Posted 8/9/21

OUR NEVER-ENDING AMERICAN TRAGEDY

California’s gun laws are the “strongest in the U.S.”
Tell that to its citizens. And its cops.

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Located northwest of Bakersfield, the placid community of Wasco lies amidst vast fields of roses, a colorful commodity that the area produces in great abundance. But on July 25 the town of about 25,000 became the latest venue of our never-ending American tragedy. That’s when a deeply troubled resident, Jose Manuel Ramirez Jr., 41, opened fire with an AK-47 type rifle and a handgun, killing his wife, Viviana Ruiz Ramirez, 42, and their two sons, Jose Manuel Ramirez III, 24, and Angel Manuel Ramirez, 17.

     Neighbors alerted 9-1-1 to the gunfire and reported that victims had been shot. When deputies arrived Jose Ramirez fired at them from inside the home. They backed off and summoned SWAT. Soon two armor-clad deputies approached on foot to attempt a rescue. Firing through a window, Martinez unleashed another barrage. His rounds struck and killed Deputy Phillip Campas and wounded his partner, Deputy Dizander Guerrero. Ramirez holed up for hours, then tried to climb onto the roof. Deputies shot him dead. As it turns out Ramirez was a felon, thus legally barred from possessing firearms. A domestic violence restraining order had also been issued prohibiting him from having guns.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021 the Golden State suffered twenty-eight “mass shootings” (four or more wounded or killed other than the gunman) through July 29. Our essays have mentioned several. “Two Weeks, Four Massacres” described the March 31 episode when a disgruntled middle-aged man burst into an Orange County business and opened fire with a pistol, killing four including a nine-year old. (He was wounded and captured.) Two months later another angry man packing three pistols and multiple magazines murdered nine coworkers at a San Jose rail yard, then took his own life.

     Our gun massacre essays have harped about the ghastly toll for years. But a recent survey indicates that a majority of the Golden State’s residents “believe gun control laws are effective in reducing crime.” A notable gun-control organization, Giffords, holds California up as a model of sanity. After all, it boasts the nation’s strongest gun laws and one of its lowest gun death rates. Cause and effect! But our recent analysis of state-level data using the r statistic (it ranges from zero, meaning no relationship, to 1.0, a perfect association) found that gun laws are far less important a factor than economic conditions.

     Guns don’t just imperil ordinary citizens. Four-hundred fifty-seven American law enforcement officers were killed by hostile gunfire during the last decade (LEOKA Table 31). Seventy-one percent (325) fell to handgun rounds, and twenty-one percent (95) to bullets fired from rifles. Most of the carnage was produced by powerful, modern-day weapons. Sixty-six percent (214) of the handgun fatalities were caused by 9mm. and .40/.45 caliber pistols. AR-15 type (cal. 223 cal./5.56 mm.) and AK-47 type (7.62 mm.) weapons accounted for fifty-seven percent (54) of deaths from rifle fire.

     It’s not just about assault rifles. “Two Weeks” pointed out that “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.” But when assault weapons are involved, watch out! As our Washington Post op-ed warned two years ago, even the hardiest protective vests can prove ineffective against the unseemly ballistics of military-style weapons that are routinely marketed for civilian use. LEOKA reported that sixteen of the seventeen officer deaths between 2011-2020 which involved penetration of body armor were caused by projectiles fired from rifles (Table 39). Ten were of the AR-15 and AK-47 type. The only penetration fatality attributed to a handgun was caused by the highly lethal 5.7 X 28 mm. round fired by a “big boomer” pistol, really an assault weapon in disguise.

     But don’t California’s “strong” gun laws prohibit “assault weapons”? Technically yes, but the devil is in the details. For example, if a gun has a removable magazine, it can’t sport features such as a protruding pistol grip. Wily manufacturers have adapted with a host of legal variants. Here, for example, are the

“California legal” versions of the weapons Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik used to murder fifteen in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre (DPMS Panther Arms on the left, Smith & Wesson M&P15 on the right.) Both fire the same extremely lethal .223/5.56mm. bullet as the AR-15. Readily slicing though doors, walls, and bullet-resistant inserts in protective vests, these fearsome rounds produce massive, often unsurvivable wound cavities wherever they strike. Ballistics-wise, though, California (just like the Feds) only imposes one restriction: caliber must fall below .50. Job done!

     Really, if cops could do all their work from armored cars, that’s where many would prefer to remain.

     Fast-forward to 2021. According to LEOKA’s running count, twenty-nine U.S. law enforcement officers fell to hostile gunfire during the first six months of this year. Five served in California. Three were reportedly victims of pistol fire, and two of projectiles discharged by assault-style rifles:

  • Sacramento County deputy sheriff Adam Gibson, murdered on January 18, 2021 by an ex-con armed with a pistol. Another officer was wounded.
     
  • San Luis Obispo Police Department detective Luca Benedetti, murdered on May 10, 2021 by a burglary suspect armed with an assault rifle. Another officer was wounded
     
  • Stockton Police Department officer Jimmy Inn, murdered on May 11, 2021 by an ex-con armed with a pistol.
     
  • Sergeant Dominic Vaca, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, murdered on May 31, 2021 by an assailant armed with a pistol.
     
  • Kern County deputy sheriff Phillip Campas, one of the Wasco victims, murdered on July 25 with an assault rifle. A colleague was wounded.

     Even in supposedly blessed California, lethal gunplay is so frequent that it takes a cop killing, a mass murder or some very unusual circumstances to merit a headline. That threshold was breached a few days ago when a famous “Tik Tok” influencer and his girlfriend were shot in the head while watching a movie in a darkened Corona theater. Both succumbed to their wounds. Joseph Jimenez, 20, a local resident unconnected with the couple, was arrested the following day, and the handgun he reportedly used was recovered at his residence. [It was later identified as an unserialized “ghost” gun. See 8/13/21 update.] A schizophrenic off his meds, Jimenez told authorities that “voices in his head” provoked the attack. “I wish I didn’t do it,” he said.

     Of course, it’s not just about California. New York State is also held up as a “national model” by Giffords, which ranks the Empire State’s gun laws as fifth strongest in the U.S. Here’s a recent headline from the New York Times:


Giffords also has high praise for Illinois. After all, its gun laws are supposedly eighth strongest. So here’s a  headline we originally scoured from the Chicago Tribune:


But while wrapping up this piece we learned that on Saturday evening, August 7, Chicago police officer Ella French was shot and killed and her partner was critically wounded by an occupant of a vehicle they stopped while on patrol in the Seventh police precinct. (That area, which encompasses the Englewood & West Englewood neighborhoods, is so violence-ridden that we singled it out in “The Usual Victims”.) During the exchange of fire, the shooter was also wounded, and three persons are now in custody. Here’s the Chicago Tribune’s headline:


     What to do? “A ‘Ban’ in Name Only” and our Washington Post op-ed suggest that firearms lethality could be measured with “a scoring system that takes characteristics such as ballistics, rapid-fire capability, lack of recoil, accuracy and portability into account.” Guns that exceed certain parameters could be banned. But unless we really, really long for another American Revolution, sharply curtailing the lethality of firearms (and, as well, drastically reducing the number in circulation) are likely out of reach. When it comes to serious gun control, our badly fractured land may indeed be “A Lost Cause.”

