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Posted 12/5/18


Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATES (scroll)

4/18/24  Inspired by the Lewiston mass shooting, Maine’s legislature approved a “sweeping” gun-control bill that imposes a 72-hour wait on gun purchases, bans bump stocks, requires criminal record checks for private gun sales, and makes it a crime to “recklessly” transfer a gun to a prohibited person. But while the State’s “Yellow Flag” law was strengthened, a proposed “Red Flag” measure that would allow family members (not just police) to petition for gun seizures was not included.

3/25/24  Johns Hopkins U. and DOJ have established the “National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center”. Its purpose is to advise and help train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, clinicians and other service providers in the use of ERPO (“Red Flag”) laws, which authorize courts to issue orders directing the seizure of firearms from dangerous persons. Website

1/12/24  Robert Card, the military reservist who murdered eighteen persons at a Lewiston, Maine bowling alley and bar last October, had well-known mental health issues. About a month before the  massacre, a fellow reservist told their superior that “I believe he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.” Months earlier, relatives had told police that Card was “paranoid” and shouldn’t be around guns. Last year, his odd behavior led military authorities to place Card in a psychiatric ward for two weeks. He was also barred from handling firearms while on duty. Local sheriff’s deputies, though, said there wasn’t enough to activate the state’s “yellow flag” law and get a court order to bring Card in for a hearing. (See below update)

10/27/23  Including the recent massacre in Lewiston, Maine, the U.S. has suffered 28 mass killings during the past six months, leaving 140 innocent persons dead. According to the AP/USA Today/NE University database, which defines mass killings as violent attacks by guns or other means where four or more persons other than the killer died within 24 hrs., that’s a record high. Maine’s gun laws are considered weak. It does not prohibit assault weapons or large-capacity magazines. Responding to mass shootings, it passed a “Yellow Flag” law four years ago, allowing police to seek a court order to detain a seemingly dangerous person, but only after a medical practitioner has declared them of unsound mind. (See above update)

7/24/23  Huu Can Tran, the 72-year old man who opened fire in a Monterey Park, Calif. dance studio in January,  killing eleven and wounding nine, had reportedly sent a “manifesto” to the FBI days before the massacre. Its contents have not been released. Tran had also recently complained to police that his family “defrauded and tried to poison him.” House members have since introduced Federal bills to fund local efforts to increase awareness of Red Flag laws, including by families that are not English-proficient.

7/10/23  According to his roommates, Kimbrady Carriker routinely wore an armored vest and was agitated and acting abnormally in the days before he opened fire on the streets of Philadelphia’s distressed Kingsessing neighborhood. Their solution was to keep out of his way. While attired in his vest, Carriker had also recently introduced himself as a “town watchman” to a neighbor. Pennsylvania does not presently have a “Red Flag Law”; a bill to bring one into effect is pending in the Senate.

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.

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.

5/8/23  One year ago, soon after her release from a psychiatric hospital, the deeply troubled 21-year old daughter of a Michigan couple purchased a pistol. Days later she murdered her boyfriend and her brother, then committed suicide. Her parents had asked police to take their daughter’s guns, but they refused because of “her Second Amendment right.” Michigan is now set to pass a Red Flag law to facilitate gun seizures from the mentally disturbed. But “over half” the state’s counties say they are 2nd. Amendment “sanctuaries,” and sheriffs have warned that Red Flag laws would be ignored.

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.

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.

2/15/23  DOJ has allocated over $200 million to help States establish and run programs that allow family members, police and others to petition courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders” (ERPO’s) that authorize police to seize guns from persons who may be a danger to themselves or others. These funds can also be used for mental health initiatives that are intended to prevent gun violence.

12/17/22  In 2021 a Colorado judge dismissed kidnapping charges against Anderson Aldrich, who recently committed the “Club Q” massacre, because the victims, his grandparents, stopped cooperating. But the judge spoke about Aldrich’s mental illness, affinity for guns and history of making threats and warned that without treatment, “it’s going to be so bad.”

12/9/22  One day before Anderson Aldrich’s family called police about his bomb threat, his grandparents alerted the FBI about his “homicidal threats.” While the FBI opened an investigation, it dropped it after local authorities charged Aldrich with menacing and kidnapping. Those charges, though, were also ultimately dropped. Police say that family members refused to cooperate and avoided subpoenas. “At the end of the day, they weren’t going to testify against Andy,” said a neighbor.

11/21/22  Late Saturday night, November 19, Colorado Springs-area resident Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, burst into a local gay nightclub and opened fire with an AR-15 style rifle, killing five and injuring two dozen. A patron quickly subdued him. Last June deputies responded to a call by Aldrich’s mother, who said her son was threatening her with a homemade bomb. Aldrich was arrested, but no bomb was found and no charges were filed. El Paso County, where the incident occurred, has declared itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary” and passed a 2019 resolution criticizing Colorado’s Red Flag law. AP analysis

9/3/22  A major AP study reveals that Red Flag orders requiring risky persons to surrender their guns are used sparingly. About 15,000 such orders have been issued in nineteen states and D.C. since 2020. But even in Florida, which leads the pack in their use, they are mostly issued in a select few jurisdictions where they hold political appeal. Examples abound of where they could have been used but weren’t. One is Brandon Hole, who bragged that “they don’t have a flag on me” before buying the AR-15 rifles he would use to murder his co-workers in an Indianapolis warehouse.

8/23/22  Many experts dispute the notion that mental illness is a useful predictor of one’s propensity to commit a mass shooting. Many persons suffer from mental problems, but there is no test that can weed out who might become a killer. Some shooters didn’t evidence prior mental distress, while others who did either failed to draw official attention or didn’t meet the requirements of “Red Flag” laws. One approach is to concentrate on persons who are suffering from a “life crisis.” NIJ pamphlet on school shootings

8/9/22  Authorities don’t think that the circumstances that brought Robert Crimo to police attention three years before the Highland Park massacre would have merited a restraining order. After all, Crimo didn’t then have any guns. His family could have sought one, but they apparently didn’t know about the option. Still, Illinois lags behind other States in the use of restraining orders, and training and outreach efforts are underway to promote their use.

