Thousands of ‘Fugitives from Justice’ Allowed to Buy Guns

A new legal interpretation by the FBI says that only wanted people who have crossed state lines are barred from purchasing firearms. It is not clear how many people have bought guns since the change was made in February who previously would have been prohibited.

Tens of thousands of people wanted by law enforcement officials have been removed this year from the FBI criminal background check database that prohibits “fugitives from justice” from buying guns, the Washington Post reports. The names were taken out after the FBI in February changed its legal interpretation of “fugitive from justice” to say it pertains only to wanted people who have crossed state lines. Under the change, fugitives who were previously prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms can now buy them, unless they are barred for other reasons. Since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was created in 1998, the background check system has prevented 1.5 million people from buying guns, including 180,000 denials to people who were fugitives from justice.

It is unclear how many people may have bought guns since February who previously would have been prohibited from doing so. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo Wednesday to the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives instructing them to take several steps to improve NICS. The system, he said, is “critical for us to be able to keep guns out of the hands of those . . . prohibited from owning them.” The criminal background check system has come under scrutiny after the Air Force said it failed to follow policies for alerting the FBI about the domestic violence conviction of Devin Kelley, who killed more than two dozen churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Tx., this month. Because his conviction was not entered into NICS, Kelley was allowed to buy firearms. Speaking of “fugitives from justice,” Robyn Thomas of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “Any one of these potentially dangerous fugitives can currently walk into a licensed gun dealer, pass a criminal background check, and walk out with a gun.” She called on the FBI and ATF to “correct this self-inflicted loophole” and recover all guns purchased this year because of the purge of names from the database.


Millennials Are Divided on Assault-Style Weapons

Resistance to a ban on military-style assault weapons is strongest among millennials, finds a new Quinnipiac poll. Experts said the result might be driven by the popularity of first-person shooter video games such as Call of Duty and the increasing prominence of military-style guns in the consumer market.

Resistance to a ban on military-style assault weapons is strongest among millennials, finds a new Quinnipiac poll, The Guardian reports. It’s a finding that experts said might be driven by the popularity of first-person shooter video games such as Call of Duty and the increasing prominence of military-style guns in the consumer market. A large majority of Americans say they support a ban on the sale of assault weapons, a category of politically controversial guns that includes the AR-15-style rifles that have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters. The previous national federal ban on assault weapons lapsed more than a decade ago, and Congress has not renewed it. Consumers legally own millions of AR-15 style rifles, which gun enthusiasts modify and adapt with different accessories.

Opposition to an assault weapon ban was strongest among Republicans and among self-identified registered voters 18-34, the poll found. Unlike older Americans, millennials were closely divided on their support for an assault weapon ban, with 49 percent supporting and 44 percent opposing a ban. There was huge support for a return to banning the sale of assault weapons from voters over 50, with 70 percent support from over-50s and 77 percent support from over-65s. None of the other gun control questions in the poll had such a striking age divide, said David Yamane, a sociologist at Wake Forest University who studies the culture of legal gun ownership.


Gun Thefts Are Rising, Most Linked to Crimes

More than 237,000 guns were reported stolen last year in the U.S. The Trace and NBC TV stations found reports of 23,000 recovered by police between 2010 and 2016, most of them involved in crimes.

U.S. gun owners preoccupied with self-defense are inadvertently arming the criminals they fear, The Trace reports. Hundreds of thousands of firearms stolen from the homes and vehicles of legal owners flow each year into underground markets, and the numbers are rising. Many weapons end up in the hands of people prohibited from possessing guns, and are used to injure and kill. The Trace and a dozen NBC TV stations identified more than 23,000 stolen firearms recovered by police between 2010 and 2016, the vast majority connected with crimes. That tally, based on police records, includes more than 1,500 carjackings and kidnappings, armed robberies at stores and banks, sexual assaults and murders, and other violent acts. “The impact of gun theft is quite clear,” said Frank Occhipinti of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It is devastating our communities.”

