Nel's New Day

December 16, 2019

Despite Congress, Gun Culture May Change

Last Saturday was the seventh anniversary of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown (CT) when a 20-year-old killed 20 children between six and seven years old and six adult staff members. People hoped that this tragedy would change the culture of unrestricted gun ownership in the U.S., but the number of mass shootings accelerated with more huge tragedies such as the one on Valentine’s Day in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland (FL) where a 19-year-old killed 17 people.

In a study of mass shootings since 1966, the DOJ discovered these commonalities among shooters: an experience with childhood trauma, a personal crisis or specific grievance, a “script” or examples that validate their feelings or provide a roadmap, and access to a firearm. The study used the FBI definition of killings of four or more people in a public place excluding the shooter(s).

Mass shootings are more frequent and deadly with 20 percent of the 167 episodes in 53 years occurring in the past five years. Those shootings in the past five years show a dramatic increase of shooters motivated by racism, religious hate, and misogyny. More shooters are motivated by hate than by mental health issues. Nearly 70 percent of shooters were suicidal before or during the shooting with higher numbers for school shooters.

One theory of curbing the number of mass shootings is giving them no attention in the media and connecting people with outside resources. But the study also recommends limiting access to weapons. That’s the one thing that the current Congress refuses to do. Yet almost half the shooters bought weapons legally, and another 13 percent got them from friends and family.

One month ago, two Democratic senators were trying to persuade Republicans that they should strengthen background checks for gun purchases to make them for all people, not just those who buy from licensed dealers. People can buy from individuals and at gun show with no checks. The House had already passed the bill. At the same time of the debate, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita (CA) shot and killed two schoolmates before killing himself.

During the Santa Clarita school shooting, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) objected to “fast-tracking” a background check bill because she might not be able to lend a rifle to her grandson. She saved her GOP colleagues from being forced into a vote that would get them in trouble with either their constituents or the NRA. A year ago, Hyde-Smith told her constituents that voter suppression is a “great idea” to make it harder for liberals to vote. Video here.

The 42 “active shooter” incidents at Pre-K through 12 school grounds between 2000 and 2018 identified by the FBI overlook many shootings that go under the radar. Definitions of school shootings differ. Everytown, an independent, non-profit group studying gun violence, reported at least 99 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the first 345 days of 2019. These included three suicides and 63 injuries in addition to the FBI “active shootings.” In a database from the Gun Violence Archives defining a shooting by at least one person shooting at another person at a school during regular hours or an extracurricular activity on the property, ABC found 26 shootings since January with half of them on Fridays. Six people were killed and 44 were injured, not including the assailant. The majority of incidents—57.6 percent—were at the end of or during sporting events, specifically basketball and football games. Those events are detailed here.

Overall, over 370 mass shootings occurred in the first 330 days of 2019, an average of eight mass shootings a week, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It defines mass shootings as four or more people, not including the shooter, shot but not necessarily killed.

People minimize school shootings because they are a small fraction of firearm crimes, but these occurrences devastate schools and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children exposed to violence can suffer “a wide array of negative health behaviors and outcomes, including alcohol and drug use and suicide.

Families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre gained a victory from the Supreme Court that ruled they can sue Remington, the maker of the AR-15 used in the attack. The case proceeds in the Connecticut courts. Although Remington will likely win the case, discovery will require the company to turn over documents that reveal its marketing secrets that may show the company encouraged the shooter to use the weapon for the slaughter. Suing gun manufacturers has been almost impossible since a congressional law passed in 2005.

The Supreme Court is also hearing a case that has been settled by law. When the NRA objected to New York City transportation restrictions, the state changed the law, and the case was settled—until SCOTUS decided to hear it. To “win” the case, plaintiffs need Chief Justice John Roberts who only cared about the fact that plaintiff wouldn’t suffer if a majority declared the case moot. The DOJ, on the side of the NRA, claimed that a declaration of moot would keep the plaintiffs from seeking damages for a past violation of their rights. In the past six years they have not made that request, and their lawyer admitted that this has never before come up in a case. Samuel Alito’s and Neil Gorsuch’s questions favored the plaintiffs, and Brett Kavanaugh joined Clarence Thomas in staying silent. The plaintiffs’ lawyer Paul Clement wants the court to send a message.

The existing background check has a loophole that keeps people from complying. Hundreds of thousands of gun background checks are never completed because those that take longer than 88 days must be stopped and purged from the computer system. The FBI fails to complete over 200,000 checks a year—over 1.1 million background checks in the past five years. Background checks may be delayed because law enforcement agencies fail to provide incident records or other records.

Buyers don’t need to wait for a complete background check. After three business days, the dealer can sell the gun; the killer of nine people in the Charleston (SC) church could buy a gun because the background check wasn’t completed. Of the 276,000 background checks now completed within three business days last year, the buyer couldn’t legally own a gun in at least 3,960 cases. The FBI asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reclaim the weapon.

Because of the 88-day deadline, the FBI concentrate on ones it could quickly complete and largely ignored those taking longer than the three days. Almost three-fourths of checks taking longer more than the initial deadline are never completed. The House has passed a bill to extend the deadline before a sale, but Hyde-Smith blocked it.

A loophole in Florida’s gun laws allowed a Saudi Arabian man to legally buy the gun that he used to kill eight sailors and wound eight others at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. All the 21-year-old foreigner in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa needed for the purchase was a hunting license.

Since Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault-style weapons and all guns to those under the age of 21, its net sales grew 5.6 percent, the best quarterly same-store sales performance in six years, showing the success of exchanging narrowly focused hunting goods in favor of items with broader appeal, including women’s and athletic apparel. Now, the chain removed all guns from 20 percent of its stores.

Despite the GOP resistance to saving lives from guns on the federal level, Sandy Hook is having an influence on the state level. In seven years, 21 state legislatures expanded background check requirements, 17 states pass red flag laws allowing law enforcement to take guns people who can be a danger to themselves or others, and 28 states enacted laws requiring people convicted of domestic abuse to give up their firearms in the past seven years.

On the downside, several states passed laws for easier carrying of concealed firearms, even without a permit, and others allow firearms on school grounds with the belief that it will stop mass shootings. NRA claims 460 pro-gun measures have passed state legislatures. Yet several Democrats winning the most competitive Virginia legislative races promised to pass stricter gun controls after Republicans abdicated their responsibilities after the Virginia Beach mass shooting.

With gun safety laws more of a partisan issue, big donors are coming out against the NRA stranglehold. They spent more than the NRA for campaigns and elections in recent history. In the third straight annual Gallup poll, over 60 percent want stricter laws for the sale of firearms, 64 percent in October.  A Fox poll shows that 67 percent want a van on assault weapons, up from 54 percent after Sandy Hook and including 61 percent of rural white people in the U.S. The NRA popularity is down to 42 percent, below the unfavorable rating of 47 percent.

Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action the day after the Sandy Hook shooting, said, “Congress is where it ends, not where it begins.” The states have begun.

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