7/10/22  In Illinois, loopholes are being blamed for the acquisition of guns by dangerous persons. Robert Crimo III, the Highland Park shooter, had threatened family members. But he had not yet acquired guns and State officers disagreed he warranted being disqualified. So when he later applied for a gun permit there was no entry in the system to stop him. Three years earlier another mass shooter, Gary Martin, was cleared to buy guns despite a felony conviction because his name check went astray. Two months later, when the problem was discovered, his local police department failed to follow up and seize his gun.

7/2/22  Officers attempting to serve an emergency protection order in rural Kentucky were met with a barrage of gunfire as they approached the subject’s home. Six were wounded, three fatally. Lance P. Storz, 49, who allegedly raped the woman who sought the order, was reportedly lying in wait for police with a rifle and other firearms. He eventually surrendered. His town of residence, Allen, Kentucky, is too small to have a police force, so officers from nearby agencies were involved. (Note: Storz committed suicide while jailed.)

6/10/22  On a party-line vote, House members passed a Federal “Red Flag” law that would apply nationwide. It authorizes Federal courts to order the immediate seizure of guns from persons thought by family members or police to pose an extreme risk. Hearings would come later. Criticized by the “Reds” as overreach, this response to the Uvalde school massacre is thought to have no chance for enactment.

6/7/22  In the wake of the Buffalo massacre, NY Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of ten gun-control laws. All semi-automatic rifles must be licensed and may only be bought and possessed by persons twenty-one or older. Body armor may only be sold to police and security personnel, the Red Flag system was strengthened, and new guns must be micro-stamped to help link them to recovered cartridges.

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.

5/17/22   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 being flagged and losing his gun rights after being taken in for the mental health check by insisting to the authorities that his “murder-suicide” comment had been a joke. But it wasn’t - “I wrote that down because that’s what I was planning to do.”

4/8/22  Police in Roseville, a prosperous city of about 35,000 on the outskirts of Minneapolis, were called to a neighborhood where a middle-aged man “with a history of mental health-related calls” (there had been fifteen) was peppering homes with volleys of rifle fire. Police engaged the man in a running gun battle and ultimately shot him dead. One officer suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound to the face.

2/2/22  Boulder (CO) police arrested a California man who reportedly threatened violence against a local school. Matthew Harris, 31, was the subject of a June 2021 workplace violence restraining order issued by a Los Angeles judge after the one-time university philosophy lecturer threatened a co-worker. Harris’s behavior got him fired. He then distributed an “800-page manifesto” replete with references to “homicidal violence including at school settings.” Harris tried to buy a gun at a Boulder-area store in November but was turned away because the restraining order came up during his background check.

8/3/21  In response to a 2019 mass shooting that killed five persons and wounded six, including five police officers (see 2/16/19 update) Illinois enacted a law that directs State police to confiscate firearms from persons whose State firearms ID cards have been revoked, say, due to a felony conviction, but may still have guns. Background checks for private party gun sales will also be required beginning in 2024.

7/3/21  Ian David Long, the Borderline Bar shooter, reportedly suffered from PTSD brought on by his experiences as a Marine Corps gunner in Afghanistan. He was reportedly haunted by the image of bodies and was obsessed with death and violence. Investigators believe he took revenge at the bar’s “country college night” because fellow students at Cal State Northridge had “disrespected” his military service.

5/18/21  In Caniglia V. Strom (no. 20-157, 5/17/21) the Supreme Court ruled that police must have a warrant to enter a residence and seize a reportedly suicidal person’s firearms. In this case officers were summoned by a woman who reported that her husband threatened to kill himself with a gun. He agreed to go to the hospital but refused to give up his weapons. But after he left the officers went in and took them. That, the Justices unanimously held, exceeds the scope of the police “caretaking” function.

5/7/21  Although the FBI and police took away his shotgun last year because of his odd behevior, Brandon Hole went on to legally purchase the two AR-15 style rifles - a Ruger AR-556 and an HM Defense HM15F - that he used in the April 15 FedEx massacre. Indianapolis’ prosecutor said he didn’t then pursue his state’s “Red Flag” law because his office did not have the time and resources to comply with the procedure’s stiff requirements. A local judge has now ordered the prosecutor to refer all such cases submitted by police. Presumably that will include the forty-five officers sent in so far this year.

5/1/21  “They were just kind of giving us a heads up, ‘This is what he’s thinking about doing.’” That’s how North Carolina Sheriff Len Hagamana characterized recent warnings about Isaac Alton Barnes, 32, a well-armed resident of Boone whom neighbors feared was getting set to explode. But nothing was done, and on April 28 he did. Barnes’ shooting rampage took the lives of his mother and stepfather and two deputies. He committed suicide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giffords: States With “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” (Red Flag States)


Houston, We Have (Another) Problem     Policing Can’t Fix What Really Ails    Is Diversion the Answer?

“Legal” Gun Buyers Can be a Problem     Good Law / Bad Law     Another Day, Another Massacre

When a Dope Can’t be Roped     Four Weeks, Six Massacres     Two Weeks, Four Massacres

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

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

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

Say Something     Disturbed person        

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


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

Red flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For updates see Red Flag II

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Giffords: States With “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” (Red Flag States)


Ideology (Still) Trumps Reason     Houston, We Have (Another) Problem

Policing Can’t Fix What Really Ails     Is Diversion the Answer?

“Legal” Gun Buyers Can be a Problem     Good Law / Bad Law     Cops v. Assault Weapons

Another Day, Another Massacre     When a Dope Can’t be Roped     Four Weeks, Six Massacres

Two Weeks, Four Massacres     One Week, Two Massacres    Red Flag II     Was a Dope Roped?