Thefts from gun stores command much media and legislative attention, with stories of  burglars ramming cars through storefronts and carting away bags full of rifles and handguns. The great majority of guns stolen each year are taken from everyday owners. Thieves steal guns from people’s closets and off their coffee tables. They crawl into unlocked cars and lift them off seats and out of center consoles. They snatch some right out of the hands of their owners. Last week, a new measure intended to shore up the federal background check system was introduced by eight U.S. senators. Yet many criminals are armed with perfectly lethal weapons funneled into an underground market where background checks would never apply. More than 237,000 guns were reported stolen in the U.S. last year, says the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.


The Key to the NRA’s Influence? Votes, Not Money

The NRA has spent $4.1 million on lobbying this year, a fraction of mega-spenders like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So what accounts for its power in Washington? Analysts say it chooses its political battles wisely, swinging primary elections in favor of pro-gun candidates.

The Guardian examines the National Rifle Association’s outsized influence and concludes that its power is not derived only from money. The vast majority of Americans support gun control, and yet Congress has failed to toughen laws even in the wake of a series of mass shootings. With the NRA pouring money into political races at record levels, it is easy to argue that the gun lobby has bought Washington. But that fails to paint a full picture. So far this year, the NRA has spent $4.1 million on lobbying – more than the $3.1 million it spent in all of 2016. By comparison, the dairy industry has spent $4.4 million in the same period. The National Association of Realtors has paid out $32.2 million for lobbying and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest spender of all, has spent $104 million.

Guns and ammo are big businesses, with revenues of $13.3 billion in 2017. But that’s paltry in comparison with, say, the auto industry, which has spent $51.8 million on lobbying this year, with projected revenues of $105 billion and profits of $3 billion.“The NRA is not successful because of its money,” says UCLA professor and Adam Winkler. “To be sure, it is hard to be a force in American politics without money. The NRA has money that it uses to help its favored candidates get elected. But the real source of its power, I believe, comes from voters.”


Is Mass Murder Exceptionally American?

According to an Idaho historian and commentator, events like the recent mass shootings in Texas and Las Vegas and the 2015 massacre at a Charleston, S.C., church belong to a litany of similar tragedies occurring around the world—including countries where there are strict gun licensing laws.

The recent tragedies in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, are causing many Americans to wonder, “Is this kind of mass murder peculiarly American?”

The facts suggest otherwise.

There is nothing exceptionally American about mass murder or even firearms mass murder —even though some of the rhetoric accompanying these tragic events portrays the U.S. as singularly plagued by them.

For starters: the FBI defines mass murder as four or more dead (including the killer) in one event, in one location. [FBI, Serial Murder: Multidisciplinary Perspectives for Investigators, 8]

Of course, we are excluding the genocidal mass murders that largely define the 20th Century (for example, the Turkish extermination of the Armenians; the Holocaust; Rwanda; among far too many).

The types of mass murder referred to here are crimes not committed by or with the acquiescence of governments.

Former President Barack Obama, for example, declared after the 2015 shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead and three injured “this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

He went on to say, “It does not happen with this kind of frequency.”

The implication was that the U.S.’s relatively laissez faire approach to gun control is at fault.

According to Politifact, the first sentence was incorrect, noting that between 2000 and 2014 there were 23 incidents of mass shootings in ten other countries besides the United States; though, it added, the second sentence was “not quite as wrong as the first claim.”

The more commonly accepted measure of crime is events per 100,000 population or dead per 100,000. Even then, the U.S. is only fourth on the list of mass-murder deaths per 100,000 people (0.15) compared to #3, Finland (0.34), #2, Norway (1.3), and #1, Switzerland (1.7).

Mass murders (as well as the far common ordinary murders) are disproportionately committed by persons with severe mental illness problems, whose actions are clearly a consequence of those problems—and the U.S. is not alone in suffering from the consequences of their actions, whether they involve firearms or not.

