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Posted 6/3/24

KIDS WITH GUNS

Ready access and permissive laws create a daunting problem

SchShtgs

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. As our unimaginably conflicted Presidential campaign picks up steam, it’s probably inevitable that even the most gut-wrenching examples of America’s struggle with gun violence will be consigned to the back-burner. So when a married couple recently drew fifteen years in prison for their son’s vicious behavior, hardly anyone (other than his victims’ families, of course) seemed to notice.

     In November 2021 Ethan Crumbley – he was then only fifteen – gunned down four classmates and wound seven other persons at Michigan’s Oxford High School. Earlier this year Jennifer and James Crumbley were each convicted at separate trials on four counts of voluntary manslaughter for recklessly furnishing the 9 mm. pistol that their deeply-troubled son used in the massacre. This tragic event came only four days after James Crumbley purchased Ethan’s asserted “Christmas present” at a gun store. It probably didn’t help the parents’ cause that Ethan had tagged along. Nor that his mother once posted an open letter on Twitter thanking President-elect Trump for, among other things, “allowing my right to bear arms [and] be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions.”

     Ethan pled guilty to first-degree murder and terrorism last December. He told the judge that “any sentence that they ask for, I ask that you do impose it on me”. Although seventeen, thus still not technically an “adult”, he drew life without parole.

     His parents will be eligible for release in ten years.

     Troubled youths often act out their demons at school. And if a gun’s readily available, so much the worse. We’ve covered a host of these tragedies. Here are the worst four:

  • 1999 Columbine High School massacre (Columbine, Colorado). Two twelfth-grade students, one eighteen, the other seventeen, used assault-style pistols and shotguns acquired through friends to murder twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-one others.
     
  • 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre (Newtown, Connecticut). A twenty-year old former student killed his mother, then used her assault-style rifle and 9 mm. pistol to shoot his way into the school. He gunned down twenty children and six adult employees, then committed suicide. Police Issues post
     
  • 2018 Marjorie Stoneman High School massacre (Parkland, Florida). A nineteen-year old former student used an AR-15 style rifle that he legally bought in a gun store in 2017 to murder fourteen students and three teachers. He was later arrested without incident. Police Issues post
     
  • Uvalde2022 Robb Elementary School massacre (Uvalde, Texas). An eighteen-year old former student shot his grandmother in the face, then used an AR-15 style rifle that he legally bought (he left a second rifle in his vehicle) to murder nineteen students and two teachers and wound seventeen others. He was shot and killed by a SWAT team while still inside the school. Police Issues post

SchShtgs1A     Here our objective is to explore the youthful misuse of guns, and particularly by younger teens. While we didn’t intend to focus on school shootings, these deplorable events helped us explore how children became murderous gunslingers. Using Wikipedia’s List of school shootings in the United States (2000–present), we selected all shootings at K-12 schools between 2012 and 2024 where the shooter was under 21 and killed at least one person. That yielded 36 episodes, one at each of three elementary schools, four middle schools, and 29 high schools. In all, 119 persons were killed and 99 were wounded.

     There were two unique groups: thirty-two shootings with one to four persons killed other than the shooter, and four shootings with ten to twenty-six:

SchShtgs9

SchShtgs3     Shooter intent and gun type were key determinants of the human toll. Twenty-two episodes in the one-to-four killed group were “targeted” on specific antagonists, often someone who supposedly had bullied the shooter. (In a middle school shooting that involved three 13-year olds, the shooter was the bully, while his victim was a youth who was defending the child being bullied.) Handguns were used in nearly all targeted shootings. Per-shooting casualty counts were accordingly limited: twenty had one death, and two had two deaths each. In contrast, eight of the fourteen “untargeted” episodes, where shooters had no specific victim in mind, caused more than one fatality. Their greatly disproportionate overall toll is attributable to four episodes that involved long guns: the 2018 Santa Fe High School (TX) shooting, where a 17-year old armed with a handgun and shotgun took ten lives, and the massacres at Sandy Hook, Marjorie Stoneman and Robb Elementary, where rifles were used to murder sixty-four.