Going Ballistic    A Distinction     Ban the Damned Things!     Again, Kids Die     Preventing Mass Murder

Massacre Control     A Stitch in Time     Coming Clean in Santa Barbara     Say Something

Disturbed person 

Posted 6/24/18


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gray cr record small

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

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

Amos convictions small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to that what can we add but, Amen!

UPDATES (scroll)

7/8/24  “We know it’s going on throughout the nation, but this is the first time that we’ve had a mass shooting in Florence.” In a heartfelt news conference, Florence, Kentucky Police Chief Jeff Mallery described the horrors perpetrated by 21-year old Chase Garvey,  who burst into a birthday party and opened fire, killing a 44-year old householder and three guests and seriously wounding three others. Garvey, a local resident, committed suicide while being pursued. He had been convicted of felony rape and felony sodomy in 2021.

6/24/24  A study of state firearm “dispossession” laws reveals that 31 states require that persons subject to domestic violence protection orders relinquish their guns. Seventeen mandate it for persons with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, and “only” nine for convicted felons. Eighteen states lack a dispossession law of any kind. And where such laws exist, most have “gaps” that hinder their usefulness. Few States impose unconditional requirements that judges issue “shall relinquish” orders whenever a person becomes prohibited, and that police take steps to enforce them.

6/13/24  Gun-packing evildoers, some armed with home-made “machineguns,” are besetting Naperville, a supposedly tony enclave an hour’s drive from Chicago. On June 11 Naperville police arrested a wanted parolee who was packing a loaded Glock that had been modified to fire fully automatically. A few days earlier officers seized a similar, illegally converted Glock from a 19-year old. And on that same day, they took two handguns from a 24-year old felon who had opened fire from his car.

6/12/24  To help combat the purchase of firearms on behalf of felons and other prohibited possessors, and the distribution of guns to criminal groups, Congress created specific laws that define “straw purchase” (18 USC 932) and “firearms trafficking” (18 USC 933). Enacted in June 2022 under the umbrella of the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act”, these statutes have thus far led to more than five-hundred prosecutions. Each carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years.

6/5/24  On May 30 a police officer responding to a shots-fired call at a Minneapolis apartment complex approached a man sitting next to a car who seemed to need help. But Mustafa Mohamed, 35, was the shooter. He drew a gun and opened fire, killing officer Jamal Mitchell. Other officers exchanged fire with Mohamed. He was killed and an officer and bystander were wounded. A fatally wounded man and one with critical wounds were found inside an apartment. Mohamed, a convicted burglar, was released from Federal prison in 2020 after serving a term for felon with a gun. He was presently wanted for robbery.

5/17/24  Illinois requires that would-be gun owners get an FOID card, which confirms they are eligible to have a gun. But authorities have not checked on more than eighty-thousand card holders who had their rights revoked due to a felony conviction, mental health issue or other serious reason. Police are supposed to take their cards and insure they don’t have guns. Illinois has provided some funding for revocation teams, but resources  are lacking. Meanwhile gun misuse by revoked card holders continues.

5/1/24  A Deputy U.S. Marshal, two State corrections officers and a local police officer were killed, and four local police officers were wounded, when they sought to arrest a felon wanted for gun violations at a residence in Charlotte, North Carolina. Terry Clark Hughes, 39, inflicted the casualties by firing on the officers with an AR-15 rifle from the home’s second story as they approached. Clark was later shot and killed when he exited the residence. Two female occupants of the home are being questioned. Chief’s briefing

3/21/24  Just launched, “Operation Safe Cities” partners the FBI and ATF with local police to combat commercial robbery, kidnapping, extortion and gun crime in Southern California. “Sophisticated investigative tools” including firearms tracing will be used to target dangerous offenders for Federal prosecution. For example, persons with three or more prior convictions for violent crimes can draw a mandatory fifteen-year Federal term if caught with a gun.

1/3/24  A ten-year old Sacramento County, Calif. boy shot and killed another ten-year old using a gun he found in his father’s car. His dad, Arkete Davis, a 53-year old ex-con, then threw the gun into a trash can. Deputies found the gun, which had been reported stolen in 2017. They arrested the father on a variety of felonies, including felon with a firearm. His son was detained on murder charges.

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.

11/8/23  A passerby spotted a 21-year old man ambling down the sidewalk across from D.C.’s Union Station. He was carrying an assault-style pistol. Because of the location’s proximity to the Capitol, its police responded. But the man ignored their orders to stop. So they Tased him. Ahmir Lavon Merrell, a convicted sex offender, was arrested without further incident. Merrell, who is wanted for violating probation in Georgia, faces multiple charges, including ex-con with a gun.

4/25/23  In March 2021 the 10-year old son of a Hanford, Calif. woman was shot dead by her ex-husband as he watched over the child. Victor Gomes then committed suicide. A judge had issued a restraining order years earlier forbidding Gomes from having firearms. Gomes turned in the gun he had, then went to a store and bought the one he would use in the murder-suicide. Apparently the restraining order had never been entered, as required, into the statewide CLETS database. Gomes’ ex-spouse is now suing the State. She’s also writing a book entitled “Can I Still Be Funny After My Son’s Murder?”

4/12/23  California’s “Armed and Prohibited Persons” system identifies persons who lawfully purchased a gun in the State but later became unqualified to possess firearms due to a felony conviction or other reason. State agents then endeavor to seize the firearms. In 2022 agents contacted about 24,000 persons and retrieved 1,437 firearms, including “712 handguns, 360 rifles, 194 shotguns, 80 assault weapons, 54 ghost guns, 43 receivers or frames, 3 short-barreled shotguns, and 1 machine gun.

1/18/23  Solomon Pena, an Albuquerque man who was released from prison in 2016 after doing nine years for participating with a “burglary crew,” then had his votings rights restored, recently staged a losing run for Governor under the “MAGA” banner. He promptly complained of fraud. Pena’s now under arrest for having four others help him unload fusillades of gunfire at the homes of local Democrats. His most recent alleged attack was on January 3rd., when more than a dozen rounds pierced a State Senator’s home, with three penetrating the bedroom of her sleeping ten-year daughter.

