Posted 4/19/21

FOUR WEEKS, SIX MASSACRES

Would stronger gun laws help? We crunch the numbers.
They’re not reassuring.

    
     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. When we left off in “Two Weeks” the toll was three massacres and twenty-two dead in seventeen days. But we had missed one. On March 29, a Maryland man embarked on a vicious shooting spree. His gunfire claimed four lives, including those of his parents, and seriously wounded a fifth person. He then committed suicide. Joshua Green, 27, used two handguns that he bought and legally registered last year. He had no criminal record. So we changed the essay’s title to “Two Weeks, Four Massacres.”

     Then on April 8, as we began working on this essay, tragedy struck in South Carolina. A former NFA player used two pistols to slay an elderly physician and his wife and two of their grandchildren at a Rock Hill home. Phillip Adams, 32, also shot and killed a handyman. Adams had played pro football during 2010-2015 but left the sport after suffering several injuries, including at least two concussions. He clearly found the transition to ordinary life difficult. Family and friends observed that Adams was growing increasingly moody and temperamental and seemed to be “struggling with his mental health.” Of course, no one expected that he’d embark on a murderous spree.

     But he did. Tracked by police to his parents’ home, the former athlete shot himself dead.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Then on April 15, when we though this essay was really, really done, a young gunman toting two assault rifles stormed an Indianapolis FedEx facility (see image above) and opened fire, killing eight and wounding seven. Brandon Scott Hole then committed suicide. A former FedEx employee, the 19-year old was placed on a brief “mental health hold” last year after his mother warned police that he “might try to ‘commit suicide by cop’.” Hole then had a shotgun, which police seized and apparently did not return. But that didn’t slow him down. He went on to legally purchase one assault rifle in July and another in September. Although Indiana has a so-called “Red Flag” law that can be used to bar gun ownership by mentally disturbed persons (more on that later) it was apparently never invoked.

     What could stem the slaughter? Many gun control advocates fiercely insist that stronger laws help. Given your writer’s past career as a Federal firearms agent, he’s not inherently hostile to that approach. Yet when we assessed the effects of gun law strength and related factors on gun deaths and murders four years ago the results weren’t reassuring:

    Our number-crunching confirmed statistically significant associations between gun laws, overall gun deaths and gun suicides, but not between gun laws and gun homicides. While our efforts are admittedly limited, they suggest that gun laws as implemented in the U.S. are far more apt at reducing gun deaths from non-criminal rather than criminal causes.

     So we did it again. This time we used Gifford’s widely-accepted scale of gun law strength. Keeping ostensible causes and effects separate, here are our measures (“variables” in statistics-speak):

Causal variables

  • Gun law strength. Giffords’ 2020 State gun law strength (range 1-50). Giffords assigns #1 to the State with the strongest laws, and #50 to the State with the weakest. We flipped that around. Scaled low law strength to high law strength.
     
  • Gun ownership. RAND 2016 gun ownership by State (proportion of adults living in a household with a firearm in 2016). Scaled low proportion of gun owners to high.
     
  • Percent residents in poverty, by State. From the Census. Scaled few to many.

Effects variables

  • 2019 homicide rates/100,000 pop., by State. From the CDC.
     
  • 2019 firearm murder rates/100,000 pop., by State. From the UCR.
     
  • 2019 firearms mortality/100,000 pop., by State. From the CDC.
     
  • 2019 firearms suicide/100,000 pop., by State. From the CDC.
     
  • 2017-2021 number of persons shot (killed or wounded) in mass shootings (four or more shot on a single occasion) / 100,000 pop., by State. From the Gun Violence Archive. Due to missing or questionable data eight states were excluded. We also did not factor in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, which killed sixty and wounded 411.

     Correlation analysis (the r statistic) was used to assess the relationships between pairs of variables. Here’s a brief discourse:

    Explanation: r’s are on a scale of -1 to +1. If the r is zero the variables aren’t associated, meaning that as the scores of one change the other does its own thing. If the r is either 1 or -1 the relationship is in lockstep. If the r is positive, the scores of the variables increase and decrease together; if it’s negative, as the scores of one variable increase, the scores of the other decrease. Lesser r’s (say, .2 or -.2) denote weaker relationships, thus less synchronicity in the variables’  movements. Due to the nature of the data we omitted the asterisks (*) that report an r’s “significance.” However, in our experience any r that’s .50 or greater, whether positive or negative, definitely bears attention.

