The past few weeks have been filled with loaded rhetoric and emotional response to an absolute tragedy where a madman terrorized teenaged youth in a place they should have been very safe. These charged words are coming from both sides of the aisle as they point to one reason or another for the cause of these murders and present their own set of solutions. So, while I admit that I have an inherent bias in my personal beliefs over many of these issues, let’s try to approach some of these proposals from a logical, fact-based approach, taking emotions out of it.
(The gunman shall remain nameless because I believe that living in infamy is exactly what some of these people want. Police apprehended a would-be school shooter in Ohio and this individuals personal writings included the following line: "...I will never be forgotten I’ll be a stain in American history..." [https://www.themaven.net/politicalstorm/independent/i-will-never-be-forgotten-i-ll-be-a-stain-in-american-history-http-www-foxnews-sCpB1Z0h_Uqwyr65mvJd1Q]. You will not see me mention any names of individual terrorist in any of my writings because I do not believe in giving them another sliver of “airtime” more than the mainstream media is already giving them.)
Here are a few suggestions from the past few weeks in the gun control debate, along with some analysis of the effect any subsequent legislation would have. We will be comparing these suggestions to real life mass shooting incidents since the year 2000. Using a Mother Jones research database (see link below), this will be focused on “indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims killed by the attacker. We exclude shootings stemming from more conventional crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.” According to the data, there have been 61 mass shootings in the US since 2000 (I am using the commonly used 4 or more total victims either killed or injured to determine a mass shooting).
The Background Check System Is Flawed
An analysis of the 61 shootings shows that 44 of the 61 shooters had passed an FBI NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Background Check. Only 1 person had passed the background check that should not have, which was due to an error with the U.S. Air Force – they failed to provide his criminal history to the FBI. 9 of the shooters did not pass a background check, but there is no record of them trying. Most of their weapons were stolen from robberies, or family members.
Bottom Line: The NCIS system seems to be working fairly well in that those who are prohibited due to known FBI data are not allowed to purchase a firearm. There are however many flaws in the system, that extend from the state to the federal level. While there are provisions that require states to report criminal information to the NICS database, there are many instances where states are not following up on their job, and as evidenced in the Sutherland Springs shooting, the individual should have been banned from purchasing a gun if it weren’t for errors in the U.S. Air Force.
Solutions: One answer is the Fix NICS Act which is currently in committee in U.S. Senate. It applies penalties to government organizations that do not report to the NICS database. Currently, there appears to be bipartisan support for this bill, but Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently commented his disapproval of this bill because “it doesn’t go far enough.”
Fix the “Gun Show Loophole”
The term “Gun Show Loophole” is thrown around on a nearly daily basis by the media and the proponents of gun control. It, however, is at best misleading and at worst, a flat out lie. The “facts” that are spread about this claim that anyone can go into any gun show around the country and buy a firearm without undergoing a background check. The truth is that if you or I walked into any gun show in the nation and walked up to any counter and told them you want to buy a gun, you would be subject to a mandatory background check.
The “loophole” that most media figures like to tout is in reference to a private person-to-person sale. Individuals, however, cannot set up shop at a gun shop and sell anything without first having a license to operate as a gun dealer. Part of the requirement to operate under a dealer’s license is that any firearms sold must be sold with a background check. If, however, an individual sees another private citizen walking around a gun show and wants to buy that gun from the individual, then the firearm owner can sell his privately owned gun to another individual, as long as there is no lawful reason for said individual to own a gun. Make sense?
Let’s spell this out with an example: Pat and Jon live in Indiana. Pat goes to the gun show with his Remington 870 rifle with hopes to sell it and buy a different gun. Pat looks for the new gun he wants, but can’t find it so he decides to leave, but Jon saw him with the Remington 870 and asked Pat if he would sell him his rifle. The two men then proceed out to their vehicles and write up a bill of sale, with a clause that Jon is legally able to purchase a firearm in the state of Indiana, and the money and firearm change hands. This is a legal sale, but is widely considered to be the “Gun Show Loophole”.
And while we are at it, you can’t buy a firearm on the internet and bypass a background check. It can’t happen. I challenge you to go to a gun store website and try to obtain a firearm without having to undergo a background check. You will find that, yes, you can purchase a gun online, but there are several restrictions to that purchase. First a foremost, the firearm cannot be shipped to your home, ever. You must find an FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealer near you that will accept a shipment of a firearm before purchasing. Once you place the order, that gun will be shipped to the FFL and once it arrives, the FFL will require you to come in and they will perform a NICS background check on you before you can take possession of the gun. If you do not pass the NICS check, you will not be allowed to take that firearm home, even if you have already paid for it.