12/17/22  Two-and-one-half years in Federal prison. That’s the sentence handed down to Jamel Danzy, who straw-purchased (bought for someone else) the pistol that two brothers, Eric and Emonte Morgan, used to shoot and kill Chicago police officer Ella French last year. Danzy admitted to an ATF agent that he bought the gun for Eric Morgan, who as a felon couldn’t do it himself. U.S. District Judge Gettleman gave Danzy, a “college-educated” man who expressed great remorse, half the maximum term.

8/22/22 Robert Adams,the 23-year old Black man shot dead by San Bernardino, Calif. officers July 16, was on probation for armed robbery and had outstanding warrants. Officers encountered him after being called about a man armed with a gun. Video shows Adams approaching their unmarked car, then running off while holding a pistol in his hand. Officers chased him on foot and ordered him to drop the gun. He did not, and they repeatedly fired. All the bullets entered from his back. A 9mm. pistol was recovered. Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents Adams’ survivors, criticized the shooting as needless.

8/12/22  Carlos Delcid, 20, and a 17-year old companion were arrested for the August 8 robbery-murder of rookie Monterey Park, Calif. police officer Gabriel Solorio. Officer Solorio, who was off-duty, was shot five times as he tried to flee. Delcid was on felony probation after recently pleading no contest to burglary and domestic violence (charges of assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and witness intimidation were dismissed.) He also had a prior record.

6/30/22  Justin Flores, a 35-year old Southern California man, had a long criminal record. But thanks to the D.A.’s intercession, his conviction last year for felon with a gun resulted in probation. And even as Flores continued misbehaving - a warrant was recently issued for domestic violence - probation officers failed to follow up in person. So they’re also catching blame for the violent deaths of two El Monte police officers earlier this month, shot dead by Flores when they responded to reports of an assault at a motel. According to the L.A. Times, probation officers visited Flores once in sixteen months.

6/20/22  A proposed gun-control compromise in the Senate would extend gun purchase background checks to juvenile records. But the present system, which scans buyers for adult felony convictions, domestic violence and drug use, is already highly stressed and riddled with “loopholes.” Authorities have only three days to respond before a weapon must be delivered. So thousands of buyers later deemed unqualified get guns each year. Incorporating information about 18-21 year olds would be a stretch.

6/17/22  According to a deputy L.A. county prosecutor, Justin Flores, who murdered two El Monte police officers on June 14, had a prior felony conviction that should have counted as a “strike” when he was arrested for drug and gun offenses in 2020. But new, progressive D.A. George Gascon forbid using enhancements. In 2021 Flores pled no contest, and the lack of a “strike” enabled him to get probation instead of prison time. Flores was under probation supervision when he gunned down the officers. Judges later ruled that State sentencing laws overruled Gascon’s lenient policy, and he withdrew it.

6/16/22  Justin Flores, the 35-year old man who shot and killed two El Monte (CA) police officers responding to a reported stabbing in a motel room, had multiple felony convictions dating back to 2011 and was barred from having guns. Indeed, he was on felony probation for a 2021 conviction for illegally possessing a firearm. His supervising officer had just requested that the probation be revoked because Flores assaulted his girlfriend, but instead of an arrest a hearing was scheduled for the near future.

1/31/22  On January 27, Roland Caballero, a three-time felon pending charges for aggravated robbery,  opened fire with an alleged machinegun as Houston police officers responded to a domestic disturbance. His estimated 50-round barrage caused three officers to sustain “non-life threatening” wounds. Caballero eventually surrendered and is hospitalized with a bullet wound to the neck.

1/8/22  In a Washington Post op-ed, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), chair of the Judiciary Committee, cites the killing of Chicago police officer Ella French with a gun bought at a store on a felon’s behalf as an example of the risks of “straw” purchase. Senator Durbin and colleagues have introduced a “bipartisan bill,” the “Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2021” that specifically makes purchasing guns for legally unqualified persons a Federal crime.

8/3/21  In response to a 2019 mass shooting that killed five persons and wounded six, including five police officers (see 2/16/19 update) Illinois enacted a law that directs State police to confiscate firearms from persons whose State firearms ID cards have been revoked, say, due to a felony conviction, but may still have guns. Background checks for private party gun sales will also be required beginning in 2024.

7/2/21  Missouri is one of nine States that has enacted laws that “discourage or prohibit” police from cooperating in the enforcement of Federal gun laws. Its “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which was ostensibly intended to soften the blow should new Federal gun regulations pass, declares many Federal gun laws “invalid” and prohibits police from participating in their enforcement. Accordingly, some Missouri agencies have pulled their officers from working with ATF. However, the Administration’s gun bill has stalled in the Senate. It would expand background checks to include private party and gun show sales and lengthen the waiting period from three to ten days. That seems important as a surge in gun sales has overwhelmed the FBI background check process. During Jan. - Sept. 2020, it couldn’t complete 3.4 percent (316,000) within three days, so guns were delivered without them.

6/6/21  Three days of protests have followed the shooting death of Minneapolis resident Winston Smith, 32 by sheriff’s deputies assigned to a Federal fugitive task force. Smith, who was wanted on Federal charges of being a felon with a gun, allegedly fired on officers as they approached his vehicle. The gun he reportedly used and a spent bullet casing were recovered. There is no bodycam video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ideology Trumps Reason

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATES (scroll)

6/14/24  Two years after the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, in which bump stock-equipped rifles were used to murder sixty, ATF ruled that the devices, which it previously permitted, were illegal machinegun conversion parts. But Federal law defines machineguns as firing repeatedly with a single trigger pull. Bump stocks use recoil to repeatedly pull the trigger while it’s depressed. That difference led the 5th. Circuit to strike down ATF’s ruling as inconsistent with the law. And in a 6-3 decision that aligns with its ideological split, the Supreme Court just agreed. To outlaw bump stocks, the law itself must change. States, though, appear free to outlaw bump stocks if they wish. Garland v. Cargill