     Not so the U.K. One year after a 27-year old British subject gunned down sixteen persons with a handgun and two rifles in the Hungerford Massacre of 1987, Great Britain enacted the “Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988,” which banned semi-automatic rifles beyond .22 rimfire. And after the Dublane school massacre of 1996, when a man armed with four handguns murdered sixteen children and a teacher, Great Britain essentially banned handguns beyond super-long barreled .22’s. (Click here for U.K. gun laws and turn to pp. 17-18 for the prohibitions.)

     These restrictions continue to enjoy abundant public support. As well they should. During the one-year period ending March 2020 695 persons were murdered in the U.K. (England and Wales.) With a population of 67,081,000, its per/100K homicide rate was 1.0. To compare, in 2019 our land suffered 16,425 homicides. With a population of 328,239,523, America’s per/100K murder rate comes in at 5.0, five times the U.K.’s. And while a measly thirty (4.3%) of the U.K.’s homicides were by shooting (sharp instruments were far more common) guns figured in nearly three out of every four (73.7%) murders in the U.S.

     What about cops? “A Lost Cause” contrasted murders of police officers in the U.S. and the U.K. between 2000-2015. During that period Great Britain’s yearly toll hovered around one. Using data from LEOKA Table 28 and accounts from the U.K.’s Police Roll of Honour Trust, here’s an update:


     *Note: 2021 are partial figures. Seventy-three U.S. law enforcement officers were feloniously killed during 2021 (see 1/14/22 update, below.)

     Back to fixing things. Your writer spent his first career chasing gun traffickers. Many used “straw buyers” to buy guns singly and in quantity from gun stores in the same or neighboring States. Some got their guns directly from licensed dealers who corruptly pushed them “out the back door.” However they acquired their guns, street dealers promptly resold them at considerable profit to criminals and thugs. Many of these weapons turned up quickly in crimes. (Click here for the writer’s published article about gun trafficking in Los Angeles.)

     Straw buyers feeding illegal street dealers continues to be a major source of crime guns. Addressing this problem is the objective of a new Department of Justice initiative (click here for a news account and here for DOJ’s press release.) New York City recently reported a major “bust.” We heartily support such efforts. Still, trafficking casework consumes prodigious resources. Investigators must identify potential violators, conduct extensive surveillance, and execute warrants to search and arrest. Considering the massive numbers of firearms that are manufactured and sold each day, it’s unlikely that even the best investigative efforts can substantially reduce the lethal toll.

     Ditto, fine-tuning the law. Illinois, for example, recently enacted a regulation that directs State police to confiscate firearms from persons whose firearms ID cards have been revoked, say, because of a felony conviction, but who apparently kept their guns. Background checks will also be required for private party gun transfers beginning in 2024. To be sure, these are promising steps. But no one with any experience in such things would claim that they’re likely to make a substantial dent on violence overall.

     Perhaps nothing can. But some determined citizens are refusing to give up. Despite bankrupt Remington Arm’s offer to settle for $33 million, the families of the twenty-six students and teachers who were murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre are pressing on with their lawsuit. They insist they will prevail because in their view the Federal law that shields gun makers and sellers from litigation over gun misuse doesn’t apply. According to the plaintiffs, Remington violated Connecticut law – the school was located in Newtown – by purposely marketing the assault weapon used in the attack to appeal to the violence-prone.

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     It’s not just Americans who are upset. Mexico recently filed a Federal lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, Colt, other gun makers and a wholesaler, alleging that negligent gun marketing practices have fostered a huge, illegal inflow of guns that greatly imperils its citizens. As someone who has worked “guns to Mexico” cases, your writer heartily agrees.

     Given the nature of our society and its body politic, tweaking the rules seems the only option. But even the hardiest legal response (e.g., California’s) has had at best only a limited effect. What would work – drastically shrinking the number of guns in citizen’s hands and sharply curtailing the lethality of what remains – seems well out of reach. We’re not Britannia! That’s why when it comes to gun control, Police Issues tends to despair. Yet there’s been some momentum. Hopefully the final chapter of Reasonable Americans v. Guns is yet to be written.

UPDATES (scroll)

10/25/22  Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year old student who shot and killed four students and wounded seven other persons last November at Michigan’s Oxford High School pled guilty to all charges, including four counts of murder. He used a 9mm. pistol that his father bought for him a few days prior to the massacre. His parents, who were warned that their son had made lethal threats and needed mental treatment, are jailed awaiting trial on involuntary manslaughter for making the gun accessible. (See 12/2/21 and 12/10/21 updates.)

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

8/27/22  As of last September, Texas enabled all residents 21 or over to carry a handgun, openly or concealed, without a permit. Relying on the U.S. Constitution’s “original” intent, Texas Federal district judge Mark T. Pittman has now extended that privilege to persons 18 or older. Anticipating a challenge, he stayed the ruling for thirty days. (See 8/31/21 update)

8/5/22  Located just outside of Minneapolis, “The Mall of America” is the largest in the land, with its own theme park. And on August 4 it was the scene of chaos as shoppers ran for their lives when a gunman opened fire by the Nike store after a confrontation between two groups. No one was shot, but the huge complex remained closed through today. On New Year’s eve a shooting at the mall wounded two. At present the mall does not search patrons or deploy metal detectors.

7/28/22  Indiana resident Jamel Danzy pled guilty in Federal court to straw purchase. He admitted buying a .22 Glock pistol at a Hammond dealer on behalf of Chicago man Eric Morgan, who as a felon couldn’t buy a gun. Morgan and his brother have been charged with murdering Chicago police officer Ella French and critically wounding her partner during a traffic stop last August (see 8/12/21 update).

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.

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.)

7/1/22  Citing a recent Supreme Court decision invalidating New York State’s requirement that gun-carry applicants show “good cause,” four CCW permit holders in the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit demanding they be allowed to pack guns while riding its transit system. Their action disputes its inclusion in the city’s list of sensitive areas but doesn’t challenge the notion that certain places merit being off-limits to guns.

California’s attorney general announced that the Supreme Court opinion striking the “good cause” requirement for gun carry will lead to its removal from his State’s code as well. But Rob Bonta said “an assessment of dangerousness” including “arrests, convictions, restraining orders” and such will remain in effect. A Senate bill amending the law and specifying places where guns can’t be carried is in the works.