Bottom Line: The “Gun Show Loophole” doesn’t exist. If the media wants to refer to this as the “private-sale loophole” then they would at least be talking about the correct issue. There have been only 3, maybe 4 (data is unclear), instances where someone purchased a firearm used in a mass shooting from a private individual – NOT a gun show, that would fall under the “Gun Show Loophole”.
Assault Weapons Ban
Let’s first start off with the understanding that an “Assault Weapon” is a misnomer. In fact, the term “Assault Weapon” in and of itself is a made up term, according to the Stanford Law and Policy Review: “Prior to 1989, the term "assault weapon" did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of "assault rifles" so as to allow an attack on as many additional firearms as possible on the basis of undefined "evil" appearance.”
Often, the media likes to claim that the AR-15 is an Assault Rifle or an Assault Weapon. The term Assault Rifle conjures images of war, automatic machine-gun fire, and bloodshed, which is why the AR-15 has been branded with the similar term, Assault Weapon. These terms are used interchangeably on a daily basis in the news media.
Side Note: It is my belief that if someone wants to tell someone what they can and cannot own, they should at least be able to discuss, with intelligence, the topic at hand. Hearing terms such as “ghost gun”, “high capacity clip”, “chainsaw bayonet”, or “heat-seeking bullets” from the people who are writing the gun control bills tells gun owners and 2nd Amendment advocates that they do not know what they are talking about.
First and foremost, let’s define an Assault Rifle. An Assault Rifle is a military rifle, known as the M16, which has the capability of selective fire. It can shoot 1 round for each pull of the trigger, also known as semi-automatic. It can shoot a 3-round burst, or it can shoot in full-auto mode where the weapon will fire until the trigger is released, or the ammunition supply is exhausted. 3-round burst and full-auto Assault Rifles are not available for public purchase or ownership based on current Federal law. Contrary to common public and media opinion, the “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for Assault Rifle, rather it stands for ArmaLite Rifle and the 15 is the 15th design the company created.
Now, let’s look at the facts. 19 of the 61 mass shooting incidents had at least 1 semi-automatic “Assault Weapon” present at the scene. This does not mean that it was used in the act of the mass shooting, but it was at least found in the possession of the shooter. There were a total of 275 deaths from 2000 to the time of publishing that occurred in the presence of an AR-15 style rifle. This number, however, is not the exact number of individuals killed with an AR-15, because many of the incidents occurred with multiple weapons, but the total fatality count does not take that into consideration. For example, the shooter at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT shot his mother with a .22LR hunting rifle in her home, but she is included in the Mother Jones research.
There have been suggestions that mass shootings with an “Assault Weapon” have become more common in recent years, which necessitate a restriction or ban on those weapons, but is that actually the case? If we split the years in half and look at statistics comparing 2000-2008 against 2009-present, we see an “Assault Weapon” usage rate of 29% versus 31%, respectively. These numbers indicate that it is statistically identical over the last 18 years. If we compare it to the entire data set that Mother Jones has compiled, we see 2000-present has an “Assault Weapon” usage of 30.6% in the last 18 years, compared to 23% from 1982-2000.
A final point regarding “Assault Weapons” is in regard to the commonality of their use for any murder, not just mass shootings. In fact, according to the FBI data, of the 15,070 homicides in the United States for 2016, only 374 murders were committed with a “rifle”. The rifle term used by the FBI is a generic term for any long gun that is not a shotgun, so bolt action, .22LR rifles, and many others are grouped together to form the category. So, while an “Assault Weapon” was used in approximately 30% of mass shootings over the last 18 years, it accounts for less than 2.5% of all murders in the U.S.
Bottom Line: The so-called “Assault Weapons” are somewhat frequently used by perpetrators of mass shootings (~30% of the time), but when compared with the total homicide rate in the U.S., it is used in a small fraction. No one can know if a so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” would decrease mass shootings, but it would barely put a dent into the total homicide rate in the U.S.
Mental Health Issues
When one side of the aisle calls for a gun ban after tragedies, the other side calls for increased mental health screenings and regulation. But what does the data say in regards to mental health issues and mass shootings?
Before that question can be answered, we need to look into what a mental health issue is and what could qualify someone to have a problem big enough to restrict their rights under the 2nd Amendment. Obviously, the mental health field encompasses a broad range of illnesses, each one different than the rest. When discussing mental health issues, something like depression differs drastically from another illness like schizophrenia, and likewise should be treated differently. In the same manner, each individual with a disease can present with varying degrees of problems, so there is not necessarily a cut and dry solution or answer on where to draw a line.
Under current federal law, anyone who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or someone who has been deemed mentally incompetent can be barred from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Part of that restriction, however, would require states to report the committal or incompetency to the FBI and NICS. Most states are not complying with this current law as it stands today. Involuntary committal and competency all require a court to rule on each case.