2/26/24  In 2022 California enacted AB 1594, a law that enables private persons to sue the gun industry over practices that unreasonably endanger the public. But a Federal judge just blocked enforcement of a provision that allows lawsuits for making and peddling “abnormally dangerous” guns. Other provisions, including those that forbid unfair business practices and require “reasonable controls” for gun safety, remain in effect while litigation over the law continues. (See 1/5/22 update)

1/17/24  A reopening plan for Iowa’s Perry High School, which was the scene of a lethal shooting on January 4, is on hold because of the principal’s death. And because parents are demanding an increase in preventative measures, whose alleged lack they blame for what took place. Measures under consideration include “single-point entry to buildings, a no-bag policy and additional security such as hall monitors”. Students are being offered counseling, and police will be present when classes resume. (See below update)

1/15/24  Dan Marburger, the principal of the Perry (IO) high school that was attacked on January 4 by an armed 17-year old, has died. According to public safety authorities, Mr. Marburger “acted selflessly and placed himself in harm’s way in an apparent effort to protect his students.” His intervention reportedly helped some students escape, but it caused him to suffer critical wounds. He had served as the school’s principal for nine years. (See above and below updates)

1/5/24  Carrying a handgun, a shotgun and an “improvised explosive device” a high school student opened fire in the dining hall, killing a visiting 6th. grader and wounding four other students and three staff members, including the principal. It happened on January 4 just before the start of class at Perry High School, in Perry, Iowa. Dylan Butler, 17, then committed suicide. He posted threatening online messages shortly before the rampage. His principal, Dan Marbuger, had reportedly tried to dissuade him, and the delay enabled some students to flee. (See above updates)

11/6/23  ATF’s 2019 rule that bans accessories known as “bump stocks” because they effectively transform semi-automatic rifles into machineguns was set aside last year by the Fifth Circuit, which held that a change in law would be required. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, and it recently agreed to decide whether a regulation would suffice.

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

3/29/23  Audrey Hale, the 28-year old Nashville resident who staged a massacre at a Christian elementary school two days ago, was receiving medical care for an “emotional disorder.” Hale legally purchased the three guns used in the shooting, and four others, at local stores. All the guns were kept hidden from Hale’s parents, with whom Hale resided.

3/28/23  Yesterday morning 28-year old Audrey Hale entered Covenant School, a Christian elementary school in Nashville, carrying two assault rifles and a pistol. Hale promptly opened fire, killing three nine-year old students and three employees, each in their early sixties. Officers soon arrived and shot Hale dead. According to police, Hale, once a student at the school, had no criminal record and two of the weapons were legally acquired from local sources. More guns, plans for the massacre and a “manifesto” suggesting Hale’s motives were found in the residence where Hale and Hale’s father resided.

3/17/23  Cullman, Ala. is home to West Elementary School. And it’s now home to bulletproof fold-out 8 X 8 rooms that can protect up to thirty persons from deranged shooters. Designed and installed by a local contractor, they were inspired by a plea from his wife as she watched coverage of the Uvalde massacre. Their ballistic protection is said to protect occupants from “most handguns and rifles,” and their locks are supposedly impermeable. Each costs about $50,000, and there’s hope for funding.

1/7/22  Several Federal appeals courts have upheld ATF’s 2019 rule that banned bump stocks as machineguns. But the Fifth Circuit just disagreed. Bump stocks use recoil to repeatedly pull the trigger on behalf of gun users. And it’s that fact - that the trigger actually moves when succeeding rounds are discharged - which underlies the new ruling. As defined by law, “real” machineguns fire repeatedly with a single squeeze of the trigger. So it will likely be up for the Supremes to decide.

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.

8/6/22  During the trial of the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the parents of six-year old Scarlett Lewis, who was murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre, Infowars host Alex Jones admitted he was wrong: the massacre did happen. In closing arguments, though, his lawyer denied that Jones’ public rants about what he long insisted was a made-up event caused real harm. But jurors disagreed, awarding $4.1 million in compensatory and $45.2 million in punitive damages. Jones still faces two more lawsuits.

8/1/22  School districts across the U.S. have increased the use of armed teachers. Twenty-eight now allow faculty other than guards to pack guns. Florida’s program, which began after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman high school massacre, is one of the largest. Spurred by the recent massacre in Uvalde, Ohio changed its law, reducing required training to 24 hours from the the 700 hours previously mandated.

6/29/22  Shootings at public and private elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. have been tracked by the Department of Education since 2000. During the 2020-2021 school year there were fifty that caused injuries and 43 that caused deaths. That’s the most in each category since recordkeeping began in 2000-2001. Then the corresponding numbers were seven and sixteen. DOE report 

1/5/22  Urged on by the Governor, California legislators have proposed a new bill, AB 1594, to enable individuals to file “public nuisance” lawsuits against gun makers, distributors or retailers who engage in “unfair business practices” or whose “failure to follow federal, state, or local law” causes death or injury. It’s modeled after a recently-enacted New York state statute, S 7196, which addresses the “illegal” or “unreasonable” manufacture, marketing or sale of firearms. Both seem to clash in part with a 2005 Federal measure, the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” which prohibits Federal and State civil suits against members of the gun industry for damages caused by “the misuse of their products.” (See 2/26/24 update)

7/30/21  Despite bankrupt Remington Arm’s offer to settle for $33 million, the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre are demanding all of the company’s documents relating to the lawsuit. Their position, they say, will prevail, since they claim that the Federal “Protection of Commerce” law doesn’t shield Remington as it violated Connecticut law by purposely marketing the Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle used in the attack to appeal to persons who would be prone to its misuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kids With Guns     “Legal” Gun Buyers Can be a Problem     Loopholes are (Still) Lethal

Cops v. Assault Weapons    Another Day, Another Massacre     An American Tragedy     Red Flag (I) (II)