6/24/22  Applicants for gun carry permits, ruled the Supreme Court, need not show “good cause.” But the Court didn’t rule out background checks, mental health assessments, training requirements nor restrictions on places where guns can be brought, such as parks and schools. So for States and localities that want to restrict gun possession in public, that’s where the focus will shift.

6/21/22  Massacres such as in Uvalde  “represent about 1 percent or less of gun violence in America, and yet soak up about 95 percent of the oxygen in terms of the national conversation on gun violence,” complains a violence researcher. That other 99 percent is comprised of “ordinary” violence, usually done with handguns. Such as the recent Harlem shooting that left a college basketball star dead and eight others wounded. And the consequences of that everyday violence are unmeasurable. Consider its effects on Ernest Willingham, who recently testified before the Senate about growing up in a violence-beset Chicago neighborhood, where his father, brother, and a cousin were shot and his best friend was killed. UPDATE: Willingham testified on June 15. Then on June 20 someone shot his niece. Two days later, a friend was hit by random gunfire while sitting in a car.

6/17/22  A 71-year old Alabama churchgoer opened fire with a concealed handgun at a church potluck, killing two elderly parishioners and wounding a third. He was physically restrained for police. Calling himself “Mr. Smith,” he had occasionally attended services but was otherwise a cipher. (Note: the wounded person, an 84-year old woman, succumbed to her injuries the next day.)

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.

6/15/22  Two El Monte (CA) police officers, one a 22-year veteran, the other with less than a year on the job, were shot and killed as they responded to a possible stabbing in a motel room. Gunfire broke out when they knocked on the door, which was reportedly pierced by bullets. Justin William Flores, 35, who reportedly served prison time for domestic violence, was identified as the shooter. He was also killed. According to the NLEOMF, 23 officers have been killed by gunfire in 2022 compared to 26 last year.

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

6/7/22  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.

5/31/22  After recent mass shootings at a Buffalo market and a Texas elementary school, AP asked Governors for their reaction. About half responded. While there was agreement across Party about improving mental health care, answers to questions such as “Should people younger than 21 be prohibited from buying semi-automatic guns? Should ammunition magazines be limited to no more than 10 bullets?” provoked a deep split, with only one Republican saying “yes.” But Canada’s reacting differently. Later this year it plans to “cap” the number of handguns by freezing any further sales or transfers. Military-style rifles, already highly restricted, will be banned, and those not “made completely inoperable” will be bought back.

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

5/11/22  In California all gun transfers, including between private persons, must go through a background check. Gun and purchaser information is perpetually stored in a State database. That data is an integral part of a new, State-funded effort at U.C. Davis to measure gun violence and assess and develop preventive measures. But gun-rights groups object to the project’s intrusion into privacy and have challenged the Constitutionality of the authorizing legislation in State and Federal courts.

5/4/22  Sacramento prosecutors charged Dandrae Martin, his brother Smiley Martin, and Mtula Payton with murdering three women who got caught up in the April 3 shootout between rival gangs. Both Martins were wounded and are in custody; Payton is a fugitive. Three gang members also died, but it’s thought that focusing on innocent victims would avoid claims of self-defense (see 4/8 update.)

4/25/22  FBI Director Christopher Wray bemoans the lack of attention given to the killings of police officers. Seventy-three were feloniously killed in 2021, a 59 percent increase over the forty-six murdered in 2020 and a “20-year high.” Director Wray attributs the increase to a jump in violent crime, more criminal involvement by juveniles, a surge of gun trafficking across State lines, and an “alarming frequency of some of the worst of the worst getting back out on the streets.”

4/20/22  A recent shootout between Sacramento gang members is providing support for California state lawmakers as they push a set of gun control measures. One bill would help citizens get around a Federal law that limits suits against gun manufacturers. Another would severely restrict the sale of gun parts that could be assembled into “ghost” (unserialized) guns. And a third would mandate that gun dealers install digital surveillance systems.

4/18/22  Another weekend of violence besieged America. In Pittsburgh, a gunfight involving pistols and rifles broke out in and around a rental home being used for a large party, killing two young persons and wounding eight. No arrests were immediately reported. In Columbia, South Carolina, patrons fled for their lives as a shootout apparently involving three armed men broke out in a busy shopping mall. Nine were wounded, and police arrested a 22-year old for unlawfully carrying a pistol. And also in South Carolina, gunfire broke out in a nightclub near Charleston, wounding nine. For AP’s overview of recent mass shootings click here.

4/8/22  Brothers Dandrae Martin, 26 and Smiley Martin, 27 were arrested after an April 3 shootout between rival gang members in a crowded Sacramento entertainment district that killed six and wounded twelve, including innocent bystanders. Both were wounded, and Smiley remains hospitalized. Both are felons and face ex-con with gun charges. Smiley also faces a machinegun charge, as his gun was converted to fire full auto. Against prosecutor’s wishes - Smiley was a long-time gunslinger and considered very dangerous - he recently gained early release from a ten-year prison term. According to an AP investigation, his lenient treatment was enabled by California Prop. 57, which redefined crimes considered most dangerous and vastly expanded opportunities for good credits and early release. Three of the dead were reportedly gang members.

4/7/22  An academic study of California registered voters who lived in households occupied by two to four persons between 2004-2016 revealed that “cohabitants of handgun owners were more than twice as likely to die by homicide as neighbors living in gun-free homes.” In homes known to have guns, victims were most frequently slain by their handgun-owning “spouses and intimate partners.” Firearms ownership information was drawn from State records of gun transfers, and persons who reportedly acquired guns during the decades before the study began were excluded.

4/4/22  Three women and three men lay dead and a dozen more were wounded, several critically. That’s the toll from an early Sunday-morning exchange of gunfire that erupted during an altercation in a central Sacramento entertainment district. “Multiple shooters” are being sought in the worst mass shooting in California - and one of the worst in the U.S. - so far this year.

3/25/22  In violence-racked Columbus, Georgia, a 32-year-old woman went to a gun store to buy a pistol. “Youth do not respect older people. Today, the young are wicked,” said the Black single mother. A friend was recently robbed, and the hairstylist, who carries tips, wants a CCW license. That may soon be unnecessary, as a bill to allow permitless carry will likely soon head to the Governor’s desk. Meanwhile residents keep stocking up. Last year the state’s second-largest city recorded 63 murders. And as gunfights proliferate, stray bullets have killed children in cars and old men on the sidewalk.

3/22/22  Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed House Bill 1296, making his state the twenty-fourth to allow persons over 18 years of age who are neither felons nor dangerously mentally ill to carry handguns, concealed or not, without a permit. As in other States where permit-less concealed carry has been approved, Indiana’s police superintendent and its police chiefs association objected.

3/21/22  An exchange of gunfire between two thus-far unidentified persons at a car show in a small Arkansas town killed one bystander and left twenty-seven others wounded. Organized by the Hood-Nic Foundation, the yearly event includes stage performances and acts as a fund-raiser for local students. It’s held in Dumas, population about 5,600, with 27% living in poverty. Arkansas, which earns an “F” from Giffords, allows unlimited gun carry and had America’s ninth-highest gun death rate in 2019.

