Category Archives: Mass shootings

Canada Orders Immediate Ban on Assault Weapons in Wake of Deadly Mass Shooting

PM Justin Trudeau said the government had been in the process of introducing the ban when its agenda was overturned by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada attending a news conference in Ottawa on Friday. Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters
New York Times, by Ian Austen, May 1, 2020

OTTAWA — Nearly two weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in Canada’s history, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday introduced an immediate ban on what he described as “military-style assault weapons.”

“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Mr. Trudeau said. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.”

The ban means that Canadians will no longer be able to own rifles like the AR-15, the military-style weapon used in several mass shootings in the United States including those in Newtown, Conn.; Orlando, Fla.; and Parkland, Fla.

By introducing the ban, Mr. Trudeau partly fulfills a gun control promise he made during last year’s federal elections. He said the government had been in the process of introducing an assault weapons ban when its agenda was overturned by the coronavirus pandemic.

In making the announcement, Mr. Trudeau noted several gun killings and repeatedly cited the shooting rampage in rural Nova Scotia that left 23 people dead, including the gunman.

The gunman’s arsenal included two models banned on Friday, said Bill Blair, the country’s public safety minister.

The killer did not have a firearms license and many of his guns and rifles had been smuggled into Canada from the United States, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, highlighting one difficulty Canada may face in enforcing the new measure. The U.S. federal government has not barred assault weapons since a previous ban expired in 2004.

The swift response by Mr. Trudeau to the killings in Nova Scotia stands in contrast to that of officials in the United States, where repeated efforts to renew the now-lapsed assault weapons ban have failed.

A makeshift memorial for Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable Heidi Stevenson, who was killed in the shooting in Nova Scotia. Credit…Tim Krochak/Reuters

The Canadian government has drawn up a list of about 1,500 gun models covered by the new ban. It estimates that about 100,000 such semiautomatic rifles are now legally owned by Canadians.

Mr. Trudeau said the government will introduce legislation to buy back the rifles, another part of his campaign promise, at a future date. Until then, owners have been given two years to keep their rifles although they can no longer use them, trade them or sell them except to buyers outside Canada with a permit. Gun shops can return any of the weapons they now have in stock to manufacturers.

While handguns and automatic weapons are tightly restricted in Canada, most rifles and shotguns have been more loosely regulated. The previous Conservative government shut down a registry for such weapons that had been set up after a man gunned down 14 young women and injured 13 others in 1989 at the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal.

That database was beset by technical problems and was deeply unpopular in rural areas. Mr. Trudeau has resisted calls from gun control groups to revive it.

Mr. Trudeau said on Friday that his planned legislation will also include a measure that will allow cities to ban handguns within their boundaries, another of his campaign pledges.

Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservative Party, repeated his longstanding opposition to any ban and buyback of military-style weapons, noting that many mass killers, including Gabriel Wortman in Nova Scotia, and other criminals use illegal firearms brought in from the United States.

“It’s easy but lazy government to ask the people who follow all the rules to follow more rules,” Mr. Scheer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also criticized Mr. Trudeau for introducing the measure through a cabinet order while Parliament is not meeting in normal sessions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wendy Cukier, the president of the Coalition for Gun Control, said that most mass shootings in Canada have involved legally owned rifles and said there’s evidence that the availability of military-style weapons may make such killings more likely.

“Most mass shooters are law abiding until they are not,” she said.

What motivated the 13.5-hour killing spree in Nova Scotia by Mr. Wortman, a denture fitter, remains unknown. It started in the tiny summer community of Portapique when Mr. Wortman assaulted his partner and tied her up. She escaped and he began shooting people inside and outside of their homes while he also set fire to several buildings, including some of his own properties.

After the police arrived shortly before midnight on April 18, they found two replica Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruisers registered to Mr. Wortman on fire and located a third at his full-time residence in Halifax. That led the police to believe, they said, that he may have committed suicide and was in one of the burning buildings.

But after hiding in the woods all night, Mr. Wortman’s partner told police that he was traveling in a fourth replica police car that did not have license plates. Investigators subsequently discovered that he had eluded them by driving through a farm field and then hiding in another town where he resumed his killing spree in the morning.