SchShtgs5

SchShtgs4    Our thirty-six episodes had forty shooters. Thirty-nine were between the ages of twelve and twenty; one was twenty-one. Handguns were by far their most common weapon. After all, they’re easy to conceal, and firepower isn’t as much at issue when there is a specific “target” in mind. Handguns were also the only firearms used by the younger shooters. Unable to legally buy a gun of any kind, they usually turned to weapons that belonged to adult family members and were kept at home.

      In our lead-off example a fifteen-year old’s parents were imprisoned over the lethal consequences of gifting a pistol to their deeply troubled son. News accounts don’t suggest that family members purposely granted such ready access to any of the other young shooters. Two of their handguns actually came from other teens’ homes. In a 2022 Seattle-area high school shooting a 14-year old boy used a pistol that another 14-year old supposedly stole from his father’s handbag. Six years earlier, a 15-year old Arizona high school student borrowed a handgun from a classmate who brought it from home, supposedly without permission. After the killing, the shooter committed suicide. He was one of ten in our sample to do so.

SchShtgs7     Rifles were of mixed origin. Two massacres – at Marjorie Stoneman and Robb Elementary – were committed with rifles that shooters legally purchased at gun stores. The rifle used at Sandy Hook belonged to the youth’s mother. He took it, along with a handgun, after shooting her dead. We’ve often commented on the killing power of assault rifles (see “Ban the Damned Things!”). Here their effects proved truly devastating. Used on only six occasions, they accounted for more than half the total deaths and nearly half the woundings.

     Schools continue to be beset by armed youths. On May 1, 2024 Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin police shot and killed a 14-year old who was about to enter his middle school while armed with a rifle. He reportedly pointed the weapon – it turned out to be a Ruger .177 caliber pellet rifle – at responding officers and didn’t drop it when ordered. His disturbing online chatter (he posted “my last morning” earlier that day) revealed a fascination with guns.

     Two days later, a 17-year old Washington D.C. high school student was wounded by a bullet that pierced her classroom. Two students, ages seventeen and eighteen, were arrested for “assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a pistol without a license and endangerment with a firearm.”

     Might lawmaking offer a solution? Not according to Iowa’s Governor:

    This was a horrible tragedy. It’s certainly nothing that any governor wants to wake up to in the morning and hear what’s happened. No additional gun laws would have prevented what happened. There’s just evil out there.

Gov. Kim Reynolds was reacting to the January 4, 2024 shooting at Perry High School. Reportedly upset over being bullied, a 17-year old student opened fire with a handgun and a shotgun, killing two and wounding six. Authorities haven’t identified the weapons’  source. But the teen was too young under either Iowa or Federal law to buy a gun of any kind at a store. Iowa law also bars giving handguns to persons under twenty-one, and long guns to anyone under eighteen. Parents, though, can permit underage youths to possess long guns. They can also allow supervised access to handguns by those at least fourteen.

     State gun possession and purchase laws vary. Hawaii and Illinois are the most restrictive, with a minimum age of twenty-one for both firearms purchase and possession. At the opposite extreme, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Texas set no minimum age for possessing any type of firearm. Florida reacted to the Marjorie Stoneman massacre by increasing the minimum age for buying a rifle from eighteen to twenty-one, the same minimum that applies to handguns. Natch, gun enthusiasts were unhappy. Earlier this year, the State’s House chamber approved a bill that would return the minimum age for long-gun purchases to eighteen. But it died in the Senate.

SchShtgs10     Teen firearms misuse is by no means limited to school grounds. A fourteen-year old Los Angeles girl was recently charged with murder for gunning down a 20-year old woman who was standing on a streetcorner. Why the teen fired and where her gun came from are still to be revealed. But the March 21st. killing took place in the State with the strongest gun laws in the nation.

     Last year, “Are We Helpless to Prevent Massacres?” explored the issue of prevention. It was inspired by the March 27, 2023 massacre at Nashville’s Covenant Christian School, where a 28-year old armed with assault rifles unleashed a fusillade, killing three nine-year olds and three adults. Check out the essay and its related posts, say, “Our Never-Ending American Tragedy” for more. It’s subtitled “A murderous rampage in Nashville suggests that lawmaking is not a solution.”