     We first assessed the relationships among the “effect” variables. As expected, each was “positive,” meaning their scores increased and decreased together. Many of the relationships were also strong, meaning that the scores changed in substantial synchrony. That’s particularly true for homicide and gun homicide, which seem like two measures of the same thing (nearly 3 out of four murders in 2019 were committed with firearms.) As expected, gun suicides, which accounted for about sixty percent of gun deaths in 2019 (23,941 / 39,707, click here and here) are strongly related to overall gun deaths. Mass shootings were also very strongly related to gun homicides, thus homicides overall.

     We then brought in the “causal” variables: gun law strength, gun ownership and percent of residents in poverty. Here’s the matrix with everyone on board:


     Stronger gun laws are supposed to reduce crime. And maybe they do. All the r’s for gun law strength are negative. As gun laws get tougher, each of the effect measures (say, gun deaths) declines. And as gun laws weaken, the other measures increase. But the strengths of the relationships varies. Gun law strength seems only moderately associated with homicide overall (r=-.33) and its relationships with gun homicides (r=-.20) and mass shootings (r=-.23) are relatively weak. On the other hand, gun law strength is strongly associated with both gun suicides (r=-.76) and gun deaths (r=-.73).

     But there may be a statistical fly in the ointment. Gun law strength has a very robust, negative relationship with gun ownership rates (r=-.84). Problem is, strong associations between variables can exaggerate the apparent strength of their relationships with other variables. So we turned to partial correlation. We begin on the left side of the graph, which reports the relationship between gun suicide rates and gun law strength.  Note that when we “control for” (exclude the influence of) gun ownership, the relationship between gun suicides and gun law strength plunges from r=-.76 to r=-.20. Switch to the right side, which describes the relationship between gun suicide rates and gun ownership. Once we exclude the influence of gun law strength, the association between gun suicides and gun ownership falls from r=.84 to r=.57. What remains, though, is still a good-sized r. Our takeaway is that gun ownership rates seem to be a substantially more powerful influencer of gun suicides than gun law strength.

     Let’s do the same with gun death rates. Once gun ownership gets the boot, the association between gun deaths and gun law strength drops precipitously, from r=-.73 to r=-.30. Same thing happens when we exclude the influence of gun law strength from the association between gun death rates and gun ownership. Bottom line: when it comes to gun deaths, gun law strength and gun ownership are somewhat important, but perhaps much less so than what one might expect.

     And things get more interesting. Check out this matrix. Gun law strength and gun ownership are weakly associated with the three variables that reflect guns’ criminal misuse: homicides, gun homicides and mass shootings. Those “effects” seem far better explained by another “cause.” Can you find it?


     Good job! Yes, it’s poverty. Essays in our Neighborhoods special topic have long examined this social condition, which many criminologists consider a key underlying factor in crime and violence. Check out the relationships between poverty and homicide, poverty and gun homicide, poverty and gun deaths and poverty and mass shootings. Each r is positive and strong, meaning that as poverty increases, so do the others, and in nearly lock-step fashion.

     Everyone knows that many poor neighborhoods are burdened by gun violence. So here’s a “lever,” right? Well, not so fast! After all, the apparently strong relationships between poverty and its soulmates could be a instant replay of what happened earlier. Poverty has moderately strong relationships with both gun ownership and gun law strength. Is it possible that their influence is exaggerating poverty’s relationships with other variables? Once again let’s turn to partial correlation.

     Look at the left graph. “Controlling” for either gun ownership or gun law strength hardly affects the “r” between homicide deaths and poverty. It remains very strong. Ditto gun homicides and poverty.


The next two graphs convey about the same story. Controlling for gun law strength slightly reduces the association between gun death rates and poverty, but it remains robust at r=.52. And the strong relationship between mass shootings and poverty is unaffected.


     So what’s the takeaway? Here are the perpetrators of the six massacres in our series:

  • March 16: Robert Aaron Long, 21, used a 9mm. pistol he bought that morning to murder eight at three Atlanta-area massage parlors
     
  • March 22: Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, used an AR-556 “pistol” to murder ten at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket. He also carried a 9mm pistol
     
  • March 29: Joshua Green, 27, (mentioned here) used two handguns to murder four persons in Maryland
     
  • March 31: Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, 44, used a 9mm. pistol to murder four persons at a Southern California business
     
  • April 8: Phillip Adams, 32, (mentioned here) used two pistols to murder five persons at a private residence in South Carolina
     
  • April 15: Brandon Hole, 19, (mentioned here) used two assault rifles to murder eight persons and wound seven at an Indianapolis FedEx facility

     Best we can tell, none of the gunmen – and all were male – was a convicted felon or had ever been committed to a mental institution. Best we can tell none was prohibited by either Federal law or, indeed, the law of any State from owning or acquiring the firearms they misused. That includes California, which Giffords commends for having the strictest gun laws in the U.S.