He was eventually shot and killed after pulling into a gas station while driving a car belonging to one of the victims.

Ms. Cukier acknowledged that the government will have to continually update its list to prevent manufacturers from circumventing the ban by modifying current models and reintroducing them as new weapons. Her group, she said, will recommend that future legislation focus more on a system in which gunmakers must get approval to sell specific weapons rather than on steps to ban the weapons.

And while her group generally takes stances that oppose those of the Conservatives, she agreed that more must be done about smuggled weapons.

“There are a lot of things that have to happen,” she said. “Most Canadians don’t know the extent to which our laws have been eroded.”

Alan Drummond, who has long pushed for more gun controls through the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, praised Mr. Trudeau and members of his cabinet for their unequivocal statements about the need to ban assault weapons.

“What struck me was the absolute clarity and conviction,” he said.

More people are using California’s new firearms seizure laws

By Roger Straw, January 8, 2020

I was encouraged to read a headline in the Washington Post this morning, “Colorado just used its gun seizure law for the first time — one day after it took effect.”

The Post report is specific to Colorado, but it outlines a “growing list of states with legislation allowing authorities to seize firearms from people deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others.”

“Until the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, four other states followed Connecticut’s lead in adopting “red flag” legislation. Since then, a dozen states and the District of Columbia have passed gun seizure laws in an effort to prevent rising gun violence and suicides by firearm.”

Connecticut was the first state to enact a red flag law.  It did so in 1999 following a rampage shooting at the Connecticut Lottery.

California adopted its red-flag law in 2014, the first state to pass a red flag law allowing immediate family members to petition courts to take weapons from persons deemed a threat.  The law also permits police and roommates to request confiscation.

In February 2019, the Chronicle’s Alexei Koseff reported that California gun confiscations had increased sharply under the restraining-order law.  “Courts approved petitions to confiscate weapons from 424 people in 2018, according to the Justice Department. That was up dramatically from 2017, when 104 such orders were issued, and 2016, the year the law took effect, when there were 86.  In the nine Bay Area counties, gun violence restraining orders jumped significantly, to 53 [in 2018], from 14 in 2017.”

Most recently in October 2019, California strengthened its firearm seizure laws, expanding the right to request confiscation to co-workers and employers.  The new law,  AB1493, also creates “a way for someone subject to an order to voluntarily relinquish their gun ownership.”  [SF Chronicle, More Californians can seek gun removals after Newsom signs new firearm laws]

HOW TO REQUEST A GUN VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER:
If you know of someone who is a firearm danger to self or others, call 911 or contact your local police.  AND… for more information and instructions see online at California Courts, Ask For a Gun Violence Restraining Order (courts.ca.gov/33679.htm).  [I am surprised that the California Courts page has seemingly not caught up with the 2019 law expanding the right to petition to co-workers and employers.]

Let’s hope the strengthened law has the intended outcome of decreasing suicides and homicides here in California.


More Californians can seek gun removals after Newsom signs new firearm laws

[excerpt…]  Newsom signed 11 other gun control measures, including:

• AB164 by Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, which authorizes California law enforcement officers to remove weapons from people who are not allowed to own guns because of a restraining order in another state.

• AB879 by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson (Los Angeles County), which requires that parts that could be used to build a gun at home be sold through a licensed manufacturer after a background check, starting in July 2024.

• SB61 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), which limits gun buyers to one semiautomatic center-fire rifle per month and forbids Californians under age 21 from purchasing them.

• SB376 by Portantino, which requires that guns won at charity auctions or raffles be transferred through a licensed dealer and that the recipients undergo a waiting period.

• AB645 by Irwin, which adds a suicide prevention hot line number to the warning label on gun packaging and requires the written test for a handgun safety certificate to cover suicide.

• AB1297 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, which eliminates the $100 limit for concealed-carry license fees and requires counties to charge what it costs to pay for administering the program.

• AB 521 by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, which directs the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center to develop education and training programs for medical and mental health providers on preventing gun injuries.

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.

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.