     Our views about that haven’t changed. Yet some steps are possible. While we don’t promote the notion of imprisoning careless parents, encouraging safe gun storage can help. Ditto, holding gun makers to account for recklessly marketing their wares. Check out the recent story about the lawsuits filed by families of the victims of Uvalde.

SchShtgs11      Problem is, firearms have great cultural significance. Our society’s attitudes about gun ownership and possession have inevitably led to their abundant (over-abundant?) presence. So half-steps – and that’s clearly all that many (most?) of our fellow-citizens seem willing to do – are unlikely to substantially lessen the mayhem. Our graph uses CDC data. While we don’t claim that gun density is the only “cause” of gun deaths, it clearly matters. A lot. Even when we “control” for our favorite evil-doer, poverty, the “r” only drops to .61. (For more, see “Policing Can’t Fix What Really Ails.”)

     Let’s close with a bit of self-plagiarism from “Our Never-Ending American Tragedy”:

    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.

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

UPDATES (scroll)

6/6/24  In Chicago an argument led “a known male” to pull a gun and shoot a 14-year old girl in the hand. And in Los Angeles a 10-year old fourth grader brought a loaded, reportedly stolen Glock pistol to school. Another student turned him in. L.A. schools endured a record 1,197 “weapon incidents” last year, and there have been 903 this year. Two L.A. middle-school students were arrested with loaded pistols on May 3, and one L.A. prep schooler shot and killed another on April 15. Parents have asked that campus police be brought back into schools. They’ve been banned from interior patrols since 2020.

6/5/24  Against D.C. prosecutor’s wishes, a 20-year old Maryland man was released to home confinement pending trial for murder. Jayvon Thomas’ record prohibited him from having guns, but it turns out that he kept a “ghost” gun hidden under his bed. That’s how a girl “younger than 5” playing hide-and-seek came to accidentally shoot herself. Fortunately her injuries weren’t fatal. Neither were the wounds suffered by a three-year old who accidentally shot herself with a handgun in a nearby county. Both happened within a two-day span.



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K-12 School Shooting Database     Gun Violence Archive     School Shooting Safety Compendium

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Policing Can’t Fix What Really Ails     Are We Helpless to Prevent Massacres?

Our Never-Ending American Tragedy     Ban the Damned Things!

Again, Kids Die. Again, Our Leaders Pretend.



Posted 4/9/24

IDEOLOGY (STILL) TRUMPS REASON

When it comes to gun laws, “Red” and “Blue” remain in the driver’s seat

IdeologyM

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Vice-President Kamala Harris’ recent visit was an inevitable heart-churner. Scheduled for demolition, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman High School remains mostly as it was in February 2018 when a former student barged in and opened fire with an AR-15, murdering fourteen students and three employees and wounding more than a dozen others.

     Speaking before an audience that included the victims’ families, Ms. Harris announced a new Federal initiative, the “National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center.”  Established in partnership with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, it will train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, clinicians and other service providers in the proper use of extreme risk protection orders, i.e. “Red Flag” laws, which authorize the pre-emptive seizure of firearms from dangerous persons. Such as Nikolas Cruz, the deeply-troubled nineteen-year old shooter who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman “for behavioral reasons” in the year preceding the massacre.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     “Ban the Damned Things!” recounts Cruz’s ominous and extensive online history. Two years before his unspeakable deed, he posted photos of self-inflicted cuts and declared his intention to buy a gun. That led to a mental health referral. But a counselor cleared him, and the online ranting continued. Indeed, his intentions became so explicit (i.e., “Im going to be a professional school shooter”) that an Internet user warned the FBI about Cruz a mere month before the massacre. But nothing happened.

     At the time, Florida lacked a “Red Flag” law. That quickly changed. Still, the version it adopted wasn’t a complete solution. It requires that law enforcement officers (not simply citizens or family members) file a petition in court, and a hearing and judicial order are required before guns can be seized. No shortcuts are permitted. In 2019 a Lakeland woman was arrested for burglary when she tried to turn in her estranged husband’s guns to police. He was in jail after purposely ramming her car while on the road, and she feared for her life.

