsored him for a gun ownership card, which Illinois requires that gun buyers under 21 present at time of purchase (see 7/19/22 update).

12/1/22  A massive law enforcement effort that includes forty-four FBI agents is underway to develop leads on the killer - or killers - who stabbed four University of Idaho students to death as they slept in a rental home near its flagship Moscow campus. With no suspects as yet identified, an implicit threat remains, and nearly half the school’s students have chosen to go online and avoid its grounds altogether. (See 12/31/22 update)

11/29/22  Payton Gendron, the 18-year old avowed White supremacist who shot and killed ten Black persons as he stormed a TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, NY, pled guilty to all State charges, including terrorism and ten counts of murder. He is expected to draw multiple life terms without parole. Federal charges, which could include the death penalty, are pending.

11/28/22  In a small Brazilian town, a 16-year old former student opened fire with his father’s pistol in two schools, killing four persons and wounding twelve. The youth, who suffered from mental health problems, wore an armored vest and used the gun carried by his father, a member of the military police. A swastika was pinned to his vest, possibly reflecting the extreme far-right sentiments that have recently become popular. School shootings have been occurring with some frequency in Brazil, where gun rights are strongly protected and firearms ownership is widespread.

11/26/22  Andre Bing, the Chesapeake, VA Walmart team leader who gunned down six colleagues, left a “death note” in his phone that bemoaned his childhood and complained of harassment by coworkers “with low intelligence and a lack of wisdom [who] gave me evil twisted grins, mocked me and celebrated my down fall the last day.” But he apologized. “Sorry everyone but I did not plan this I promise things just fell in place like I was led by the Satan.” Bing had legally bought his pistol earlier that day.

11/25/22  Mass shootings are becoming a near-daily occurrence. Yesterday four Philadelphia teens were shot and wounded in a drive-by as they stood by a corner store near their high school. One day earlier a Chesapeake, Virginia Walmart team leader with a reputation for picking on employees inexplicably opened fire with a pistol as night-shift stockers gathered in a break room. Andre Bing, 31, killed six and wounded an equal number before shooting himself dead. It was the State’s second mass shooting in less than two weeks. On November 13 a University of Virginia student used a handgun to kill three fellow students and wound two others at the end of a field trip.

11/19/22  A search of the dorm room assigned to University of Virginia shooter Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. turned up both guns that he (legally) purchased: a Ruger .223 caliber semi-auto rifle and a Smith and Wesson 9mm. pistol. Police also found a Franklin Armory “binary trigger,” which doubles a rifle’s rate of fire by discharging a round when the trigger is released. (It’s Federally legal but has been outlawed by a number of States, not including Illinois.) UVA regulations prohibit guns in residence halls.

11/17/22  In September the University of Virginia was tipped off that Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., the student who recently opened fire at the end of a field trip, killing three students and wounding two, had a gun on campus. Although neither the tipster nor Jones’ roommate said they saw a gun, it was learned that in 2021 Jones was convicted of concealed carry. It also turns out that a gun dealer had rebuffed Jones’ attempt to buy a gun because he had a pending felony charge. But the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, and this year he sold Jones a rifle and a 9mm. pistol. All this has left victim families and others wondering why authorities didn’t pursue their inquiries with more vigor.

11/15/22  On Sunday, November 13 two mass murders took the lives of seven university students. In what was described as a “crime of passion,” an as-yet unidentified suspect used a knife or “edged weapon” to murder four University of Idaho students at a home near its Moscow campus. And at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, three students were shot dead and two were wounded as a group returned from a field trip. A student, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., was soon arrested. According to police, Jones was caught with a concealed handgun off campus last year. School authorities have also investigated a report that Jones spoke of having a gun on campus.

8/30/22  Ethan Blair Miller, the 20-year old who opened fire in a Bend, Oregon Safeway two nights ago with an AR-15 style rifle, killing two, described himself as “a blood-thirsty, evil f****** psychopath” who longed to do another Columbine on social media site Wattpad. One day before the attack he wrote that he was “done waiting” (click here for his journal.) Miller also posted YouTube videos of him firing a rifle. A local high-school grad, he was remembered as an oddball who always seemed out of sorts. He and his mother had reportedly worked at the store where he staged the attack. Miller committed suicide.

7/19/22  Local police had filed a "clear and present danger" report with Illinois State police notifying them of dangerous behavior by Highland Park shooter Crimo. But he did not have a gun I.D. card, which Illinois requires to have or buy guns, and had not submitted an application, so the report was tossed. Three months later Crimo’s father sponsored him for a card, and Crimo soon bought several guns. An emergency rule was just enacted to retain warning reports even if there is no gun ID or app. on file (see 12/17/22 update).

7/15/22  In addition to State murder charges, Payton Gendron, the 19-year old who staged the Tops massacre, now faces a 27-count Federal indictment. It includes 14 hate-crime related counts and 13 counts of using a firearm to commit those offenses. DOJ announced that the decision whether to seek the death penalty will come “at a later time.” Tops is expected to reopen today. Federal hate crimes law

7/14/22  Hundreds of persons, including survivors of the Highland Park Fourth of July massacre, marched on the U.S. Capitol to demand a new Federal assault weapons ban. Meanwhile, in reaction to massacres in Highland Park, Uvalde and Buffalo, and to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting State authority to regulate gun carry, several “blue” States including New Jersey, New York and California have enacted sweeping new measures to regulate gun possession and sale.