Christian Dornier

Christian Dornier. Photo via Wikipedia

A few examples over the last several decades:

Christian Dornier, 31, under treatment for “nervous depression,” murdered 14 people in three villages in eastern France. He was later found innocent by reason of insanity.

Eric Borel, 16, murdered his family with a hammer and a baseball bat, and then went on a shooting rampage in the nearby town of Cuers, France, in September 1995. He killed 12 in total beside himself.

In March 2002, Richard Durn murdered eight local city officials and wounded nineteen others in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris. Durn had a master’s degree in political science and “a long history of psychological problems.”

After his arrest, he was described as “calm but largely incoherent,” then leaped to his death through a window.

In April 2002, 19-year old Robert Steinhaeuser went into a school in Erfurt, Germany, and murdered 18 people before killing himself.

In April of 2011, Wellington Menezes de Oliveira went into a school in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, murdering 12 children, before killing himself. His suicide note was unclear, but a police officer described de Oliveira as a “hallucinating person.”

Later the same month, Tristan van der Vlis went into a shopping mall in Alphen aan der Rijn, the Netherlands, and shot six people to death. The Netherlands has very strict gun licensing laws; nonetheless van der Vlis had a gun license in spite of a history of brief mental illness hospitalizations and suicide attempts.

Countries with more restrictive gun control laws also have non-firearm mass murders, such as the five stabbed to death in Calgary, Alberta, in 2013. Matthew de Grood was found not criminally responsible because of “a mental disorder.

Australia is sometimes given as an example of the effectiveness of gun control for preventing mass murders such as the 1996 Port Arthur massacre which killed 35 people and wounded 23.

But Australia still has mass murders after that gun control law, such as the mass stabbing that killed eight siblings in Queensland, Australia, and blunt object mass murders such as one that killed five people in Sydney in 2009.

The mental illness often present in these tragedies, schizophrenia, is a genetic disease affecting about 1 percent of the population.

Obviously, not all mass murders fit into the mental illness category.

Some are acts of terrorism. A few fit no existing pattern. The recent mass murder in Las Vegas, for example, seems to be a Black Swan crime: a multimillionaire who engaged in meticulous planning with devastating loss of life (although lower than at least four other U.S. mass murders in the last three decades).

Eight terrorist mass murder attacks in Paris in 2016 resulted in 130 deaths, although only four of the incidents qualify as mass murders (15 dead at Le Carillion and Le Petit Cambodge restaurants, with firearms; five dead at Café Bonne Biere; 90 dead at the Bataclan concert hall, from firearms and grenades).

For many people, it is a surprise to find out that there are many mass murders committed with weapons other than firearms.

USA Today gathered data on mass murders (“defined [as] killing four or more victims”) committed in the U.S. from 2006 through 2010.

“A third of mass murders didn’t involve guns at all. In 15 incidents, the victims died in a fire. In 20 others, the killer used a knife or a blunt object,” the newspaper reported.

Mass murders by arson are also a problem in other countries:

Childers, Queensland’s Palace Backpackers Hostel was intentionally burned in 2000, killing 15.

The 2011 Quakers Hill Nursing Home fire killed 11, set by a nurse after police questioned him about drug abuse.

Other weapons besides guns and fire are also used. In the last few years, there have been multiple motor vehicle mass murders in Europe and Australia (84 murdered with a truck in Nice, France, 12 in Berlin, Germany, with a truck, three with a SUV, one by stabbing in London, five with a truck in Stockholm, 13 with a truck in Barcelona, Spain.


Clayton Cramer

While all of these were terrorist mass murders, others have been mental health-related (six murdered with car in Melbourne, Australia).

While our rates of firearms mass murder are higher than most other developed nations, we are not at the top of the list.

Including non-firearms mass murders might move us further down the list.

Clayton Cramer teaches history at College of Western Idaho. His ninth book, Lock, Stock, and Barrel, will be published by Praeger Press in February 2018. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Neighbors Say Latest CA Spree Killer Was ‘Off the Hinges’

Kevin Neal, 43, was facing trial in January on assault and other charges in connection with a long-running dispute with his neighbors in a rural northern California town. His 45-minute shooting ended with his death when police rammed his truck and exchanged shots in a fierce rolling gun battle.