     Marjory Stoneman led to another tightening. Cruz legally bought his AR-15 from a dealer when he turned eighteen, the Federal minimum. So Florida raised the minimum age to buy long guns to twenty-one. But this January, by an “11-5 party-line vote” (with “Reds” in the majority), the criminal justice committee of Florida’s House chamber sent forward a measure that would restore the ability of eighteen-year olds to buy long guns. According to Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka), doing so is “very important in my rural area. We do a lot of bird hunting.”

     That reset is still pending. But what Florida’s political leaders are yet to do is define certain semi-automatic firearms like Cruz’s AR-15 as simply being too lethal. Guns labeled as “assault weapons” are presently banned in only ten States – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), as of March 2024 each of these States is one of sixteen that are under complete control of the Democratic Party, meaning that both legislative Houses and the Governor are “Blue.”  Republicans, in turn, exercise full control over twenty-three States. None of these “Red” states has an assault weapons law. Not one.

     A telling partisan split extends well beyond assault weapons. Everytown For Gun Safety recently released its 2024 State gun-law-strength rankings. Their system assigns 1 to the State with the strongest overall gun laws, and 50 to the State with the weakest. We turned it around, creating a scale of gun law strength that ranges from 1-50, with 50 the strongest.

States GLSM

     Colored dots – red for Republicans, blue for Democrats – represent the 39 States that are fully under control of a single party. According to the scattergram and table, there’s a strong relationship between NCSL party composition, Everytown gun law strength rankings and CDC 2021 firearm mortality death rates (it includes all deaths by gunfire, including crimes, accidents and suicides). Check the table. Mean gun law strength for “Blue” States is three times that of “Red” States, and the mean death rate is only half in magnitude. Notice how neatly the “Reds” and “Blues” cluster in the scattergram, with the “Reds” displaying consistently lower gun law strength scores and higher death rates than the “Blues”. Indeed, their gun law strength scores overlap only once, in the middle. To more precisely express the relationship between gun law strength and gun death rate we computed the r (correlation) statistic. It ranges from zero, meaning no relationship between variables, to plus or minus 1, meaning a perfect association. For this group of 39 States, gun law strength and gun death rate have a robust r of -.63. As one goes up or down, the other consistently follows, but in the opposite direction.

     “Policing Can’t Fix What Really Ails”, our recent exploration of the role of poverty in crime, assessed relationships between poverty, household firearms ownership, violent crime, homicide and gun deaths. These scattergrams depict the results of a 50-State analysis which examines the role of Party composition (measured by proportion of State legislators who are Democrats) as a potential driving force:

States GLS4M

  • Top left graph: Gun law strength and gun death rates have a robust r of -.62, virtually identical to what we computed for the 39-State sample. As one factor increases, the other decreases, and in close sync.
     
  • Top right graph: At r= .70, the proportion of households with guns exhibits a strong relationship with gun deaths. Since we’re considering all manner of gun deaths, including accidents and suicides, that’s no surprise.
     
  • Bottom left graph: To assess the potential influence of political parties on gun law strength, NCSL data was used to determine each State’s proportion of “Blue” legislators. Results are consistent with what we found for the 39-State sample. Political party and gun law strength share a strong relationship, producing an r of  .78. That’s a “positive” relationship, meaning the variables go up and down together.
     
  • Bottom right graph: An equally robust correlation, in the “negative” direction, characterizes the relationship between party preference and household gun ownership. As percent “Blues” goes up, gun ownership goes down, and in very close sync.

     This matrix displays all the relationships:

States matrixM

Check out the bottom row. Gun death rates substantially increase with gun ownership (positive relationship) but markedly decline as percent Democrat and gun law strength increase (negative relationship). “Reds” support gun ownership and oppose gun lawmaking. And here’s how we figure things play out in the “real world”:

States party prefM

     Given a reluctance, even in “Blue” places, to impose truly strict controls, guns have become ubiquitous throughout the land. According to NBC News’ latest poll, 52 percent of registered voters – the highest proportion ever – have at least one gun at home. Firearms ownership was reported by 66 percent of “Reds”, 45 percent of Indies and 41 percent of “Blues”.