7/6/22  Prosecutors filed seven murder counts against Highland Park (IL) shooter Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo III. Police were called about him twice in 2019: once when he attempted suicide, and again when he threatened to kill his family. Officers took away a knife collection but say they lacked reason to arrest. Still, they filed a "clear and present danger" report with State police. Three months later Crimo’s father sponsored him for a firearms I.D. card, which Illinois requires to buy or have guns. Over time Crimo would legally buy five firearms, including the “AR-15-type rifle” he used in the massacre.

During the early morning hours of July 5th. gunfire broke out at a block party in Gary, Indiana, a struggling city of about 70,000 about 25 miles East of Chicago. Three persons were killed and seven were wounded. That shooting came about fourteen hours after the massacre during the July 4th. parade in affluent Highland Park, Illinois, about fifty miles to the north.

7/4/22   At least sixteen persons were shot, six fatally, soon after the start of a daytime Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, a “peaceful” and prosperous city of 30,000 just north of Chicago. Police arrested Robert “Bobby” Crimo III, 22, the self-styled YouTube rapper “Awake”. He reportedly used a ladder to climb onto a roof, then opened fire with a “high-powered rifle,” which was recovered. One of his rap videos repeatedly displays an image of a cartoon character aggressively wielding a rifle. (Click here for our brief version of the video, and here for an image of the rifle.) (See 7/3/23 update)

6/25/22  Passed in the wake of recent massacres, the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” was signed into law. It enhances background checks to include juvenile records, helps fund State “Red Flag Laws” and mental health programs, includes “boyfriends” in the definition of domestic partners who may be barred from having guns, and specifically prohibits “straw” purchases (i.e. buying guns on behalf of unqualified persons). It does not create waiting periods or ban assault weapons.

6/21/22  New York thought it had a “better idea” when it responded to the Buffalo massacre with a law that banned sale of “bullet-resistant soft body armor” to ordinary citizens. Problem is, the most bullet-resistant armor isn’t “soft” - it  contains hard plates that can stop high-energy projectiles such as those fired by assault rifles. They’re apparently still OK. So is bringing in the banned kind from other States. Legislators protested that they were working hurriedly. “We’ll try to make this law better.”

6/13/22  Three dead and four wounded. That’s the toll from an early morning “party” where a well-known rapper had performed for a gathering of teens. It happened in Los Angeles’ fraught Boyle Heights district. Neighbors, who said police had been called about prior “parties” at the same place, report hearing two bursts of gunfire. But “who is a suspect and who is a victim” is as yet unknown.

6/13/22  Impulse control is a function of the prefrontal cortex, which isn’t fully developed until one’s mid-twenties. But eighteen-year olds can buy rifles. Some academics suggest that young men who feel “emasculated,” who have been “bullied, or ignored, or didn’t have the dating life or popularity they wanted” may turn to mass shootings as a way to act out their frustrations with a “masculine” solution. Seven States have raised the purchase age for semi-auto rifles to 21, same as for handguns, and the House recently passed a Federal measure to that effect. But its prospects in the Senate seem poor.

6/6/22  Another weekend of violence beset America. Early Saturday, a shooting in a Phoenix strip mall killed a 14-year old girl and wounded eight others. That evening several shooters fired into a crowd in a downtown Philadelphia entertainment area, leaving three dead and eleven wounded. Multiple shooters opened fire early Sunday morning outside a Chattanooga nightclub. Three persons were killed and fourteen were wounded; three others were struck by vehicles while fleeing. And about the same time, a shooting in Saginaw (MI) killed three and wounded two.

Erie County fired the Buffalo 9-1-1 dispatcher who reportedly hung up on a Tops employee during the massacre because the caller’s hushed tone made her difficult to hear, and she refused to speak more loudly. Dispatcher Sheila Ayers claims there is more than “one side of the story” and accused the employee, an assistant office manager, of changing her account “multiple times.” (See 5/20 update.)

6/3/22  In a major address, President Joe Biden argued for the restoration of the lapsed Federal assault weapons ban. He also pressed the House to pass a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy “assault-style” weapons to twenty-one. An approved House measure, which is thought to have a poor chance in the Senate, requires that buyers of semi-automatic weapons be twenty-one. But the Senate seems more disposed to help States bolster school security and mental health and implement “Red Flag” laws.

6/2/22  Two doctors, an assistant and a patient were shot and killed at a Tulsa medical complex by a gunman armed with an AR-15 style rifle and a .40 caliber pistol. Michael Louis, 45, a resident of Muskogee, was apparently enraged that recent back surgery had left him in pain. He had bought both weapons legally; the rifle, on the same day as his rampage. Louis committed suicide.