Effective in June, adult residents of Ohio will be allowed to pack concealed handguns, no training or permit required. A similar measure was just signed into law in Alabama. It will take effect in January. Both laws were opposed by gun-control and law enforcement groups. Police particularly objected to the Ohio measure, which states that armed persons need not “promptly inform” officers that they’re packing. In all, twenty-three States have passed laws allowing concealed carry without a permit.

3/9/22  Six Iowa teens, ages 14-17, have been charged with murder and attempted murder in a drive-by shooting that killed the 15-year old whom they targeted as he stood in a group outside a Des Moines high school. Two female students who were nearby, ages 16 and 18, were also struck by bullets; one is reportedly in serious condition and the other is critical. Police recovered thirty-five shell casings, twenty from the scene and the remainder from the three vehicles used in the attack.

3/7/22  According to a new medical study firearms became the leading cause of potential years of life lost (PLL) in the United States in 2017, surpassing the toll from motor vehicle crashes. PLL is a standard measure that reports the difference between the age of 80 and the actual age at death. Males comprised 85.4% of the 38,929 gun deaths in 2018. Over a decade-long period, White males suffered the most deaths from gun suicides, and Black males the most deaths from gun homicides.

2/2/22  Law enforcement officials warn that if violence continues apace, last year’s decade-high toll of slain police officers could be easily surpassed. According to the Gun Violence Archive, hostile gunfire injured twenty-eight officers and killed four in January 2022 compared to seventeen injured and three slain last year. It’s claimed that, among other things, increased leniency in charging and the reduction or elimination of bail have led to the prompt return of dangerous offenders to the street.

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.

1/14/22  According to the FBI seventy-three U.S. law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in 2021. LEOKA data indicates that’s 59 percent higher than in 2020, when the toll was forty-six, and 52 percent more than in 2019, when it was forty-eight.

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.

1/3/22  Gun dealers must run a Federal background check on each buyer (not each gun). In 2020 there were a record 3,937,066 checks, one-third more than in 2019. This surge in gun buying has been attributed to fears brought on by the pandemic. While these numbers receded in 2021 (2,717,458 checks  through November) they remain higher than in 2019. Airport gun seizures are also up. TSA seized over 5,700 firearms so far this year; 2019’s full-year total was 4,432. And with schools reopened 2021 experienced a record 42 school shootings. This century’s previous high was 30, in 2018.

12/31/21  The middle-aged Denver man whose armed rampage killed five persons was reportedly acquainted with four of his victims “through business or personal relationships.” He had apparently named them and written about his intentions in self-published “novels” that he posted online.

12/29/21  An armed 47-year old Denver man who was “known to police” but not wanted burst into two tattoo shops, a home and a hotel in Denver and Lakewood, killing five persons and wounding two. One of the wounded, a police officer, shot him dead. Lyndon James McLeod, who once owned a Denver business, reportedly preselected his victims, but his actual motive has not been released. Colorado has suffered a string of mass shootings; most recently, at a Boulder-area supermarket, where ten were killed.

12/10/21  Two $100 million lawsuits have been filed against the Oxford Township school district by families of the victims. An investigation by the Washington Post revealed that families of would-be shooters prevented a handful of like events in past years. In 2018, in Everett, Washington, the guardian of Joshua O’Connor, 18, discovered the once-badly abused teen’s elaborate written plans to stage a Columbine-like massacre. She also found the 9mm. rifle he had just bought to carry out his intentions. Police were called, and their search turned up bomb parts. In 2019, after pleading guilty to attempted murder and other charges, O’Connor was sentenced to 22 years.

12/4/21  A prosecutor explained why the parents of the Oxford high school shooter were charged with manslaughter. (Click here for the video.) One day before the massacre, a teacher caught the youth searching for ammunition on his phone. His parents were informed. His mother later messaged her son “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” On the day of the shooting, while the parents were at the school, they were shown a photo of a note their son wrote. It depicted a gun, a bullet, a bleeding person, and these comments: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me”,  “Blood everywhere”, “My life is useless”, “The world is dead.” But no one looked in the student’s backpack. His parents declined to take the boy home, and an hour later he committed the massacre.

12/2/21  A fourth student, age 17, succumbed in the massacre at Michigan’s Oxford High School. Authorities announced that the shooter, Ethan Crumbley, is being charged as an adult with murder and terrorism. He had apparently revealed his intentions the previous evening on an Instagram post that pictured the gun in his hands: “just got my new beauty today...I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow, Oxford.” On that day, but before the massacre, Crumbley’s parents were  summoned to his school over their son’s “concerning behavior.” Years earlier Crumbley’s mother posted an “open letter” to President Trump complaining about her son’s education and extolling gun ownership. Authorities may charge the parents for leaving the gun unsecured.

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.”

Armed with a 9mm. pistol his father recently bought, a 15-year old boy opened fire at a suburban Detroit high school, killing three students, ages 14, 16 and 17, and wounding eight others, including a teacher. Three of the surviving students are in critical condition. The shooter peacefully surrendered. His motive is presently unknown. (See 12/2/21 update.)

11/16/21  Yesterday, during the noon hour, six Aurora (CO) teens, ages 14-18, were shot in a park one block away from the high school they attend. Each is expected to recover. A witness reported that he hard a large barrage of gunfire, “30 to 50 shots...but at least 30,” and police recovered multiple bullet casings of different caliber. None of the victims were reportedly armed, and a drive-by is suspected.

11/10/21  In 2015 Massachusetts stiffened its gun sales laws, imposing background checks for gun sales at gun shows and private transactions and strengthening its gun licensing procedures. But a recent academic study found that these changes had no discernible impact on violent crime.

10/27/21  According to the FBI many more law enforcement officers are being fatally assaulted this year. Sixty-one officers were feloniously killed as of October 21, 2021, compared with forty-one during this period in 2020. That’s a forty-nine percent increase. Accidental deaths are also up, from 39 to 48.

10/26/21  Yesterday afternoon an unnamed person entered a Boise mall and, for reasons as yet unknown, opened fire, killing two and wounding four including a police officer. He was in turn shot and critically wounded by another officer. This incident follows on an October 12 shooting at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Memphis, where an employee shot and killed two supervisors, then committed suicide.

10/21/21  On October 14 a 14-year old member of a Los Angeles gang shot and wounded an LAPD detective who was driving to work. He was arrested in the area with the unserialized “ghost gun” used in the attack. That case led to a search warrant and the discovery of an illicit ghost-gun making operation in a tattoo parlor used by the gang. An LAPD report reveals that 863 ghost guns were seized during the first six months of 2021, compared with 217 during that period in 2020. Detectives have connected these untraceable guns to over one-hundred violent crimes this year, including 24 murders and eight attempts. San Diego recently enacted a law barring ghost guns, and Los Angeles seeks to follow in its footsteps.