     While full-blooded “Red” States are more deeply affected by gun violence, they don’t suffer alone. Consider Virginia. Traditionally split down the middle politics-wise, it presently has two-member Democratic majorities in its State House and Senate. But Governor Glenn Youngkin is a “Red.” So he recently vetoed a host of gun control measures, including an assault-weapons ban, that had squeaked through on Party-line votes. He even turned away a prohibition on guns on college campuses that had been inspired by a November, 2022 shooting which took the lives of three University of Virginia students on a chartered bus. However, Gov. Youngkin did sign a bill requiring schools to remind parents of their responsibility to safely store guns. That tepidly-worded measure followed on a recent incident in which a six-year old first-grader used an unsecured gun to shoot his teacher. (His mother just pled guilty to child neglect.)

     Switch to deep-Blue. Consider the recent tragedy in California, where a 10-year old used a gun he “stole” from his father’s car to shoot and kill another child. And the 66-year old upstate New York homeowner who opened fire on vehicles that (mistakenly) drove up his driveway, killing one of the occupants. He just drew 25-to-life. (For many more such examples scroll through the “Updates” sections of our essays in Gun Control 2023.)

    Clashing ideologies aside, firearms ownership remains commonplace throughout the land. “Reds” argue that firearms are vital for protection, and many “Blues” agree. It turns out that their supposedly more “stringent” gun laws are riddled with exceptions. Such as California’s assault weapons “ban”, which allows semi-automatic rifles that, other than for a ten-round limit, are the functional equivalents of the highly lethal AR-15.

     So how are the risks of violence dispersed? These graphs report mean State crime rates from the UCR, mean firearms mortality and suicide data from the CDC, and State poverty data from the Census:

States comparoM

“Red” States suffer from higher homicide, aggravated assault and burglary rates, while “Blue” States have higher robbery rates. Residents of “Red” States seem at somewhat higher risk of crime, but the picture is mixed. What’s perfectly clear is that “Red” States contend with substantially higher rates of firearms death and firearms suicide. Given their elevated rates of gun ownership, that would seem all-too predictable.

     However, their residents’ increased risk of death isn’t something that seemingly concerns “Red” politicians. Say, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (his State is eleventh “Reddest”, with a legislature under full “Red” control). Gary, one of the State’s few “Blue” places, had a long-running lawsuit against the gun industry, which it blamed for fomenting violence. A judge recently gave it some steam. So legislators sent on, and Governor Holcomb quickly signed, a bill that prohibits cities from doing such things. And its effect is retroactive. Sorry, Gary!

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     Of course, the effects of partisanship go well beyond the gun debate. As we discussed in “Judicial Detachment: Myth or Reality?” ideological notions have long shaped key rulings by our vaunted Supreme Court. (Its “Reds” are presently in the driver’s seat with a one-vote advantage.) Bottom line: when it comes to critical public issues, informed, objective analysis is often elbowed aside by the unholy influences of political ideology, both “Red” and “Blue”. That’s what is truly scary.

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Ideology Trumps Reason   Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?   Fearful, Angry, Fuzzy-Headed. And Armed

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Judicial Detachment: Myth or Reality?     Cops v. Assault Weapons     Ban the Damned Things!

Red Flag at Half-Mast (I)



Posted 2/28/24

HOUSTON, WE HAVE (ANOTHER) PROBLEM

Fueled by assault rifles, “senseless” murders plague the land

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. As our more “senior” readers know, the “problem” we’re appropriating for our own, selfish purposes reared its ugly head fifty-four years ago. On April 14, 1970, an American mission to the moon was aborted mid-flight when an oxygen tank blew up. Happily, the orbiter landed safely (on Earth) and no one got hurt.