Ban the Damned Things!    Massacre Control     Bump Stocks     Silence Isn’t Always Golden

A Ban in Name Only     A Matter of Life and Death     Reviving an Illusion

Posted 2/20/18


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

Mass shootings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATES (scroll)

7/18/24  In 2019 Robert Crimo’s threatening and suicidal behavior led Highland Park, Ill. police to file a State “clear and present danger report”. But three months later, when Crimo’s father sponsored him for a firearm owner’s ID card, the report was missing from the files. So the Illinois State Police issued the card, enabling the son to buy the AR-15 rifle that he used to open fire on the town’s July 4, 2022 parade, killing seven and wounding forty-eight. Survivors have now filed a suit against Illinois over the fatal records blunder. (See 7/19/22 update)

7/16/24  Thomas Matthew Crooks, the 20-year old who tried to assassinate former President Trump, was a member of the “Clairton Sportsmen’s Club.” Its vast, Pittsburgh-area facility offers marksmanship classes and hosts youth shooting events. One of its ranges is designed for high-powered rifles, with targets “up to 187 yards away.” According to the FBI, Crooks used an AR-style 5.56mm rifle that had been legally purchased by his father. How the son came to possess it has not been revealed.

7/15/24  Thomas Matthew Crooks, the 20-year old who opened fire at the Trump rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, was a high-school grad who worked at a nursing home in nearby Bethel Park, where he lived with his parents. Crooks used an “AR-15 style” rifle that his father purchased months earlier. Pennsylvania law allows persons 18 or older to buy and possess handguns and long guns. It does not restrict assault weapons. Crooks supposedly wore a gun-themed T-shirt during the assault. A past fellow student described him as a loner who wore “hunting outfits” to school and was chronically bullied. Crooks had no adult criminal record. Authorities found “bomb-making materials” in his vehicle and residence.

7/2/24  AR-15 style assault rifles are in the news. Santa Rosa, Calif. police officers stopped a car Saturday night for no lights. Its driver was wearing a “Jason” mask that fully covered his face. An unloaded, California-illegal Eagle Arms Eagle-15 5.56 mm. assault rifle was on the back seat. Adonay Efriem, 27, was booked for felony possession of an unregistered assault weapon. And in Illinois, the family of Eduardo Uvaldo sued Smith & Wesson, manufacturer of the M&P-15 assault rifle that Robert Crimo used in the 2022 Highland Park massacre. Mr. Uvaldo was one of seven persons who suffered fatal wounds. According to the suit, Smith & Wesson knew that their AR-15 style rifle was being used in massacres, and their sale thus constituted a “negligent entrustment” under Illinois law.

5/1/24  A Deputy U.S. Marshal, two State corrections officers and a local police officer were killed, and four local police officers were wounded, when they sought to arrest a felon wanted for gun violations at a residence in Charlotte, North Carolina. Terry Clark Hughes, 39, inflicted the casualties by firing on the officers with an AR-15 rifle from the home’s second story as they approached. Clark was later shot and killed when he exited the residence. Two female occupants of the home are being questioned. Chief’s briefing

4/17/24  In upstate New York, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Hoosock and Syracuse police officer Michael Jensen were shot and killed by a driver who had fled from a traffic stop. When confronted at his residence, Christopher Murphy, 33, told a friend to leave and opened fire on the officers with an “AR-15 style” rifle. His only criminal record was a decade-old arrest for drunk driving. Murphy was also shot and killed during the exchange.

3/28/24  Although he reported being “profoundly troubled” by gun crime and mass shootings, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (a “Red”) vetoed, as expected, a bill to prohibit assault weapons. According to his message, the Constitution forbids outlawing a broad category of guns used for lawful purposes, including self-defense. In his view, the solution lies in stronger penalties and more money for mental health treatment. Gov. Youngkin also turned away a host of other proposed gun laws. But he signed a bill that outlaws devices which convert guns to fire fully automatically.

2/21/24  Gary, Indiana, a city of 68,000, lies about 25 miles SE of Chicago. Indiana lawmakers are trying to quash its decades-old lawsuit accusing eleven handgun manufacturers, a wholesaler and five retail dealers of knowingly contributing to the city’s violent crime problem. According to the Bill, only the State could sue. But Gary Mayor Eddie Melton strongly objects. “Local governments have the right to fight back against bad actors...who they believe are harming their community.”

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 5/1/23 and 1/9/24 updates)

6/30/23  After four days of deliberation, jurors acquitted the Broward County, Florida school resource officer who had been charged with child neglect and other crimes for not trying to confront the shooter who perpetrated the 2018 Parkland high school school massacre. Scot Peterson, who did not have a tactical vest and only carried a handgun, testified that he initially remained outside the building that Nikolas Cruz roamed with an AR-15 because he didn’t know where the gunfire was coming from. Peterson, who retired after the massacre and was then “retroactively fired,” will retain his pension.

6/16/23  Jurors begin deliberating today, and there’s no doubt they will find Robert Bowers guilty. After all, his own lawyers concede that Bowers gunned down eleven worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018. Still, he’s been charged with sixty-three counts, and it’s possible that a few which require a “conscious intent” to obstruct worship may not hold if jurors believe, as his attorneys insist, that Bowers was acting irrationally. What’s really up in the air is whether, during the second, penalty phase of deliberations, the jury will impose the death sentence.

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.

5/1/23  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.” (Note: on May 4 the Federal 7th. Circuit Court of Appeals restored the state's assault-weapons ban.)(See 1/2/24 update)

4/20/23  More than fifty AR-15 and AK-47 style rifle models are specifically included in a wide-ranging ban on assault weapons passed by the Washington legislature. Governor Jay Inslee, a “Blue,” had pushed for the measure, which was vigorously opposed by the “Red” minority. His signature will make the state the tenth, in addition to the District of Columbia, with a similar ban. Bill text

4/7/23  Spurred by the massacre in Nashville, three of the 23 “Blues” in Tennessee’s House of Representatives joined citizens in a rowdy protest on the House floor demanding stronger gun laws and a ban on assault weapons. But there are 75 “Reds” in the House. So they successfully voted to expel two of the three “Blues”, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson. Expelled representatives, though, can be re-elected. And they can’t be expelled twice for the same reason.

