Category Archives: Mass shootings

US mass shooters exploited gaps, errors in background checks

Associated Press, by Lisa Marie Pane, Sep 7, 2019
In this Aug. 4, 2019 file photo, a Virgin Mary painting, flags and flowers adorn a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The vast majority of mass shooters have acquired their firearms legally with nothing in their background that would have prohibited them from possessing a gun. But there have been examples of lapses in the background check system that allowed guns to end up in the wrong hands. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)

Most mass shooters in the U.S. acquired the weapons they used legally because there was nothing in their backgrounds to disqualify them, according to James Alan Fox, a criminologist with Northeastern University who has studied mass shootings for decades.

But in several attacks in recent years gunmen acquired weapons as a result of mistakes, lack of follow-through or gaps in federal and state law.

Not all gun purchases are subject to a federal background check system. Even for those that are, federal law stipulates a limited number of reasons why a person would be prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Those include someone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, has a substance abuse addiction, has been involuntarily committed for a mental health issue, was dishonorably discharged from the military or convicted of domestic violence/subject of a restraining order.

In 2018, there were more than 26 million background checks conducted and fewer than 100,000 people failed. Of those, the vast majority were for a criminal conviction. Just over 6,000 were rejected for a mental health issue.

Here are some of the ways mass shooters acquired their weapons:

MISTAKE IN DATA: CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, CHURCH

The gunman who killed nine worshippers in 2015 at Mother Emanuel AME Church acquired a handgun because of a combination of a mistake in the background database and lack of follow-through.

Dylann Roof had been arrested on drug charges just weeks earlier. Although that arrest should have prevented him from purchasing the pistol he used in the attack, the FBI examiner reviewing the sale never saw the arrest report because the wrong agency was listed in state criminal history records. After being told she had the wrong agency to review the arrest record and being directed to a different police department, she didn’t follow through.

After a three-day waiting period, Roof went back to a West Columbia store and picked up the handgun.

FBI examiners process about 22,000 inquiries per day, a Justice Department attorney said during a court case brought by relatives of the church victims.

DATA NOT UPDATED: SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS, CHURCH

The man who killed more than two dozen churchgoers in 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was able to purchase guns because his past criminal record was not submitted to the FBI database.

Devin Patrick Kelley purchased four guns from federally licensed dealers in Texas and Colorado. The military veteran passed the required background checks because the Air Force never informed the FBI about an assault on his wife and her child that led to a court-martial, a year of confinement and a bad conduct discharge.

The Air Force acknowledged that in addition to failing to submit the information in the FBI database for Kelley, it found several dozen other such reporting omissions. The Air Force has blamed gaps in “training and compliance measures” for the lapses and said it made changes to prevent failures in the future.

LACK OF ENFORCEMENT: AURORA, ILLINOIS, WORKPLACE

When Aurora, Illinois, shooter Gary Martin failed a background check and was told to turn over his weapon, he never did and police didn’t confiscate it. Martin later killed five co-workers and wounded six other people at a suburban Chicago manufacturing plant.

An initial background check failed to detect Martin’s criminal record. Months later, a second background check found his 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi involving the stabbing of an ex-girlfriend.

He was sent a letter stating his gun permit had been revoked and ordering him to turn over his firearm to police, however he never gave up the .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.

There’s no mechanism under federal law to seize firearms from people who are prohibited from possession or purchase. Most states allow police to seize a firearm when they encounter a prohibited person. Few states have a procedure to actively retrieve and remove firearms from prohibited people.

A 2018 report by the California attorney general, for example, said that more than 20,000 people in that state have failed to surrender their firearms as required. California is one of a handful of states that seizes firearms from prohibited people. California, Connecticut, and Nevada require prohibited people to provide proof they’ve complied and relinquished their firearms.

PRIVATE PURCHASE: WEST TEXAS RAMPAGE

The gunman who went on a rampage last weekend along a 10-mile stretch around Midland and Odessa, Texas, killing seven people and injuring about two dozen, had failed a background check in 2014. Authorities believe Seth Aaron Ator evaded the background check system by purchasing the weapon he used through a private transaction. They searched a home in Lubbock that they believe is associated with the person who supplied the gun.

Under federal law, private sales of firearms — such as between friends, relatives or even strangers — are not required to undergo a federal background check. Some 21 states plus Washington, D.C., have laws that require background checks on some private sales, but Texas isn’t one of them. Two other states — Maryland and Pennsylvania — require a background check for handguns but not long guns.