     Is it really that hopeless? Let’s go through some of the “levers”.

  • Mental health. Four shooters – Long, Alissa, Adams and Hole – had serious mental issues of which friends and family were well aware. Twenty States have “Red Flag” laws that empower courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders” that authorize police to seize guns from potentially dangerous individuals.  Applications for these orders can be made by law enforcement officers and, in seven States, by family members. Alissa, Hole, Gonzales and Green lived in states with Red Flag laws (Hole’s Indiana requires that police apply.) Of course, obtaining such orders is time-consuming. Serving them can also be risky. And getting family members to inform authorities or cooperate is no easy task.
     
  • Waiting periods. Of the six states in our series, only California imposes a waiting period that delays the delivery of guns purchased at retail (it’s ten days.) Gonzalez, the lone California resident, used guns that he reportedly owned for some time. That doesn’t necessarily mean waiting periods are useless. Long, whose rampage began only hours after buying a gun, resides in Georgia, which has no waiting period. Had he been forced to wait a week or so, he might have “cooled off” or reconsidered.
     
  • Minimum age. Federal laws prohibit licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to persons under twenty-one and long guns (rifles and shotguns) to persons under eighteen (18 USC 922[b][1]). A handful of states have more stringent provisions for long-gun buyers. For example, California only allows dealers to sell bolt-action type rifles to persons under twenty-one, and then only if they have a hunting license. However, no state restricts the purchase or possession of firearms by otherwise qualified persons who have reached full adulthoodm meaning twenty-one. Hole, the only killer younger than twenty-one, was of legal age to buy long guns of any kind in Indiana and nearly everywhere else.
     
  • Gun lethality. Four killers used handguns; two, Alissa and Hole, were armed with assault weapons. (As we mentioned in our previous essay, Colorado classified Alissa’s firearm, really a short-barreled AR-15, as a “pistol.”) That post also addressed the lethality of modern-day handguns and the vicious effects of the ammunition used by assault weapons. Yet even in supposedly gun-hostile California, legislators invariably build in loopholes that lessen the impact of gun control laws on enthusiasts and the firearms industry. Given that propensity, when it comes to guns with fearsome ballistics our response is always the same: “Ban the Damned Things!

     Full stop: what about “regular” gun violence? While six massacres and thirty-nine dead innocents in four weeks is deplorable, those numbers don’t begin to approach the everyday toll of criminal and gang-related gunplay in America’s urban areas. Indeed, a Chicago Tribune columnist recently complained that the “outcry over recent violence in Atlanta, Colorado and California” ignores the incessant gun violence that plagues her community:

    But 15 people were shot at a party in Chicago’s Park Manor neighborhood on March 14 (two days before the Atlanta-area shootings) and eight people were shot outside a Wrightwood neighborhood storefront on March 26 (four days after the Boulder shooting and five days before the Orange shooting.)...What does it say that the violence here is so rarely included in larger discussions — in the media, among politicians — about mass shootings and the trauma they inflict on our nation?

For more about that, check out “The Usual Victims.” Work your way through some of the related posts. Incredible!

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     No, we’re not suggesting that gun laws are useless. Even an r of -.20 (that’s the raw relationship between gun law strength and gun homicides) is something. So tinker with laws and regulations all you want. To make a real impact, though, we must look to the fundamentals. As our Neighborhoods essays repeatedly point out – and as the data clearly suggests – economic deprivation is deeply linked to the violence that besets many American neighborhoods. For our most recent essay on point, check out “Fix Those Neighborhoods!” And while you’re at it, don’t forget to read “Memo to Joe Biden,” recently published in John Jay’s The Crime Report.

     Reducing the toll from gun violence, whatever its form, calls for a return to the fundamentals. What is a “society” all about? How can we strengthen the bonds between humans regardless of their income, social standing, place of residence, ethnicity, or skin color? How can we place America’s downtrodden places on the path to prosperity? We don’t have any quick answers, but that “Marshall Plan” we so frequently peddle could be a good start.

UPDATES

6/16/21  Chicago experienced two mass shootings in a single day. In the troubled Englewood neighborhood, an argument in a residence was settled with gunfire, leaving four dead and four wounded. Hours later five were wounded, one critically, in an “attack” in the Garfield Park area. Other shootings that day left at least two dead and one wounded.