3/30/23  When interviewed after the Uvalde massacre, responding officers agreed that they didn’t storm the shooter because he had an AR-15 rifle, whose powerful projectiles made their regular ballistics vests useless. Two of their colleagues had already been grazed by rounds. “There was no way of going in,” said a sergeant. “We had no choice but to wait and try to get something that had better coverage where we could actually stand up to him.” A major legislative report made no mention of the officers’ remarks.

3/16/23  In March 2021 Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa used an AR-556 “pistol” to murder ten at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket. One of his victims was Suzanne Fountain. Her son has now filed suit against Smith and Wesson for promoting the weapon, essentially an AR-15 rifle refashioned to get around assault weapons restrictions, in a way that appeals to killers. After the Supreme Court refused to intervene, Remington Arms settled a similar suit filed by the families of the Sandy Hook victims for $73 million.

2/9/23  In exchange for “90 consecutive life sentences”, Patrick Crusius, who gunned down 23 persons and wounded 22 others at an El Paso Walmart in August 2019, pled guilty to hate crimes charges and using a firearm in a Federal crime of violence. Crusius, a 23-year old White nationalist, had targeted Hispanic immigrants, and nearly all who died had Hispanic surnames. Crusius, who “spent countless hours on the Internet” following White supremacy, used an assault rifle.

1/12/23  Illinois just enacted a comprehensive new gun law that, among other things, bans the sale of assault weapons and requires the registration of those presently possessed. It also prohibits the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines (max. 10 rounds for rifles, 15 for handguns) and forbids those currently in hand to be carried in public. Devices that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic weapons (i.e., “bump stocks”) are banned altogether.

12/15/22  Survivors of the massacre at “Club Q”, a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub where Anderson Lee Aldrich used an AR-style rifle to kill five and injure nineteen, testified in favor of a new Federal assault weapons law before the House Oversight Committee. But given fierce opposition, its prospects seem non-existent.

11/3/22  After a special jury couldn’t unanimously agree that he merited the death penalty, Nikolas Cruz  drew two consecutive sentences of life-without-parole. In 2018 Cruz, a 19-year old former student, used an AR-15 style assault rifle to murder seventeen and wound an equal number at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (See below updates)

10/14/22  Jurors who deliberated whether Nikolas Cruz should get life or death for the Parkland, Florida high school massacre told media sources that a lone member of the panel, who was then joined by two others, rejected death because she felt that Cruz was mentally ill. Since Florida law requires unanimity to impose a death penalty, Cruz was sentenced to life without parole. Families of the victims reacted angrily. (See 10/10 and 10/13 updates)  Detailed CBS coverage

10/13/22  Rejecting the death penalty, jurors sentenced Nikolas Cruz to life without parole on each of the seventeen counts of murder for the massacre he admittedly carried out on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (see 10/10 update.)

10/10/22  Will Nikolas Cruz, who in 2018 murdered fourteen students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, draw life or death? Played by prosecutors at his ongoing death penalty trial, a videotape of the killer’s interview by forensic psychiatrists painted a grim picture of his years-long preparation for the massacre. Cruz’s defense - that his birth mother’s alcoholism caused him brain damage - must be believed by at least one juror. But even that seems a distant hope.

9/12/22 As jurors assess whether to impose the death penalty on Nikolas Cruz, the expelled student who murdered seventeen at Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, defense lawyers present evidence of a deeply troubled childhood. Raised by a foster family, Cruz and his half-brother, the children of a sex worker, fought viciously, and often damaged the home. Deputies and social workers were repeatedly called, but to no avail. Neither did mental health treatment seem to help.

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.”

8/6/22  During the trial of the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the parents of six-year old Scarlett Lewis, who was murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre, Infowars host Alex Jones admitted he was wrong: the massacre did happen. In closing arguments, though, his lawyer denied that Jones’ public rants about what he long insisted was a made-up event caused real harm. But jurors disagreed, awarding $4.1 million in compensatory and $45.2 million in punitive damages. Jones still faces two more lawsuits.

7/28/22  On July 27 the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing that examined the role of the gun industry in fueling an “epidemic” of violence. According to the Chair, manufacturers caused the problem with marketing approaches that appealed to twisted notions of masculinity while  “flooding our communities with weapons of war.” But gun makers cast the blame on individuals and urged that “these murders are local problems that have to be solved locally.” Committee video

7/21/22  Testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about the massacre in Highland Park, the city’s mayor, Nancy Rotering, who was present during the shooting, urged the enactment of a new Federal assault weapons ban. She also voiced support for Red-Flag laws, national background checks, bans on large-capacity magazines, and reduced immunity for gun dealers. Testimony

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 7/18/24 update)

7/7/22  At a political gathering in Highland Park (IL) two days after the July 4th. massacre, Vice President Kamala Harris urged that Congress “have the courage to act and renew the [Federal] assault weapons ban.” She also called for repeal of the Federal 2005 “liability shield” which prohibits lawsuits against the firearms industry for gun misuse. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently called for a statewide assault weapons ban, which Illinois does not have. (Highland Park passed one in 2013.)

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.

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.)

4/4/22  Nikolas Cruz pled guilty last year to shooting and killing fourteen students and three teachers and wounded seventeen others at a Florida high school in 2018. It’s now time to select the jury who will decide whether he will be put to death. Anything short of unanimity means life without parole. To sit on the case jurors cannot be fundamentally against the death penalty. And to vote for death, they must decide that aggravating factors outweigh “his lifelong mental illness and the deaths of his parents.”