A study by Harvard University researchers published in 2017 found that 22% of current gun owners who acquired a firearm in the previous two years reported doing so without a background check.

While Americans are allowed to make their own firearms, they cannot do so commercially. It is illegal to make and sell guns as a business without being a licensed dealer or manufacturer. Some sales at gun shows also are not subject to a background check.

TOOK FROM RELATIVES: NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT; MARYSVILLE, WASHINGTON; AND SANTA FE, TEXAS

The 20-year-old who killed 20 students and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, took the firearms he used from his mother’s collection. Adam Lanza killed her first in the home they shared before going to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he carried out his attack in 2012.

In 2014, 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg killed four classmates and wounded one other in Marysville, Washington, before killing himself. He was armed with a .40-caliber Beretta Px4 Storm handgun that he stole from his father. Fryberg’s father was later convicted of illegally obtaining the gun for failing to acknowledge on federal firearm forms that he was the subject of a tribal domestic-violence protective order. That order was never sent into the state or federal criminal databases.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old high school student in Santa Fe, Texas, is accused of killing eight students and two substitute teachers in 2018 with a shotgun and pistol he took from his father’s closet.

LEGALLY ACQUIRED: LAS VEGAS; AURORA, COLORADO; ROSEBURG, OREGON; AND ORLANDO AND PARKLAND, FLORIDA

The man who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history — the Las Vegas attack that left 58 people killed and more than 500 wounded in 2017 — legally acquired 33 of the 49 weapons between October 2016 and Sept. 28, 2017, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The gunmen who carried out attacks at a high school in Parkland, Florida; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon; and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, all passed background checks and purchased their firearms legally.

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    How many dead? Database discrepancies…

    By Roger Straw, August 6, 2019

    Well, of course one death by the hand of a mass shooter is too many.

    But the numbers are important, and how are we to know the facts when we read widely varying reports:

      1. “At least 60 people have died in the U.S. from mass shootings in 2019 alone”  – Vallejo Times-Herald on Aug. 6
      2. Prior to the El Paso shooting, “20 mass killings in the US in 2019 claimed 96 lives.”  – The Guardian on Aug 4
      3. “The Ohio mass shooting was the 293rd this year, accounting for 345 killed.”  – The Benicia Independent on Aug 4

    Yes, one is too many, but what is the real story of America’s gun violence problem?  How to report with a sense of accuracy?  And how are readers to make sense of the wide discrepancies?

    #1 – First, it is likely that the Aug 6 Vallejo Times-Herald headline (60 killed) is just an error.  I can find no other news article making that claim, and the headline is not referenced in the body of the two Associated Press news reports below the headline.

    #2 – The Aug 4 Guardian article (96 killed) refers to “a database compiled by the Associated Press, Northeastern University and USA Today.”  The database only counts shootings where four or more people killed, not including the shooter.  Using this methodology, the shooting in Dayton was only “the 22nd mass killing in the US this year.  The first 20 mass killings in the US in 2019 claimed 96 lives.”

    #3 – My own reporting here on the Benicia Independent relies on two very similar databases with shockingly higher numbers: MassShootingTracker.org and GunViolenceArchive.org.  Both of these track all shootings where 4 or more people are SHOT (not just those where 4 or more are killed).  The justification for this as stated by example on MassShootingTracker is convincing: “…in 2012 Travis Steed and others shot 18 people total. Miraculously, he only killed one. Under the incorrect definition used by the media and the FBI, that event would not be considered a mass shooting! Arguing that 18 people shot during one event is not a mass shooting is absurd.”  One difference between these two is that MassShootingTracker includes the death of the shooter, while GunViolenceArchive does not.  Thus, they give these numbers for 2019 as of today, Aug 6:

    Database – Mass Shootings in 2019 Incidents Killed Wounded
    MassShootingTracker.org 298 353 1162
    GunViolenceArchive.org 253 275 1055

    Only using the more detailed mass shootings data can we understand that in the 218 days of this year, the U.S. is experiencing more than one mass shooting every day.

    This is a crisis.

    Congress needs to act.  Now.

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      Death toll rises to 22 in El Paso shooting as 2 more victims die in hospital

      ABC News, By Bill Hutchinson & Stephanie Wash, Aug 5, 2019

      The death toll from a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, increased to 22 after two more victims died in the hospital, police said.

      David Shimp, chief executive officer at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, said one patient died late Sunday night and another Monday morning.