     Like all such missions, Apollo 13 launched from Florida’s Cape Kennedy. It then came under the control of “Mission Control” at Johnson Space Center, a vast “$1.5 billion complex” near downtown Houston. That’s Houston, Texas. Our government’s most sophisticated, science-based enterprise is based in a decidedly “Red” State. Texas also happens to be a “Stand Your Ground” State. Meaning, among other things, that it encourages private gun ownership. And, apparently, gun use. For example, its denizens are under no obligation to retreat before using force, including deadly force, in self-defense (Texas Penal Code sec. 9.31e).

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Our focus here, though, isn’t on simple errors in judgment, no matter how tragic their consequences. After all, even the best-intentioned humans (and here we include most cops) occasionally fall prey to the chaos and uncertainty that suffuse everyday life. It’s about “senseless” behavior, meaning without any rational basis. And there are few better examples than what happened in Houston during the afternoon hours of Sunday, February 11. That’s when a local resident, 36-year old Genesse Ivonne Moreno, burst into a church between services. Accompanied by her 7-year old son, Moreno was attired in a trench coat and carried two rifles, a .22 caliber weapon and an AR-15. She quickly opened fire with the latter in a hallway. Two off-duty police officers working security promptly fired back, killing her. During the exchange Moreno’s son was critically hurt, and a middle-aged parishioner sustained non-life threatening wounds to his leg. (Just whose bullets struck them is yet to be revealed.)

     What drove Moreno to act as she did? Her rifle bore a “Palestine” sticker, and she had reportedly made “anti-Semitic” writings. But the church was a Christian congregation. Motives aside, what is known paints a highly disturbing picture of a highly disturbed soul. While Moreno identified as a woman, she had a substantial criminal record in Houston under a male alias. Here’s a summary from our inquiry of the Harris County Court:

     Moreno supposedly purchased the AR-15 in December 2023. How, and from whom, hasn’t been revealed. She has no known felony convictions, which would have barred her from buying a gun from a  dealer. Family members and police said that Moreno suffered from long-standing mental problems; police officers placed her under “emergency mental detention” in 2016. However, Texas doesn’t have a “Red Flag” law,  so there was no ready way to keep her from buying a gun in a store. Neither does it require background checks for gun transfers between private parties. So Moreno could have easily acquired a firearm even if her mental problems were of record.


     Moreno hasn’t been the Lone Star State’s only “senseless” killer. Consider the May 6, 2023 massacre in Allen, a Dallas exurb. Attired in tactical gear and wearing an “RWDS” (Right-Wing Death Squad) patch on his chest, Mauricio Garcia, 36, jumped out of his car and began “indiscriminately” firing an AR-15 in the parking lot of a large mall. He then charged into a building and continued the fusillade. Garcia killed eight and wounded seven before a security guard shot him dead.

     Garcia (photo from OK.ru) brought along an arsenal. In addition to the AR-15 he carried two handguns on his person and had five more guns in his car. All were legally bought. Garcia, a security guard, had a clean criminal record. But there was a “glitch”. Garcia enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was eighteen. But only three months later concerns about his mental health and an “adjustment disorder” led to his discharge. Unfortunately, the Army didn’t pass that on to the FBI, which runs the nation’s “Insta-Check” gun purchase system. So he remained free to buy guns from retail dealers to his wicked heart’s delight.


     We’re not done with Texas. Four days preceding Garcia’s foul deed a tactical unit comprised of Feds and State troopers arrested Francisco Oropeza in the small town of Cut and Shoot, about 40 miles north of Houston. Oropeza was on the run after murdering four adults and a 9-year old in the nearby town of Cleveland, where he lived, because they had the temerity to demand that he stop shooting his AR-15 in his yard. One of his victims had just called 9-1-1 about his gunfire. And this wasn’t the first time.

     Oropeza was an illegal immigrant with four prior deportations. That’s important to know because it legally excluded him from having guns. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Sadly, that’s already been imposed.