10/15/21  Chicago police officer Carlos Yanez, critically wounded in a shooting that killed his patrol partner, officer Ella French, was released after two months in rehabilitation. Wounded in the eye, cheek, brain and back, Officer Yanez is paralyzed on one side of his body and must use a wheelchair. But his spirit is strong. According to the officer’s father, his son “has many plans for the future” and wants to work with kids in the city’s beset Englewood area. For the GoFundMe campaign click here.

10/11/21  Three Minnesota men, ages 29, 32 and 33, each with a substantial criminal record, were arrested for shooting it out in a packed St. Paul bar early Sunday morning, October 10. Their gunfire left them and eleven others wounded and killed a 27-year old veterinary technician. She was the city’s 32nd. murder victim this year. St. Paul had 34 homicides in 2020, same as in the record-setting year of 1992.

9/26/21  Sixteen Chicagoans were shot, two fatally, between Friday and Saurday night. Among the wounded was a police officer. She and her partner had stepped out of their patrol car to render aid when gunfire rang out and she was struck in the foot. “I will be back soon,” she promises. She is the 46th. Chicago cop to be shot at this year, and the twelfth wounded. Two months ago officer Ella French was killed and her partner was wounded while they patrolled one of the city’s most dangerous areas.

9/24/21  In Collierville, Tennessee, “a prosperous community with a low crime rate,” the reportedly disgruntled employee of a vendor entered a Kroger supermarket brimming with customers and employees and opened fire, killing one and wounding twelve. He then committed suicide. In July Tennessee enacted a law that allows adults to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. Asked then about mass shootings, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who pushed the measure, said that stronger penalties for gun misuse, which also passed, “would help prevent gun crimes in the future.”

8/31/21  Except for convicted felons, as of Sept. 1, 2021, everyone in Texas, age 21 or over, will be allowed to carry a handgun openly or concealed, without a permit. State law previously allowed gun carry, but a permit was required. Texas law library summary  (See 8/27/22 update)

8/19/21  Laying in wait with a rifle, a violent, wanted felon wounded a San Bernardino, Calif. sheriff’s deputy who stopped his vehicle. Located by police SWAT officers the next day, he used a pistol to engage them in a gunfight. Ervin Olikong, 34, wounded two officers, neither fatally, before he was shot dead.

8/16/21  On August 12 a 22-year old British man obsessed with the “incel” movement used a shotgun to kill five persons, including his mother, and wound two others. Allegations that he committed an assault led London police to take his gun away in December 2020, but they returned it a month ago. According to the media, the lethal spree was Great Britain’s “first mass shooting in more than a decade.”

8/13/21  In Chicago’s violent Englewood neighborhood, a volley of bullets penetrate a home. Two sixteen-year old youths are struck; one, Cordell Bass, is killed. His mother and three nephews, ages 2, 5 and 6, escape injury. Bass’s mother, who said her son was under “house arrest” for a gun-related incident, thinks that he was killed by the same person who wounded her niece’s boyfriend some months earlier.

The pistol used by Joseph Jimenez, 20, to murder the couple at a Corona movie theater was described by sheriff’s deputies as an unserialized “ghost gun.” Jimemez was too young to purchase a handgun at retail. He had been at the movie theater with friends, but they left when his behavior made them uncomfortable. Officers recovered the gun and the male victim’s wallet at Jimenez’s home.

8/12/21  Chicago police superintendent David Brown blasted the Federal judge overseeing the straw purchase charge against Jamel Danzy for releasing him from custody pending trial. Danzy admitted he bought the gun for an acquaintance, Eric Morgan, who traveled to Indiana to pick it up. Morgan used the pistol several months later to murder CPD officer Ella French and critically wound her partner.

8/10/21  Chicago brothers Emonte Morgan, 21 and Eric Morgan, 22 were charged with murdering police officer Ella French. Both have serious criminal records, and Eric Morgan is a felon. Indiana resident Jamel Danzy admitted he acted as a “straw buyer” by buying the Glock pistol used in the killing at a store, then giving it to Eric Morgan, whose record prohibits him from buying guns. Danzy was Federally charged.



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Where do They Come From?



Posted 6/28/21

DON’T LIKE THE RULES? CHANGE THEM!

Partisanship shapes how gun laws are interpreted.
And when the other side takes over, the fight is on!

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  On March 22 a deranged twenty-one year Colorado man burst into a Boulder supermarket and unleashed a fusillade from a Ruger AR-556 “pistol”, killing ten. In “Two Weeks, Four Massacres” we mentioned that the weapon (pictured above), which features a “stabilizing brace” instead of a stock, was essentially a short-barreled version of the AR-15 rifle. Permissive ATF rulings dating back to 2012 have classified weapons so configured as “pistols,” allowing gun makers, sellers and buyers to avoid the elaborate registration and transfer process that the National Firearms Act imposes on selected firearms. These include fully automatic weapons (“machineguns”) and concealable shoulder-fired guns, including rifles with barrels less than sixteen inches in length.

     No longer, says President Biden. On June 7 the Department of Justice announced that a “continuing epidemic of gun violence” had forced its hand. According to a proposed regulation, “stabilizing braces” could no longer facilitate the masquerade:

    Because short-barreled rifles are among the firearms considered unusual and dangerous, subjecting them to regulation under the NFA, it is especially important that such weapons be properly classified. Indeed, firearms with “stabilizing braces” have been used in at least two mass shootings [Boulder and, in 2019, Dayton], with the shooters in both instances reportedly shouldering the “brace” as a stock, demonstrating the efficacy as “short-barreled” rifles of firearms equipped with such “braces.”

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As one might expect, the AG’s move brought plaudits from the “Blues” and generated condemnation from the “Reds.” Here’s how a key organization that represents the latter camp denounced the proposal:

    The agency’s goal is clearly to push many firearms that utilize stabilizing braces into the National Firearms Act (NFA), requiring a $200 tax stamp and registration. FPC believes that the NFA is an unconstitutional infringement of the People’s rights and that the ATF should be abolished. Any law or regulation enforcing the NFA is unconstitutional and immoral.

     Proposed regulations must offer a period for public comment. And the pro-gun community promptly leaped in. Comments opened June 9, and by the 24th. more than one-hundred thousand were posted. We arbitrarily selected two-hundred fifty. No surprise: everyone in this (admittedly, non-scientific) sample vigorously opposed the rule. Their most frequent objection was also the broadest: once again, ATF was trying to desecrate the Constitution. Here are two examples:

  • “I believe that the BATFs new proposed rule on pistol braces (2021R-08) is a gross infringment [sic] of our constitutional rights and should be struck down immediately.”
     
  • “...These proposed factors are a direct infringement of the second amendment, and give the agency far too much power to incriminate whoever they decide to with ease...”