6/13/21  Around the U.S., three mass shootings in the span of a few hours left at least twenty-six wounded and two dead. It began in Savannah on Friday evening when the occupants of a passing car fired dozens of rounds at a crowd gathered outside an apartment complex, killing one and wounding six. Early the next morning, a dispute between two persons in an Austin bar district left fourteen wounded, two critically. About the same time, two gunmen opened fire on a small group gathered in a troubled Chicago neighborhood. One person died and six were wounded.

6/3/21  On May 9 a “jealous and controlling” boyfriend barged into a birthday party being held in a mobile home at a Colorado Springs mobile home park and opened fire. Teodoro Macias, 28, killed six members of an extended family, including his girlfriend. He then turned the gun on himself, inflicting a fatal wound. Macias has no known criminal record; his 9mm pistol had been locally purchased by a third party in 2014. It is said that Macias was angry at being excluded from the event.

5/31/21  Early Sunday morning, May 30, a crowd leaving a Miami-Dade County music hall after the release of a rap album was ambushed by three masked gunmen who had been waiting outside in their vehicle. Wearing “ski masks and hoodies” and wielding semi-automatic rifles and handguns, they unleashed a barrage of fire that killed two and wounded at least twenty.

5/29/21  New information reveals that San Jose mass shooter Samuel Cassidy fired thirty-nine shots during his rampage. He was armed with three 9mm. pistols and carried thirty-two high-capacity pistol magazines. “Highly disgruntled” with his job situation and facing possible discipline, he apparently targeted co-workers whom he did not like. A search of his home revealed twelve additional firearms, twenty-five thousand rounds of ammunition, gasoline cans and suspected molotov cocktails.

5/27/21  A disgruntled San Jose, Calif. railyard employee reportedly armed with “two semiautomatic pistols and 11 magazines of handgun ammunition” opened fire on his early morning work shift, killing nine co-workers. Samuel James Cassidy, 57, then committed suicide. His long-estranged wife said he had a “mercurial temper,” while a girlfriend accused him of rape and alcohol-induced “mood swings” when they exchanged restraining orders several years ago. Cassidy, who apparently set fire to his home before going to work, was described as “lonely and “strange” by a neighbor. There is no indication that Cassidy was either prohibited from having guns or was subject to any weapons prohibitions.

5/25/21  Overriding objections from some law enforcement groups, which pointed out that 2,422 Texans were denied CCW permits in 2020 because of their criminal records, Texas Governor Greg Abott said he will sign a “constitutional carry” bill on his desk that will make his State the twentieth (or by some counts, twenty-first) to let persons who are 21 or older and don’t have a disabling criminal record carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. In 2019, after mass shootings killed 23 in in El Paso and seven in Odessa, Governor Abott recommended “voluntary” background checks for private gun sales.

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.

4/24/21  Each falls just short of the four deaths that a gun massacre has come to mean. Yet the residents of Austin, Texas and Kenosha County, Wisconsin were nonetheless on edge as police searched for gunmen whose “targeted” killings  left three dead and others injured in each community. Both tragedies happened during the afternoon hours of Sunday, April 18. Kenosha’s unfolded in a bar, while the Texas murders took place in an apartment complex, supposedly as result of a domestic dispute.

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RELATED ESSAYS

Memo to Joe Biden: Focus on Neighborhood SafetyThe Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2020

Want an assault weapons ban that works? Focus on ballistics.” Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2019

RELATED POSTS

Special topics: Neighborhoods      Gun massacres

The Usual Victims     Don’t “Divest,” Invest!     Place Matters     One Week, Two Massacres  (I)  (II)

Fix Those Neighborhoods!     Red Flag  (I)  (II)    Ban the Damned Things!     Do Gun Laws Work?

Massacre Control



Posted 4/4/21

TWO WEEKS, FOUR MASSACRES

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


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

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

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATES

5/10/20  On May 9 a “jealous and controlling” boyfriend barged into a birthday party being held in a mobile home at a Colorado Springs mobile home park and opened fire. Teodoro Macias, 28, killed six members of an extended family, including his girlfriend. He then turned the gun on himself, inflicting a fatal wound. Macias has no known criminal record; his 9mm pistol had been locally purchased by a third party in 2014. It is said that Macias was angry at being excluded from the event. This tragedy came only six weeks after Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa shot and killed ten in the Boulder supermarket.

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

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

Special sections:  Mentally Ill      Gun Massacres

Four Weeks, Six Massacres     One Week, Two Massacres     Going Ballistic     Red Flag (I) (II)

Ban the Damed Things     Do Gun Laws Work?     Massacre Control     A Lost Cause      Coming Clean

The Elephant in the Room     Say Something     Body Armor



Posted 3/24/21

ONE WEEK, TWO MASSACRES

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


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

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

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

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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