The man who went on a shooting spree Tuesday in Rancho Tehama, Calif., killing four and wounding 10, was being prosecuted for assault stemming from an attack on neighbors in January and possession of an AR-15 assault weapon, reports the Red Bluff Daily News. Kevin Janson Neal, 43, was arrested Jan. 31 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. He was set to stand trial in January 2018 for assault with a deadly weapon and other charges. Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen said Neal had a long-running dispute with his neighbors. He allegedly shot through a wooden fence at two female neighbors in the January incident, then jumped the fence and stabbed one of them. The Associated Press said Neal was a marijuana grower. Neighbors in the town 125 north of Sacramento described him as “off the hinges.”

While Tuesday’s shooting began at 7:52 a.m. near his home, it was not confirmed whether the neighbors were among the victims. Neal eventually fired shots at seven locations, including Rancho Tehama Elementary School. After hearing shots nearby, school staff members put the school on lockdown, and when the shooter arrived–crashing his truck through security gates–he was unable to get into the building, authorities said. Neal fired at a number of classrooms, injuring one or two students. He left the school after six minutes and continued his rampage in other locations, apparently firing rounds from an assault rifle and two handguns at randomly selected victims. Neal was killed 45 minutes after his spree began when police rammed his truck and exchanged shots in a fierce rolling gun battle.


Sandy Hook Parents Argue Gun Case at CT High Court

Connecticut Supreme Court justices heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit by the victims of the 2015 school massacre against Remington, the manufacturer of the assault weapon used in the shooting.

The eyes of the legal world and both sides of the growing debate about the role of guns in society were focused on the Connecticut Supreme Court Tuesday morning as justices heard arguments in a lawsuit by the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre against the manufacturer of the weapon used in the shooting, reports the Hartford Courant. Families of nine victims who were killed and a teacher who survived the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre filed the lawsuit in January 2015 seeking to hold Remington Outdoor Co. liable, arguing it marketed the AR-15 to the public even though it knew the weapon was designed for military use. Adam Lanza shot his way into the Newtown school and fired 154 bullets in about five minutes from a Bushmaster AR-15, killing 26 people, including the 20 first-graders.The lawsuit also named Camfour Holding LLP, the gun’s distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the East Windsor gun shop where Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, bought the AR-15.

The issue has gained even more national attention since Sandy Hook. The case goes before the court just more than a week after the latest mass shooting where an assault rifle was used to kill 26 people inside a Texas church. Since the lawsuit was filed by the Sandy Hook victims there have been other mass shootings, including Sutherland Springs, Texas. In Las Vegas and Orlando, shooters used high-powered weapons to kill more people than Lanza did in Sandy Hook. A Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, agreeing with attorneys for Remington that the lawsuit “falls squarely within the broad immunity” provided to gun manufacturers and dealers by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA. Legal experts said the case comes down to how the state Supreme Court will interpret two possible exceptions allowed under PLCAA — whether Remington can be held liable for so-called “negligent entrustment” or whether it violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.


Lack of Funding Blamed for Vast Federal Gun Record Gaps

Millions of records are missing from databases that might disqualify gun purchases based on criminal convictions or mental problems. Experts say these systemic breakdowns have lingered for decades because officials decided they were too costly and time-consuming to fix.

The FBI’s background-check system is missing millions of records of criminal convictions, mental illness diagnoses and other flags that would keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands, says the Washington Post. Experts say government agencies responsible for maintaining such records have long failed to forward them into federal databases used for gun background checks — systemic breakdowns that have lingered for decades as officials decided they were too costly and time-consuming to fix. The FBI said it doesn’t know the scope of the problem, but the NRA says about 7 million records are absent from the system, based on a 2013 report by the nonprofit National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. That report determined that “at least 25 percent of felony convictions . . . are not available” to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System maintained by the FBI.