Some commenters also had practical concerns:

  • “...I'm a disabled American. I own a AR pistol with a brace. It absolutely helps me shoot with much less fatigue...I understand there are real criminals out there and I think your agency should probably be going after them instead of violating my rights. We all understand that the ATF doesn't mind using violence to violate the rights of Americans...”
     
  • “...A manufacturer's stated intent on the use and function of product is theirs to define, and in no way should we assume that a government agency should be able to usurp that claim based on how a consumer may use that product.”

Others questioned the regulation’s effectiveness in preventing violence:

  • “...If the overall narrative to enact this proposal is to "save lives" then statistically it will save very few, as braced pistols are very rarely used in shootings.”


     So what about our introductory ghost? On May 7th., just one month before it acted to prohibit stabilizing braces, the Justice Department announced a regulation that would “modernize” how a firearm “frame or receiver” is defined. As the housing for a weapon’s firing mechanism, this component (either word describes it) is in effect considered as the firearm, and must accordingly bear a unique serial number that allows its redistributive history to be traced.

     ATF’s definition of a receiver excludes those it deems “less than eighty percent” complete. See its graphic (we enlarged some of the text for clarity). As much an object might look like a receiver, if it lacks “holes or dimples for the selector, trigger or hammer pins” it’s “Not a firearm.” Problem is, kits are widely available that furnish all the parts, templates and instructions for making functioning, non-serialized ”ghost guns” in one’s workshop, or at home. DOJ’s filing indicates that many not-so-nice people took advantage. During 2016-2020 police reportedly recovered nearly twenty-four thousand untraceable “ghost guns,” including 325 used in murders and murder attempts. In 2018 the Los Angeles Times reported that urban gangs were arming themselves with ghost guns. Police officers have also fallen victim. California Highway Patrol officer Andre Moye was gunned down with a ghost rifle the following year.

     Conventional guns bear serial numbers and can be traced back to their first point of sale. Indeed, your writer made a career of using this information to pursue gun traffickers. (For more about that see “Sources of Crime Guns in Los Angeles, California”) But ghost guns lack serial numbers, so they can’t be traced. That’s a problem the new regulation would address. Forget that eighty-percent stuff. “Blank” receivers (no holes or dimples) would be likely considered full-fledged guns, thus require a serial number and be subject to Federal and State controls. Here’s an extract from DOJ’s discussion about the proposed rule:

    ...the new definition more broadly describes a “frame or receiver” as one that provides housing or a structure designed to hold or integrate any fire control component. Unlike the prior definitions of “frame or receiver” that were rigidly tied to three specific fire control components (i.e., those necessary for the firearm to initiate or complete the firing sequence), the new regulatory definition is intended to be general enough to encompass changes in technology and parts terminology.

     One can well imagine how the gun lobby reacted. Summoning gun enthusiasts to “Help us STOP ATF’s unconstitutional and dangerous proposed ‘rule’ that would radically expand their powers and restrict your rights!” the Firearms Policy Coalition urged everyone to submit comments and spread the word.

     Its “call to arms” likely had an effect. Nearly sixty-five thousand comments were posted between May 20 and June 24, 2021. We (non-scientifically) reviewed two-hundred fifty. Each opposed the new regulation. And just like for stabilizing braces, many blasted ATF for defiling the Constitution. Here are two examples:

  • “How dare you consider taking more of our second amendment rights. Our rights have already ben infringed upon and we the people will not bow before the usurpers that have corrupted our nation and our constitution.”
     
  • “This regulation does nothing but infringe on the rights of law abiding Americans with constant harassment through numerous background checks for non firearm parts and endlessly putting roadblocks up to free commerce on parts not under the authority of ATF to regulate as they are not a firearm. Stop harassing citizens for exercising their rights...”

Some respondents worried that the rule would constrain making one’s own guns:

  • “Since the founding of the Republic, Americans have made firearms at home.  In the twenty-first century, steel and wood have given way to aluminum and plastic.  This new rule by the ATF attempts to regulate the making of firearms, by private persons who are not FFL holders, and to regulate those guns which are made within a private residence for personal use...”
     
  • “The ATF must immediately withdraw their proposed rules to criminalize so-called "ghost guns." To start, the very phrase "ghost guns" is a politically charged pejorative used to scare Americans and justify the infringement on our right to craft a homemade firearm - a right ancillary to the Second Amendment...”

None believed that the regulation would prevent gun misuse. Quite to the contrary:

  • “...These rules will not prevent or even limit gun violence, they only make more law abiding citizens criminals...”
     
  • “...No proposed gun control law - including the proposed regulation of so-called "ghost guns" - will stop criminals from being able to obtain and use firearms in the commission of crimes.”
     
  • “...There is absolutely no data to back up your false claims that these so called “ghost guns” are being used in any crimes or murders. Maybe focus on stopping criminals who are buying illegal guns off the streets and not go after law abiding citizens who would rather build a firearms vs buying one already assembled...”


     To be sure, gun control advocates have also stepped up to the plate. Garen Wintemute, an emergency physician who heads UC Davis’ long-standing Violence Prevention Research Program, came out strongly in favor of restricting ghost guns. We agree. Police have been recovering lots of “ghosts.” Combatting the scourge of gun trafficking requires that guns carry serial numbers so their redistributive history can be traced. That would certainly rule out assembling guns at home.

     As for stabilizing braces, our views are mixed. Yes, short-barreled rifles that take advantage of braces to pose as conventional guns are coming up in crimes. Yet we’re not convinced that these firearms represent a unique threat. Our concern about lethality is far more complex. As we mentioned in “Going Ballistic” it’s much more about, well, ballistics. Projectiles such as those fired from AR-15 rifles (and the brace-flaunting AR-556 pictured above) can easily defeat the protective vests normally worn by police. Indeed, there’s a good reason why cops have turned to armored vehicles. “Going Ballistic” and “Massacre Control” suggest that a point system that takes ballistics, ammunition capacity and such into account could be used to identify firearms that are too dangerous for public consumption.

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     The Second Amendment has always carried a clearly ideological subtext. Even so, had its drafters realized that their reference to a “well-regulated militia” would be ignored, and that guns would become exceedingly lethal and widely misused, we’re certain that they would have built in some additional safeguards. But they didn’t, so they didn’t. Thanks to a deeply polarized atmosphere and convoluted, precedent-intensive legal system, fashioning an inoffensive “fix” is inevitably complex. And the product can be mind-boggling.

     Don’t believe it? Go ahead, just try to get through the proposed regulations. Be sure to have some aspirin close at hand!

UPDATES (scroll)

8/25/22  Now officially in effect, a new Federal regulation expands the requirement of affixing unique, traceable serial numbers to any part or parts kit that can be readily converted into a firearm, or into a “frame” or “receiver” for a firearm. Previously only completed “frames” or “receivers” had to be serialized. That led to the ready acquisition of guns by felons and underage persons and a proliferation of unserialized “ghost” guns that could not be traced to their source.

