proposed laws

PA Bill Number: SB1018

Title: In practice and procedure, providing for child victims and witnesses.

Description: In practice and procedure, providing for child victims and witnesses. ...

Last Action: Re-referred to APPROPRIATIONS

Last Action Date: May 22, 2024

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The Hard Truth about Tougher Background Checks :: 05/25/2022

On the menu today: Yet another horrific school shooting, and yet another call for legal changes that, had they been in place before the shooting, would not have changed the outcome.

A few months ago, the National Institute of Justice, the research agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, and The Violence Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center, completed what they called the most comprehensive study ever done of mass shootings in the U.S. from 1966 to 2019. Among the report’s conclusions:

Persons who committed public mass shootings in the U.S. over the last half century were commonly troubled by personal trauma before their shooting incidents, nearly always in a state of crisis at the time, and, in most cases, engaged in leaking their plans before opening fire. Most were insiders of a targeted institution, such as an employee or student. Except for young school shooters who stole the guns from family members, most used legally obtained handguns in those shootings. [Emphasis added.]

Nearly half of individuals who engaged in mass shootings (48 percent) leaked their plans in advance to others, including family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as strangers and law enforcement officers.

This morning, there are reports that the 18-year-old gunman who yesterday killed 19 students and three adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, sent “cryptic and now chilling messages to a stranger” through his Instagram account hours before the attack. The shooter posted pictures of two rifles and pictures of himself. His account sent a message to a woman that said, ‘I got a lil secret. I wanna tell you.’ (The woman, who is a minor, later posted that she ‘does not live in Texas and does not know the shooter personally.’) At 5:43 a.m. local time, he sent a message to her that said, “I’m about to.” She asked “about to what,” and he responded, “I’ll tell you before 11.” The shooting started around 11:30 a.m. local time.

There is another report that on another social-media platform, the Uvalde shooter showed his weapons as well as receipts for his purchase of two rifles from Daniel Defense.

The selection of AR-15 rifles for sale on Daniel Defense’s website are not cheap, running from $1,870 to $3,390. According to local-media reports, on May 18, 2022, the suspect purchased 375 rounds of 5.56 ammunition. While the cost of ammunition can vary greatly, that much ammunition would cost anywhere from $230 to $460. The shooter reportedly was wearing a “plate carrier” — the kind of vest designed to carry bulletproof body armor — but did not have any armor inside it. Plate carriers can cost anywhere from $75 to $500.

Some may fairly ask how a troubled 18-year-old young man obtained the funds to purchase several thousand dollars’ worth of firearms and ammunition before he started his rampage.

As far as we know, as of this writing, the Uvalde shooter had no criminal record. No one in law enforcement, his family, or his school ever filed a petition seeking to remove firearms from his possession because he posed a potential threat to himself or others. As far as we know, no one ever filed a restraining order against him. The shooter purchased his firearms legally.

In the coming days and weeks, you will hear a lot more calls for “tougher background checks,” but because there was no paper trail indicating that the Uvalde shooter was a threat, it is hard to see what kind of “background check” would have prevented this legal adult from purchasing a firearm. Federally licensed firearms dealers are not going to comb through the Instagram and social-media accounts of potential buyers.

Back in 2018, after other high-profile school shootings, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a “school and firearm safety action plan” and noted:

Properly designed, emergency risk protective orders could identify those intent on violence from firearms, but in a way that preserves fundamental rights under the Second Amendment. The legislature should consider whether the existing protective order laws are sufficient, or could be amended to include emergency risk protection, or whether emergency risk protective orders should be independently created. Texas Family Code Sec. 81.007 makes a county attorney or criminal district attorney responsible for filing family violence protective orders. A mental health protective order statute would likely have similar responsibilities under a red flag statute.

The state legislature did not expand the existing protective-order laws. But at this point, there is no sign that anyone ever sought a protective order against the Uvalde shooter, so it’s hard to imagine that such an expansion would’ve made a difference in his case.

The only thing that stops an aspiring mass shooter before he pulls the trigger is someone’s going to law enforcement and communicating their concerns and fears, and law enforcement’s choosing to act by going to court and legally seizing that person’s firearms. A school official cannot intervene and take away a dangerous person’s firearms, nor can a company’s human-resources office or a social-media company.

You will also hear calls for an “assault-weapons ban” in the coming days. According to that NIJ study, the majority of mass shooters use handguns, and the overwhelming majority of school shooters do not legally purchase their weapons but instead took them from family members:

Notably, most individuals who engaged in mass shootings used handguns (77.2 percent), and 25.1 percent used assault rifles in the commission of their crimes. Of the known mass shooting cases (32.5 percent of cases could not be confirmed), 77 percent of those who engaged in mass shootings purchased at least some of their guns legally, while illegal purchases were made by 13 percent of those committing mass shootings. In cases involving K-12 school shootings, over 80 percent of individuals who engaged in shootings stole guns from family members.

Based upon what we know of mass shootings over the past five decades, an “assault-weapons ban” would not have prevented the majority of school shootings or mass shootings. In about a quarter of past mass shootings, a ban would have required the shooter to use different weapons, probably lower capacity, and perhaps, on the margins, reduced the number of casualties. But even that point is highly debatable: The Virginia Tech shooter used a Walther P22 with a capacity of ten rounds and a Glock 19 with a capacity of 15 rounds, and he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

There is one curious note in that NIJ report: “Since the 1970s, the only statistically significant change in motivations for mass shootings is the decrease in shootings motivated by employment issues.”

Some of us are old enough to remember the term “going postal,” and when the phrase “recently fired employee” was often associated with mass shootings. The NIJ report suggests that this isn’t a trick of memory; workplace shootings are now considered rare.

This may well indicate that the background-check system is working; the vast majority of employees in a workplace are legal adults, and if an adult accumulates a criminal record or has a restraining order filed against him, he is barred from purchasing a firearm.

The mass shooters who have horrified us the most in recent years are teenagers and very young adults who haven’t yet accumulated a criminal record, and who were children less than a decade ago. According to local reports, the Uvalde shooter turned 18 on May 16.

If you go to CNN’s coverage of the shooting this morning, it is a long list of world leaders and NBA coaches calling for gun control. The site seems much less interested in telling you what actually happened.

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t checked out The Editors podcast lately, you’re missing out on a lot — yesterday, we discussed former president Trump’s endorsements and the Georgia primary, if the U.S. should defend Taiwan, and Princeton’s firing of Joshua Katz. Plus, you never know when a squirrel will attack Alexandra DeSanctis during our taping.

And if you haven’t checked out the Three Martini Lunch podcast lately, you’re missing out on Senator Michael Bennet saying that this year’s midterms are going to be rough and that the state of Colorado may not be as blue as its reputation suggests, as well as wondering when the state of Pennsylvania will be finished counting the ballots from last week’s Republican Senate primary.