     “We can't get inside his head. We just don't have any clue as to why he did what he did.” Joliet Police Chief Bill Evans’s comments reflect the perplexing nature of the January 21, 2024 spree by our fourth killer, twenty-three year old Romeo Nance. He was ultimately cornered – and committed suicide – in Texas. But his appalling handiwork took place in Joliet, Illinois, the community where he grew up. And its toll was grim. Nance murdered his mother, three sisters, a brother, and an uncle and aunt. While fleeing he also shot and killed a 28-year old pedestrian carrying groceries and wounded a middle-aged man whom he happened to encounter.

     Nance’s explosive temper was well known to police, who were frequently summoned to his residence.  Leaving out numerous traffic infractions, here’s a summary of his adult criminal record from the Will County Court:

     Soon after turning eighteen Nance was arrested for a robbery that involved “pressing a knife against [his victim’s] chest”. He got a break, and the case was settled with his plea to a misdemeanor marijuana charge. Nance completed a probationary term, by all appearances successfully. But his conduct eventually tanked. In January 2023 he shot at a female motorist during a traffic encounter. Police seized an unlicensed handgun and “two cartons of ammunition” from his backpack. Nance went on to assault an officer and soon collected additional charges.

     Nance perpetrated his massacre using an “AR-15 style” rifle that was recovered from his car. He also used a handgun. How he obtained these weapons hasn’t been revealed. His previous tangles made him ineligible to receive an Illinois firearm owner’s ID card, which the State requires of all gun owners. So he probably acquired his guns through private transactions.


     Shift to Minnesota. Prohibited or not, emotionally-troubled men – and it’s almost always a male – find it easy to get high-powered firearms. On February 18, 2024, after a prolonged negotiation session during which he denied being armed, Shannon Gooden (Facebook photo on left) unleashed a barrage of “more than 100” rifle rounds, killing two Burnsville police officers and a paramedic who had responded to a call about a sexual assault. Despite a 2007 felony assault conviction and a judge’s 2020 refusal to reinstate his gun rights, Gooden had multiple firearms and a copious amount of ammunition. He committed suicide

     Switch to Maine. U.S. Army reservist Robert Card’s mounting “anger and paranoia” deeply troubled an Army chum. So much so, that in September 2023 he warned their superior that Card was going “to snap and do a mass shooting.” And on October 25 that’s exactly what he did, unleashing back-to-back barrages in a Lewiston bowling alley and a restaurant (surveillance photo on right) that killed eighteen persons and injured thirteen. Card had a troubled mental history. It included a two-week 2023 stint in an Army psychiatric ward that followed his mentions of “hearing voices” about “hurting other soldiers”. But the Army, which barred him from handling guns, apparently didn’t consider his treatment to be a mental “commitment” that required it inform the Insta-Check system. Ergo, Card remained able to buy guns to his wicked heart’s delight. Including the Ruger SFAR semi-auto rifle he used in the massacre. And yes, he bought it in a gun store. Ten days earlier. Card committed suicide as police closed in.


     We began our post by declaring a focus on “senselessness”. Alas, irrational behavior is not uncommon. And in our gun-infused society, it all-too-often leads to gunplay. Most, though, involves handguns. As we pointed out in “Going Ballistic,” their lethality is far, far outstripped by the killing power of the military-style rifles that have become immensely popular among enthusiasts. And mass murderers. Let’s self-plagiarize from our 2015 op-ed  in the Washington Post:

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

     All this is well known to law enforcement. Between 2010-2019 (the last year with complete LEOKA data) 471 law enforcement officers were feloniously slain by gunfire. Of these, 339 were wearing body armor. And 21 were slain by rounds that penetrated their armor. This graph depicts the most frequent culprits, gun-wise:

     Ballistics definitely “count”. According to a March 2023 article in the Texas Tribune, that vulnerability was apparently very much on the minds of the officers who responded to the May 2022 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. During “previously unreleased interviews” they said they backed off and waited for SWAT because they lacked the weapons and protective gear to confront the shooter’s “battle rifle”. Here’s its image when seized:

Several non-SWAT officers did try to make a prompt approach. As they went down the hallway the gunman opened fire through a door. Two officers got grazed:

    The gunman had an AR-15…Its bullets flew toward the officers at three times the speed of sound and could have pierced their body armor like a hole punch through paper. They grazed two officers in the head, and the group retreated.