6/1/22  According to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as those where four or more persons other than the shooter are wounded or killed, there were fifteen mass shootings in twelve States during the 2022 Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30) leaving nine dead and 73 wounded. Ten were wounded in a single incident in downtown Charleston (SC), where a police officer was injured by glass fragments when rounds shattered his car’s windows. There were eight mass shootings during the Memorial day weekend in 2021, with eight dead and 46 wounded, and thirteen in 2020, with nine dead and 55 wounded.

5/28/22  “It was the wrong decision, period.” That’s how Texas DPS Director Steven C. McCraw feels about what turned out to be an hour-long delay before officers stormed the gunman who massacred nineteen students and two teachers at an Uvalde elementary school. His sentiments were seconded by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was “absolutely livid” after hearing accounts of children who called 9-1-1 begging for police to respond. Yet two of the first officers on scene had been grazed by the shooter’s bullets, which pierced a door and struck them in the hallway.

5/27/22  Uvalde (TX) police are being criticized for failing to persistently confront Salvador Ramos after he began his rampage at Robb Elementary school. Ramos, who was carrying a rifle and a bag of ammunition, fired at two bystanders as he walked to the school. He climbed a fence, fired more rounds, and entered the building through an unlocked door. Less than five minutes later several police officers arrived and went inside. Ramos opened fire and they backed off. Officers then focused on evacuating students. A half-hour later tactical teams went in and exchanged fire with Ramos, killing him.

In two recent mass killings - one at a Buffalo market, the other in a Texas elementary school - the shooters used “Gen Z” apps, including Snapchat, Instagram, Discord, Yubo and Twitch to communicate and share their intentions. These platforms are designed from the ground up for privacy, and messages and images exchanged within their boundaries can prove impossible for outsiders to monitor.

5/26/22  An “active shooter” is defined as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” The FBI’s 2021 “Active Shooter Incidents” report indicates there were 61 such incidents in 2021, with 103 persons killed and 140 wounded other than the shooter. The toll was the highest in five years and up sharply from 2020, when there were forty shootings, causing 38 deaths and leaving 126 wounded. Twelve incidents in 2021 and five in 2020 met the “mass killing” definition, meaning three or more deaths other than the shooter.

5/25/22  On May 24, in Uvalde, Texas, Salvador Ramos, 18, shot and wounded his grandmother. He then walked into an elementary school with an AR-15 style rifle and opened fire, killing nineteen students and two teachers. Ramos was shot dead by police. He  legally purchased two assault-style rifles and a supply of ammunition days earlier, shortly after turning eighteen. Described as a troubled youth, Ramos had reportedly posted photos of his guns online and a suggestion that “kids should watch out.”

5/20/22  A Buffalo 9-1-1 dispatcher with eight years experience has been suspended and faces termination for reportedly hanging up on one of the TOPS employees who called in during the massacre. An assistant office manager said her voice was hushed because she feared being overheard by the shooter. But the dispatcher insisted she speak up, then hung up when she didn’t.  “...Out of nervousness, my phone fell out of my hand, she said something I couldn’t make out, and then the phone hung up.”

5/19/22  In response to the Buffalo massacre, New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued an executive order directing that State Police seek an extreme risk protection order barring persons from gun possession “when there is probable cause to believe the respondent is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to himself, herself, or others.” She also directed that State Police form a counterterrorism team that would, among other things, analyze social media posts for potential threats.

5/18/22  Payton Gendron was friendless and lonely in high school. Other students thought him “socially awkward and nerdy” and avoided him. He didn’t talk much, and when he did “it was about isolation, rejection and desperation.” Gendron learned his racist views online. He became consumed with computer games and was fascinated by guns. He struggled to keep his parents unaware that he had dropped out of college, had bought guns and was readying an attack. And a half-hour before it began, he invited other Discord users into his chat room to view his plans, and to watch. Apparently, fifteen did.

David Wenwei Chou, 68, opened fire with two handguns during a banquet of Taiwanese parishioners at a Laguna Woods, Calif. church on May 15, killing one person and wounding five. Although he said he did it because of anger at Taiwan, Chou was a deeply troubled person. His wife had left him and moved away. Impoverished and unable to pay rent, he had been evicted from his apartment. New tenants found “horrible pictures” of Chou posing with a gun, including one at a memorial to a mass shooting. “I just don’t care about my life anymore” he said. A beating he suffered years earlier had also left its toll.

5/17/22   Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron began posting his plans and intentions in November 2021 on Discord, an online chat application. His screen name was Jimboboiii. One message explained that he avoided losing his gun rights after being taken in for the mental health check by insisting that his “murder-suicide” comment was a joke. But it wasn’t - “I wrote that down because that’s what I was planning to do.” Gendron also wrote that he made an advance visit to Tops to check it out and had a “close call” with the guard, who became suspicious about his multiple entrances and exits to the store.

An NIJ study of 172 mass shooters between 1966-2019 reveals that most were deeply troubled persons and often in “a state of crisis” when they committed their acts. Most were employees or students of the institutions they targeted, used lawfully purchased handguns, and “engaged in leaking their plans before opening fire.” NIJ’s data source was the Violence Project database of mass shootings.



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