Experts who study the data say that estimate can be misleading, because felons often have multiple convictions, so if one is missed, others may still alert authorities to individuals who cannot legally buy a gun. The government funded a four-year effort beginning in 2008 to try to estimate how many records existed of people who should be barred under federal law from buying a gun but aren’t flagged in the FBI system. That effort was abandoned in 2012 because of the cost. The NRA argues that the government should focus not on gun control but on making its current background-check system fully functional. “The shortcomings of the system have been identified. There just seems to be a lack of will to address them,’’ said Louis Dekmar, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.


TX Church Massacre Shows Federal Gun Database Flaws

Federal authorities have long complained that incomplete databases and staff shortages make it difficult to keep pace with the constant stream of required background checks. “Unless people get serious about these issues, the problem is just going to keep getting worse,” said a former federal official.

The Air Force’s failure to transmit the criminal record of Texas church shooter Devin Kelley to the FBI, which would likely have stopped the sale of a rifle used in Sunday’s massacre, highlights a longstanding flaw in the systems the U.S. government uses to restrict firearms sales and track gun ownership, USA Today reports. Federal authorities have long complained that incomplete databases and staff shortages make it difficult to keep pace with the constant stream of required background checks. Last year, the FBI official overseeing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was forced to transfer personnel from construction projects and units gather crime statistics to keep up with background checks as the office processed a record 27.5 million checks. At the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives’ National Tracing Center, shipping containers and cardboard boxes brimming with un-examined paper purchase records have languished in hallways and in the center’s parking lot awaiting transfer to an electronic system.

“Unless people get serious about these issues, the problem is just going to keep getting worse,” said Michael Bouchard, a former ATF official. “Sometimes, it gets beyond the point of ridiculous.” The rifle used in Sunday’s assault, which left 26 dead, was quickly traced to Kelley. By then, it was too late: The troubled airman’s 2012 court martial and conviction on domestic violence charges for assaulting his wife and attacking his 1-year-old child was not transmitted to the FBI. The database relies on voluntary record submissions from law enforcement agencies to guard against unauthorized firearm purchases. “Many of the challenges that we have long faced have not gone away, nor will they go away,” said Stephen Morris, a former FBI official who oversaw the vast background check operation in West Virginia. “Like they say: Garbage in, garbage out.”


It’s Not Clear Armed Parishioner Could Have Stopped Massacre

Some Texans wish an armed churchgoer could have stopped gunman Devin Kelley last Sunday, but criminologist James Alan Fox says that could have added to the bloodshed.

Beginning with the 1966 tower shooting at the University of Texas through Sunday’s church bloodshed, three mass shootings have taken place in the Lonestar State, where guns are as much a part of the local culture as barbeque and Friday night high school football, criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University writes in USA Today. According to the USA Today database of mass murders since 2006, 8 of the 50 shooting rampages with at least six victims killed happened in Texas, more than in any other state. This share of incidents is nearly twice the Lone Star state’s share of the U.S. population. In Texas, gun toting — both concealed and open carry — is commonplace.

Suzanna Gratia Hupp helplessly watched her parents die along with 21 others when an assailant drove his pickup truck through the plate glass window at the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, and started firing with a pair of semiautomatic pistols. Hupp was barred by law from carrying guns concealed inside pocketbooks or clothing. She was later elected to the Texas legislature, where she successfully pushed for expanded concealed carry provisions. The right to carry a loaded weapon in church did nothing to prevent Sunday’s tragedy. What would have happened had someone inside the church had the weaponry to fire back at Devin Kelley is an open question. Whereas Kelley was prepared, including wearing a bullet resistant vest, the congregation was caught by surprise. Would someone have been able to intervene without adding to the bloodshed in some wild shootout? There are countless instances in which armed citizens have successfully defended themselves or others when confronted by an attacker wielding a gun. There are also cases, including dozens of mass shootings, in which a person licensed to carry concealed weapon has used that firearm in an offensive, rather than defensive, manner.