If we want to broaden the horizons of mental illnesses that would fit the mold for an individual losing their right to keep and bear arms, where do we start and where do we draw the line? Certainly illnesses such as schizophrenia would likely make that list, but would depression? What about, like the case of the Newtown shooting, Autism Spectrum Disorders? The mental health field is rife with various disorders and diseases that have varying degrees of effects on an individual’s mental faculties, but very few of them would ever be a serial killer or mass murderer. While I disagree with many of the sentiments he presents, fellow Political Storm Maven Paul Aloe discusses this mental health issue in his recent article – open it and read it when you are done here!
Let’s look at the data from Mother Jones now. I sorted through all their reports and found at least 32 of the 61 mass shootings since 2000 were conducted by someone with a known history of mental illness. I did not include depression in that number because if depression was a risk factor for mass shootings, no one in Seattle would be alive today. This number begs the question, “What laws could have stopped some of these tragedies from occurring?” The short answer is that there really isn’t one.
The Parkland school shooter had a history of behavioral problems, but nothing severe enough to warrant removal of his rights. The Vegas gunman had no known history of mental disorders, although his father was known to be a sociopath… does that warrant the right to remove his son’s freedoms?
A couple mass shooters presented with Asperger’s Syndrome, which has been grouped into what is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5). However, this is not a disease that is characterized by violence in and of itself, so it wouldn’t be right to take away an ASD’s rights because of 1 or 2 people.
Antisocial Personality Disorder is more commonly found in mass murderers. It is characterized by a long term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others, where crime is often included. But how would you take away their rights or even lock them up in a cell if they haven’t done anything to society except for having a personality disorder? That would be getting eerily close to a Minority Report situation, which is a slippery slope towards tyranny.
Bottom line: Mental illness definitely has factors in mass shootings, and I would argue that some form of mental illness is involved in every mass shooting because it doesn’t seem like someone with a moral compass could murder innocent people in cold blood. But on the same token, violence and homicide happens every single day all over the world, whether with guns, knives, hammers, or rocks. Drawing lines in the sand for mental illness issues is no easy task.
Based upon the data, not a single one of the individuals who committed a mass shooting were on the “No-Fly List”, but it keeps being brought up in the national media as a solution to our problems. It is true that the Orlando Night Club shooter was on a terrorist watch list for a couple years, but after he was interviewed, he was removed from the list. Note: The terrorist watch list does not preclude someone from buying a firearm according to current federal laws. He purchased his firearms after he was removed from the list, so he wouldn’t have been restricted at that point in time anyway.
The issue many people have with the idea of prohibiting firearms purchase by people on the No-Fly List is that it literally takes nothing to get yourself on the list, but it takes a great deal of effort to be removed from it. I have a personal friend who has a very generic last name of Smith. He found himself on the No-Fly List one day for no other reason than because he has a common last name. Can we legitimately tell someone like Mr. Smith that because his last name is shared by thousands of other people that he has to jump through many legal hoops to buy a new hunting rifle? I could very well get my neighbor added to the No-Fly List with a simple phone call with no evidence or proof. In fact, Ted Kennedy, a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, found himself on the No-Fly List several times in 2004 because the name T. Kennedy was found on the list, so anyone with that name was banned.
Bottom Line: The No-Fly List ban would have affected ZERO mass shootings in America since 2000 (and before). Would a terrorist watch list help stop a mass shooting? It wouldn’t have in the Orlando case because the shooter was removed from the list, but one could argue that it might stop one down the road.
Bump stocks became the low hanging fruit following the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. Several of them were attached to an AR-15 and used in the shooting of over 600 people. While some firearms experts still debate whether the sounds from the video are the sounds of bump stock fire or something else, these add on plastic devices have gotten a lot of attention. In fact, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington and Florida have all passed laws banning bump stocks. Currently, there are bills floating through the U.S. Congress that address banning the bump stocks on a Federal level.
What is a bump stock? It is a molded plastic attachment that replaces the traditional buttstock of a firearm. When set up correctly, the shooter will pull the firearm forward into the shooters finger, discharging a round. The recoil of the shot causes the gun to move backwards and resets the trigger. Continual forward force on the gun would bring the trigger back forward against the trigger finger, cycling the firearm again until the shooter stops forward pressure or runs out of ammo. Most recreational shooters will tell you that bump stocks actually make a firearm much more inaccurate, but are fun to shoot.
Bottom Line: Bump stocks have been used once in mass shootings, but there wasn’t much need for accuracy from 1,100 yards away when shooting towards a 15-acre plot with 20,000 people in attendance. Would banning bump stocks stop another mass shooting? Probably not, but it is also mostly a pointless attachment, so you probably won’t find many upset by losing it.