According to a police sergeant, “You knew that it was definitely an AR. There was no way of going in.”

     When it came time to review the police response, political correctness took hold. Official assessments  (click here for DOJ’s report) repeatedly blasted the (again, non-SWAT) cops for not promptly charging in . No mention was made of the exceptionally lethal nature of Ramos’ gun, whose projectiles would readily defeat “ordinary” ballistic vests commonly worn on patrol. Of course, Texas is a place that embraces guns. Suggesting that so-called “assault rifles” are simply too lethal would have stirred a hornet’s nest. Far better (and safer) to blame it on the cops, and only the cops.

     Then came the Allen massacre. Attention turned to a Texas House bill, backed by the families of Uvalde’s victims, that would have increased the minimum age for buying semi-auto rifles from 18 to 21  (Uvalde’s gunman was 18 when he bought his two AR-15 style rifles from a dealer.) That seems hardly controversial. Even so, gunplay had abated, and the proposal quickly died in committee. Really, in Texas it simply can't be about the gun. Here’s what the legal counsel for Texas Gun Rights told the Washington Post about the massacre in Cleveland, Texas:

    It’s a tragedy but we need to get away from blaming guns which only answers the question of how and start asking the question why these shootings take place, why people feel the need to settle differences with violence and murder…

But didn’t Francisco Oropeza’s AR-15 style weapon pose a special threat? Absolutely not, the lawyer replied. Its presence was “meaningless.” After all, Oropeza “could have killed those people just as easily with a handgun.”


     In a recent interview, ATF Director Steven Dettelbach suggested that the unending stream of mass killings may be numbing Americans to the effects of gun violence. At a meet with families of the Lewiston massacre, he emphasized that speaking out was crucial. “Your voices are very important...It really makes a difference.” Dettelbach later told reporters that it was “too easy” for unstable persons to get firearms.

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     As a (long retired) ATF agent, we second the current boss’s views. Still, guns have suffused the land. They’re so easy to acquire from private sources that trying to control who gets them can seem hopeless. Perhaps a highly focused approach on the most lethal weapons – say, an outright prohibition on assault rifles – could help. After all, these instruments of war weren't in play when they  penned the Second Amendment. Indeed, we urged that “solution” six years ago in “Ban the Damned Things!” Mind you, it would have to be a real ban, sans the exceptions and workarounds that characterize so-called “assault weapons bans” in so-called “strong law” States like our own California.

     But for that, check out “A Ban in Name Only”. Meanwhile, has anything here resonated? If so, pass it on!

UPDATES (scroll)

4/29/24  Military reservists told a commission investigating the October 2023 mass shooting at a Lewiston, Maine bowling alley that they were “surprised” when the shooter, reservist Robert Card, was released after spending only two weeks in a psychiatric ward. A close chum, Sean Hodgson, said that he warned leaders to change the code for entering the military base “and arm themselves if Robert Card showed up.” But his accounts of Card’s delusions, propensity for violence and access to guns were ignored. Hodgson, though, suffers from PTSD and alcohol problems, and his commander cautioned that his warnings “should be taken with a grain of salt.”

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

3/18/24  Maine has a “Yellow Flag” law that allows authorities to request that a judge order dangerous persons to give up their guns. According to a commission investigating the October 2023 massacre in a Lewiston bowling alley, where eighteen were shot dead, it could have been applied to its perpetrator, Army reservist Robert Card, well in advance. But a deputy who knew five weeks earlier that Card was in a “mental health crisis” and had threatened to commit a mass shooting did...nothing.



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RELATED POSTS

Gun Massacres special topic

“Legal” Gun Buyers Can be a Problem     Fearful, Angry, Fuzzy-Headed. And Armed.

Are We Helpless to Prevent Massacres?     An American Tragedy     Loopholes Are (Still) Lethal

Cops v. Assault Weapons     Going Ballistic     Red Flag at Half-Mast (I)  (II)     Ban the Damned Things!

A “Ban” in Name Only     A Stitch in Time
 

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