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

7/30/22  With two “Reds” in favor, and five “Blues” opposed, the House narrowly passed an assault weapons ban (217-213). It is slightly stiffer than the lapsed measure, as it bans rifles with detachable magazines that have only one special feature (a pistol grip, forward grip, folding stock, grenade launcher, barrel shroud or threaded barrel) instead of two. Semi-auto rifles with fixed magazines that can accept more than 15 rounds are also banned. It is expected to fail in the Senate. Bill text

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

7/13/22  Passed under an urgency clause, thus taking effect immediately, a new California law requires that persons making or possessing unserialized guns (i.e., “ghost guns”) apply to the State Department of Justice for a serial number and permanently affix it to the weapon.

7/1/22  Citing a recent Supreme Court decision invalidating New York State’s requirement that gun-carry applicants show “good cause,” four CCW permit holders in the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit demanding they be allowed to pack guns while riding its transit system. Their action disputes its inclusion in the city’s list of sensitive areas but doesn’t challenge the notion that certain places merit being off-limits to guns.

California’s attorney general announced that the Supreme Court opinion striking the “good cause” requirement for gun carry will lead to its removal from his State’s code as well. But Rob Bonta said “an assessment of dangerousness” including “arrests, convictions, restraining orders” and such will remain in effect. A Senate bill amending the law and specifying places where guns can’t be carried is in the works.

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

6/24/22  Applicants for gun carry permits, ruled the Supreme Court, need not show “good cause.” But the Court didn’t rule out background checks, mental health assessments, training requirements nor restrictions on places where guns can be brought, such as parks and schools. So for States and localities that want to restrict gun possession in public, that’s where the focus will shift.

6/23/22  New York State, along with California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, requires that persons wishing to carry a concealed handgun outside the home demonstrate a “special need.” According to a 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court, New York’s law “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.” Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented (New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. v, Bruen, no. 20-843, 6/23/22.) The Justice Department promptly announced its displeasure.

6/20/22  In the aftermath of mass shootings, as the Senate debate about stiffening gun laws continues, the gun lobby has come out swinging. Holding that “expansions of background checks, prohibitions on the ability of young adults to purchase firearms, red flag laws or grants therefor, or any number of other oppressive ideas...are an abrogation of your duty to protect the fundamental rights of the people,” one major pro-gun group, The Firearms Policy Coalition, opposes any compromise whatsoever.

6/14/22  A tentative agreement to mildly strengthen Federal gun laws is taking shape in the Senate. Background checks for gun buyers under 21 would include juvenile records, and the permissible delay would stretch to ten days. Definition of a gun dealer would include some persons who sell guns as a hobby, Federal grants would help States enact and enforce “Red Flag” laws, penalties for straw buyers would increase, and the prohibition on gun possession by domestic abusers would expand. Meanwhile, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed two bills into effect. A new law allows trained school employees to carry guns, and another abolishes the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed gun.

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.

5/31/22  After recent mass shootings at a Buffalo market and a Texas elementary school, AP asked Governors for their reaction. About half responded. While there was agreement across Party about improving mental health care, answers to questions such as “Should people younger than 21 be prohibited from buying semi-automatic guns? Should ammunition magazines be limited to no more than 10 bullets?” provoked a deep split, with only one Republican saying “yes.” But Canada’s reacting differently. Later this year it plans to “cap” the number of handguns by freezing any further sales or transfers. Military-style rifles, already highly restricted, will be banned, and those not “made completely inoperable” will be bought back.

4/20/22  A recent shootout between Sacramento gang members is providing support for California state lawmakers as they push a set of gun control measures. One bill would help citizens get around a Federal law that limits suits against gun manufacturers. Another would severely restrict the sale of gun parts that could be assembled into “ghost” (unserialized) guns. And a third would mandate that gun dealers install digital surveillance systems.

4/12/22  DOJ submitted a new Federal rule that requires parts kits from which guns can be assembled to be treated like a gun: carry a serial number and be subject to a background check when sold at retail. Definitions of “frame or receiver,” the gun component that must be serialized, are broadened. Serial numbers must also be affixed to unserialized 3-D printed guns and guns assembled from parts that are presently in stock. During a 5-year period ending in December 2021 authorities recovered more than 45,000 such weapons (“ghost guns”); nearly 700 had been used in homicides and attempts.

President Joe Biden nominated a former U.S. Attorney for Ohio, Steve Dettlebach, to the post of ATF Director. His prospects are far from assured. Republicans fiercely opposed Biden’s initial nominee, gun-control activist and former ATF agent David Chipman, who eventually withdrew. ATF has lacked a permanent Director since 2015.

3/7/22  A proposed Federal rule that would prohibit selling parts from which untraceable “ghost guns” can be assembled is still on the drawing board. And that has gun critics hopping mad. Pointing to ATF’s recent participation in the 2022 SHOT Show, they complain that its cozy relationship with the gun industry has stalled progress in the fight against firearms violence. ATF, though, insists that sharing information about regulatory issues is an important aspect of its work. Meanwhile the agency still lacks a permanent Director, as Senate Republicans have long blocked nominees.

2/17/22  DOJ has sued Missouri to force repeal of its 2021 “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which nullifies Federal gun laws and prohibits the state’s officers from assisting in their enforcement. Among its provisions, the Act prohibits “any registration or tracking of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition” and “Any registration or tracking of the ownership of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition,” both essential components for tracing recovered firearms to their licit and illicit source. It’s for such reasons that many Missouri police executives and officers have come out against the law.

1/12/22  Dominick Black, the 20-year old who bought the AR-15 rifle for his friend, Kyle Rittenhouse, because Rittenhouse was at 17 too young to purchase the gun himself, pled guilty to a non-criminal local infraction. He was originally charged with a state violation, felony delivery of a dangerous weapon to a minor, but an accommodation was reached as the judge was skeptical that the law covered rifles.

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.

12/1/21  In a vote that mirrored the justices’ political affiliations, the full Ninth Circuit reversed a 2020 decision by a three-judge panel which affirmed a ruling by a District judge that California’s ban on large-capacity magazines (more than ten rounds) violates the 2nd. Amendment. So that State law is back in full effect. Still to be litigated is a June 2021 opinion by the same District judge throwing out California’s ban on assault weapons, and for the same reason.

9/10/21  Doomed by his nominee’s past remarks about gun ownership and his close association with gun control groups, President Joe Biden reluctantly withdrew the nomination of retired ATF agent David Chipman to be the agency’s permanent director. ATF Directors are subject to Senate approval, and disputes about gun control have left the beleaguered agency without a top manager for nearly a decade. White House statement

8/25/21  On August 18, the Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” in Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court, joining the City of St. Louis in its challenge of Missouri’s recently-enacted “Second Amendment Preservation Act” (HB85), which nullifies all Federal gun control laws and recordkeeping requirements and bars the state’s law enforcement officers from participating in their enforcement.