“A good guy with a gun is the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun.” This phrase is commonly repeated by those in the firearms community, but how much truth is there to it? No one disputes that in any type of shooting or other crime, you call the Police to come help… a.k.a. the good guy with the gun.
At minimum, 24 of the mass shootings in the last 18 years occurred in “gun-free zones”, where legal carrying of a firearm is prohibited. Schools, movie theaters, malls, night clubs, and military bases are currently all gun-free zones, where only those breaking the law will have a gun. Some schools employ a resource officer or two that will carry a gun, but many of them are responsible for multiple schools in a district.
There are instances where mass shootings were stopped by a good guy with a gun, but you don’t often hear of them in the media. In 1997, a school shooting was stopped in Pearl, Mississippi by an assistant principal who ran to his vehicle to retrieve his handgun and was then able to restrain the shooter until police arrived. More recently, in Southerland Springs, Texas, a man retrieved his AR-15 from his house across the street from the church and exchanged gunfire with the shooter, injuring him and eventually ending the spree. There are several other examples where mass shooters were stopped by good guys with guns, and if you include off-duty police officers and military members, those instances can increase even more.
On the other side of the debate, in the Parkland, Florida shooting, one such resource officer was present on campus when the shooting began, but he failed to act during the situation. While the reasoning for the officer’s inaction is still under investigation, one can assume that the it was an exception, not the rule. The men in blue put their lives on the line every time they put on the uniform and the ones I know would have run straight into that building to try to stop the shooter and save lives.
Bottom line: Gun-free zones are soft targets for someone with evil intent to strike. Whether it is armed police officers, armed military, armed administration members, or armed teachers, something needs to be done to secure America’s children in the places they should feel the safest. We guard our politicians in Washington with guns, we guard our celebrities with guns, we guard our airports with guns, but so far we have refused to guard our children.
Raise Age Limit to 21
The 19-year-old who legally purchased an AR-15 from a gun shop and used it to kill 17 people in Florida sparked an outcry and debate over raising the age limit for purchasing long guns from 18 to 21. Current U.S. law requires a purchaser to be 21 years of age to buy a handgun, but 18 years of age to buy any long gun, which includes shotguns and rifles.
Florida just passed a bill that was signed into law by the governor, which raised the age to 21 for all gun purchases. Several other states have bills in their state legislature to change state law to require a minimum age as well. The U.S. Congress has several bills that have been introduced and currently reside in a committee to do the same for Federal laws.
8 of the 61 mass shootings were committed by individuals under the age of 21. 5 of those 8, however, were stolen firearms from family members or burglaries and were not legally purchased by the shooters. And 1 of the remaining 3 shooters was a police officer who used his police department issued rifle to commit his crime. Therefore, there were only 2 mass shootings since 2000 that would have legitimately been affected by raising the minimum age for rifles to 21.
Bottom line: The average age of the mass shooters since 2000 has been about 32 years of age based on Mother Jones’ data. 2 of the mass shootings could have been affected by raising the minimum age for purchasing a long gun to 21, obviously the most recent shooting is one of those and is the reason the 21-year-old age limit debate has been brought up.
Mandatory Waiting Period
Florida’s new law passed in the wake of the Parkland tragedy also included a mandatory 3-day waiting period for all firearms purchases. This means that anyone who goes to any store that sells firearms and decides to purchase a gun, they must undergo a NICS background check and
At least 11 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring a mandatory waiting period for some gun purchases, but multiple studies have shown mixed results for these waiting periods. There is no evidence that a waiting period would have stopped any of these mass shootings. There is potential to reduce crimes of passion or suicides, but most studies have shown that there is no overall reduction in overall homicides or suicides involved in a waiting period.
Bottom line: Based on current knowledge, none of the mass shooters purchased their firearms in the days or weeks prior to the mass shooting. Of the studies done regarding waiting periods, the data is very mixed in whether it would be helpful in reducing overall crimes, not just mass shootings. We do seem to feel confident in giving 18-year-old men and women fully automatic Assault Rifles and sending them overseas to fight and potentially die in defense of our freedoms, so where is the line drawn?
Using the statistics presented here, what effective safety proposals would you like to see come to pass in America, keeping in mind the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights? What other proposals do you have that were not presented here? How effective would they be in stopping mass shootings?
Full Disclosure: I removed 5 “mass shootings” from the original research by Mother Jones because it fell under 3 or less victims instead of the commonly used 4 or more victims that is used by most all other media platforms, including gun control advocates. The Obama administration decided to begin including 3 or more victims in the definitions of mass shootings in 2013, but for consistency, we used 4.