3/17/22  One-hundred twenty seven point-five million. That’s what the Department of Justice has agreed to pay to settle more than forty lawsuits filed in connection with the 2018 massacre by Nikolas Cruz at Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. A tip called in to the FBI five weeks earlier warned that Cruz, who had been expelled from the school for his behavior, had bought guns and intended to “slip into a school and start shooting the place up.” But it was never passed on.

2/28/22  Fourteen persons were shot, one fatally, as an argument erupted between patrons at a Las Vegas hookah lounge two days ago. At least two shooters were involved. Their motives and identities are as yet unknown. It’s the worst shooting in the city since the 2017 massacre, when Stephen Paddock opened fire from a hotel room on the Strip, killing fifty-eight, the most in American history.

2/16/22  Settling a lawsuit filed by the families of nine victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the insurers of bankrupt Remington Arms agreed to pay $73 million to compensate them for the gun maker’s violation of Connecticut laws that forbid marketing products in a way that promotes illegal use. Although a 2005 Federal law shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits over gun misuse, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that it does not bar litigation over purposeful misconduct,  and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

2/8/22  In a lawsuit against the Federal government by the families of the victims of the November 2017 Sutherland Springs massacre, a judge ruled last July that the Air Force’s failure to report Devin Kelley’s court-martial conviction for spousal abuse to the FBI enabled his purchase of the assault rifle he used to murder twenty-six parishioners. On February 7 the judge ordered that the Air Force, which he considered “60 percent responsible” for the tragedy, pay more than $230 million in damages.

12/1/21  In 2015 Massachusetts imposed laws tightening gun licensing and requiring background checks for all gun sales, including private-party transfers. However, a recently-published study that studied the resulting increases in the “percentage of all denied applications, the percentage of denied applications due to unsuitability, and the percentage of denied applications due to statutory disqualification” revealed that the new restrictions had “little to no effect on violent crimes.”

11/23/21  U.S. will pay $127.5 million to settle lawsuits filed by the families of Parkland High School victims over the FBI’s failure to follow up on warnings that the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was planning a rampage. Cruz, a mentally troubled former student, used an AR-15 rifle to kill fourteen students and three teachers and wound seventeen others at the Florida high school in 2018. He pled guilty in October to 17 counts of murder and seventeen of attempted murder and asked for a life sentence. But prosecutors say they will his seek a death sentence at a forthcoming hearing.

7/27/21  In Wasco, a town near Bakersfield, Calif., a 41-year old man armed with an AK-47 style rifle and a handgun opened fire inside his home. Neighbors called deputies and said occupants had been shot. Responding officers were fired on and took cover. Two SWAT members soon approached on foot. The shooter opened fire, reportedly through the windows, fatally wounding Deputy Phillip Campas, 35 and wounding his partner. Two other deputies sustained shrapnel injuries. Deputies shot and killed the assailant as he exited the home. His 42-year old wife and their 17 and 24-year old sons were found inside, all shot dead. A restraining order prohibiting the shooter from having guns was in effect.

7/19/21  Florida upped the minimum age to buy long guns from eighteen to twenty-one after 19-year old Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 rifle he bought at a local gun store to murder seventeen at a high school in 2018. That didn’t stop 18-year old Sol Pais, a Miami resident, from buying a shotgun she apparently intended to misuse in Colorado the next year. To prevent future circumventions, the FBI has agreed to explore modifying its background check system to enforce the buyer’s home State age requirements.

7/11/21  A San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the victims of John Earnest, who stormed into a Poway synagogue in 2019 and opened fire with an AR-15 type rifle that he bought in a local gun shop, killing one and wounding three, can sue Smith & Wesson for marketing a gun that was easily modified into a state-prohibited assault weapon. Victims can also sue the seller, who didn’t confirm that Earnest, who was nineteen, had the hunting license California requires for persons under 21 to buy long guns.

6/22/21  A Ninth Circuit panel stayed the San Diego Federal judge’s decision to throw out California’s assault-weapons ban until the full Circuit rules on other pending challenges to the law. Among these is Duncan v. Bonta, in which a Ninth Circuit panel invalidated a ban on large-capacity magazines.

6/5/21  Ruling that “no legislature has the constitutional authority to dictate to a good citizen that he or she may not acquire a modern and popular gun for self-defense,” San Diego, Calif. Federal judge Roger Benitez threw out California’s assault-weapons ban, which prohibits semi-automatic rifles that hold more than ten rounds or those that accept external magazines and have features such as a pistol grip. Judge Benitez stayed his ruling for thirty days to allow for an appeal. Miller v. Bonta

5/6/21  In an op-ed, sociologist Frederick H. Decker suggests that a “scoring system” based on a weapon’s lethality could be used to devise a “graduated firearm tax.” To avoid circumventions, such as through private sales, background checks would have to be required whenever firearms change hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Texas Tribune investigation of officer comments about the Uvalde suspect’s AR-15

Washington Post feature series on the AR-15

          Introductory article - “The Gun That Divides a Nation”

Author’s op-ed: “Want an assault weapons ban that works? Focus on ballistics”

Author’s op-ed:“America is only pretending to regulate lethal firearms

Author’s Boston public radio interview

Sources of Crime Guns     The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market

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


Kids With Guns     Ideology (Still) Trumps Reason     Houston, We Have (Another) Problem

“Legal” Gun Buyers Can be a Problem     Are We Helpless?     Loopholes are (Still) Lethal

Cops v. Assault Weapons     Another Day, Another Massacre     When a Dope Can’t be Roped

Who’s in Charge?   An American Tragedy    Four Weeks, Six Massacres

Two Weeks, Four Massacres     One Week, Two Massacres   Going Ballistic     Two Sides     A Distinction

“Friendly Fire”     Red Flag (I) (II)     Preventing Mass Murder     Again, Kids Die     Massacre Control

Bump Stocks     A Lost Cause     Do Gun Laws Work?     Silence Isn’t Always Golden

A Ban in Name Only     A Dead Man’s Tales     A Stitch in Time     A Matter of Life and Death

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

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

What About Body Armor?     Long Live Gun Control

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

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