8/13/21  The pistol that Joseph Jimenez, 20, a schizophrenic off his meds used to murder a couple at a Corona movie theater on July 27 was described by deputies as an unserialized “ghost gun.” Jimemez was too young to purchase a handgun at retail. He had been at the movie theater with friends, but they left when his behavior made them uncomfortable. Officers recovered the gun and the male victim’s wallet at Jimenez’s home.

8/7/21  Beset by “ghost guns” — its police have recovered 255 so far this year — San Diego’s city council introduced an ordinance that prohibits possessing and transferring unserialized guns and frames. Persons who wish to assemble a gun from a kit would have to apply to the State Department of Justice to obtain a serial number. That requires passing a criminal records check. A California State law that will require sellers of gun parts kits to be licensed and conduct background checks will take effect in July 2022.

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 to enforce the buyer’s home State age requirements.

7/14/21  Federal law (18 USC 922[b][1]) bars dealers from selling handguns to persons under 21. That, according to a 2-1 ruling by a Maryland Federal appeals panel, violates the 2nd. Amendment (Tanner Hirschfeld v. ATF, 7/12/21). Questioning whether younger persons are truly at special risk of misusing store-bought handguns, the Justices remarked that 18-year olds “were required at the time of the Founding to serve in the militia and furnish their own weapons.” An appeal to the full Court is expected.

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.



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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.

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     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 adulthood, 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 (scroll)

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

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

4/7/22  An academic study of California registered voters who lived in households occupied by two to four persons between 2004-2016 revealed that “cohabitants of handgun owners were more than twice as likely to die by homicide as neighbors living in gun-free homes.” In homes known to have guns, victims were most frequently slain by their handgun-owning “spouses and intimate partners.” Firearms ownership information was drawn from State records of gun transfers, and persons who reportedly acquired guns during the decades before the study began were excluded.

3/25/22  In violence-racked Columbus, Georgia, a 32-year-old woman went to a gun store to buy a pistol. “Youth do not respect older people. Today, the young are wicked,” said the Black single mother. A friend was recently robbed, and the hairstylist, who carries tips, wants a CCW license. That may soon be unnecessary, as a bill to allow permitless carry will likely soon head to the Governor’s desk. Meanwhile residents keep stocking up. Last year the state’s second-largest city recorded 63 murders. And as gunfights proliferate, stray bullets have killed children in cars and old men on the sidewalk.

3/24/22  During the weekend of March 19-21, 2020 there were three mass shootings (four or more shot) in the U.S., wounding eleven and killing one. In 2021 the corresponding toll was three shootings, wounding seventeen and killing two. In 2022 the tolls was ten mass shootings during those three days, wounding sixty-three and killing eleven. One of the dead and more than two-dozen of the wounded were at a small-town Arkansas car show. Observers warn that violence usually worsens during the Summer.

3/22/22  Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed House Bill 1296, making his state the twenty-fourth to allow persons over 18 years of age who are neither felons nor dangerously mentally ill to carry handguns, concealed or not, without a permit. As in other States where permit-less concealed carry has been approved, Indiana’s police superintendent and its police chiefs association objected.

3/21/22  An exchange of gunfire between two thus-far unidentified persons at a car show in a small Arkansas town killed one bystander and left twenty-seven others wounded. Organized by the Hood-Nic Foundation, the yearly event includes stage performances and acts as a fund-raiser for local students. It’s held in Dumas, population about 5,600, with 27% living in poverty. Arkansas, which earns an “F” from Giffords, allows unlimited gun carry and had America’s ninth-highest gun death rate in 2019.

Effective in June, adult residents of Ohio will be allowed to pack concealed handguns, no training or permit required. A similar measure was just signed into law in Alabama. It will take effect in January. Both laws were opposed by gun-control and law enforcement groups. Police particularly objected to the Ohio measure, which states that armed persons need not “promptly inform” officers that they’re packing. In all, twenty-three States have passed laws allowing concealed carry without a permit.

11/10/21  In 2015 Massachusetts stiffened its gun sales laws, imposing background checks for gun sales at gun shows and private transactions and strengthening its gun licensing procedures. But a recent academic study found that these changes had no discernible impact on violent crime.

8/31/21  Except for convicted felons, as of Sept. 1, 2021, everyone in Texas, age 21 or over, will be allowed to carry a handgun openly or concealed, without a permit. State law previously allowed gun carry, but a permit was required. Texas law library summary

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 in “No One Wants”) 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.

7/27/21  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.

6/20/21  Responding to the decision by a Boulder judge to invalidate the city’s ban of assault weapons, such as the Ruger AR-556 “pistol” used by Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, a new State statute specifically authorizes cities to enact their own gun laws. So it’s expected that Boulder’s law will be reinstated. Still, Alissa bought the gun in Arvada, where, as in the rest of Colorado, such weapons remain legal.

6/16/21 (updated 6/21/21) Chicago experienced two mass shootings in a single day. In the troubled Englewood neighborhood, a pair of armed men “burst into a home” and opened fire, leaving five dead and three 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

Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?     An American Tragedy     Don’t Like the Rules? Change Them!

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 (scroll)

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.

12/31/21  The middle-aged Denver man whose armed rampage killed five persons was reportedly acquainted with four of his victims “through business or personal relationships.” He had apparently named them and written about his intentions in self-published “novels” that he posted online.

12/29/21  An armed 47-year old Denver man who was “known to police” but not wanted burst into two tattoo shops, a home and a hotel in Denver and Lakewood, killing five persons and wounding two. One of the wounded, a police officer, shot him dead. Lyndon James McLeod, who once owned a Denver business, reportedly preselected his victims, but his actual motive has not been released. Colorado has suffered a string of mass shootings; most recently, at a Boulder-area supermarket, where ten were killed.

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. (See 4/29/19 and 8/4/19 updates.)

6/20/21  Responding to the decision by a Boulder judge to invalidate the city’s ban of assault weapons, such as the Ruger AR-556 “pistol” used by Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, a new State statute specifically authorizes cities to enact their own gun laws. So it’s expected that Boulder’s law will be reinstated. Still, Alissa bought the gun in Arvada, where, as in the rest of Colorado, such weapons remain legal.

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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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.

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     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.

UPDATES (scroll)

7/28/21  On July 27 Robert Aaron Long pled guilty to each of the four murders he committed at Young’s Asian Massage and was sentenced to four life terms without parole. But the prosecutor for the four murders at Gold’s Spa still seeks the death penalty. At sentencing, Long said his parents kicked him out for discontinuing sex addiction treatment. Long said he had intended to get sex then commit suicide, but that he got drunk and decided to commit “vigilante justice” against commercial sex peddlers.



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