      The victims, whose names were not immediately released, were among more than two dozen people wounded in the massacre that erupted about 10:39 a.m. local time Saturday inside a Walmart crowded with shoppers, including children and parents drawn to a back-to-school sale.

      The wounded ranged in age from 2 years old to 82, according to authorities.

      Dr. Stephen Flaherty, director of trauma at Del Sol Medical Center, said one of the patients who died was an elderly woman.

      PHOTO:A man comforts a woman who was in the freezer section of a Walmart during a shooting incident, in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 03, 2019.
      A man comforts a woman who was in the freezer section of a Walmart during a shooting incident, in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 03, 2019. PHOTO: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/EPA via Shutterstock

      Both patients suffered “major and devastating” wounds that were consistent with high-velocity gun shots, he added.

      “We are truly heartbroken to have to be here to report this,” said Flaherty, his voice cracking with emotion.

      He said he could only speak of the female victim who died.

      “The patient had major intra-abdominal injuries affecting the liver, the kidney and the intestines,” Flaherty said. “She received massive blood transfusion, utilizing all types of blood products.”

      Shimp added that six other wounded victims remain at Del Sol Medical Center, one in critical condition and five in stable condition. He said two other patients were discharged and one was transferred to another local hospital.

      News of the latest death came just hours after the El Paso County Coroner’s Officer removed the last victim’s body from the premises.

      The suspect was identified by authorities as Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen, Texas. He is being held on a charge of capital murder, court records show.

      John Bash, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, said Sunday that federal authorities are investigating the incident as an act of “domestic terrorism,” meaning the suspect was allegedly intent on “coercing and intimidating a civilian population.”

      Bash said federal authorities are also considering bringing hate crimes and federal firearms charges against Crusius that carry the penalty of death.

      Police said Crusius drove more than 600 miles from his home in the Dallas area to El Paso to kill as many Mexicans as he could.

      Investigators also believe Crusius is the same man who allegedly posted a four-page racist, anti-immigrant document on the dark website 8chan before launching the attack, officials said.

      “We consider this an act of terrorism against the Mexican-American community and the Mexicans living in the United States,” Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said in a video statement.

      At least seven of the 20 people killed were Mexican nationals, and nine additional Mexicans were among those wounded, Ebrard said.

      Ebrard called the shooting an “act of barbarism.”

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        Not just 2 mass shootings – SEVEN mass shootings in two days, and another today!

        By Roger Straw, August 5, 2019

        Thank you, Donald Trump… now… #DOSOMETHING Mitch McConnell!

        The Hope Border Institute held a prayer vigil Sunday in El Paso, Texas. PHOTO: MARK LAMBIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

        Everyone is talking about the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton.  And well we should be talking – and doing something – about those horrors.

        Thank goodness even our racist President made a powerful speech condemning hate, racism and white supremacist ideology.

        MassShootingTracker.org

        But few are aware that on August 3 and 4, it wasn’t just TWO mass shootings.  On those two days, SEVEN mass shootings in the U.S. were reported on MassShootingTracker.org, and another was reported early today on August 5:

        date killed wounded city state
        8/5/2019 0 4 Brooklyn NY
        8/4/2019 0 4 Grenada Co. MS
        8/4/2019 10 16 Dayton OH
        8/4/2019 1 3 Memphis TN
        8/3/2019 1 7 Chicago IL
        8/3/2019 0 7 Chicago (Douglas Park) IL
        8/3/2019 20 26 El Paso TX

        As I reported yesterday, mass shootings have become an everyday occurrence.  By the time I finish this, there might be yet another.

        RR-Tx-Oh-080419A_desktop
        Click to go to EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY petition

        Grieving and angry protesters in Dayton shouted Do Something!  Holding candles and lights high overhead, over and over again, #DOSOMETHING!  #DOSOMETHING!  #DOSOMETHING!  #DOSOMETHING!  #DOSOMETHING!

        Our legislators in Washington have rallied after any number of mass assault-weapon murders, but with little to no effective results.  It has become an all-too-familiar cry to hear something like “thoughts and prayers are not enough.”  But the public has gotten mostly just that, thoughts and prayers.

        US Reprentative Mike Thompson, California’s Fifth District

        My congressional representative Mike Thompson has led the bipartisan House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force since 2012, but every time the House proposes gun control measures, either it fails in the House, or Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the Trump Republicans refuse to even allow a vote.

        There are excellent legislative opportunities and worldwide guidance on how to stem the flow of these horrific attacks.  If only… if only, our federal government would take action.

        Another sad day in the United States.

        Related image
        Click to go to Everytown.org
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