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Gun Policy

The Twisted Path of the Gun Used in the Worst School Shooting Since Newtown

Raymond Fryberg is on trial for hiding his abusive past when buying the gun his son later used to kill four classmates at Marysville Pilchuck High School. The lack of a system for reporting tribal court records to NICS was another culprit.

Eleven months ago, 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg took his father’s .40-caliber Beretta Px4 Storm handgun and opened fire on his friends and cousins in the cafeteria at his high school 40 minutes north of Seattle, fatally injuring four of his classmates and wounding another before turning the gun on himself. The slaughter at Marysville Pilchuck High School marked the deadliest school shooting since 26 students and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. 

This week, Fryberg’s father, Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr., who helped his son hone his shooting skills, is standing trial in federal court for six counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. The government is alleging that Fryberg lied on ATF form 4473, the background check paperwork he filled out when he purchased the Beretta and four other guns from a Cabela’s superstore between January 2013 and July 2014. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Frybergs are members of the Tulalip tribe. In 2002, after he threatened, slapped and pulled the hair of his ex-girlfriend, Raymond Fryberg had a permanent order of protection issued against him by tribal court, disqualifying him from firearm ownership. Fryberg’s lawyer is arguing that he was never notified of the gun ban, and that Fryberg was therefore not being knowingly deceptive when he completed his background check form. Fryberg’s word alone should not have been enough to evade federal screening, but his domestic violence restraining order — which he received probation for violating in 2012 — was never reported to the state and national databases that feed the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. That’s because here is no uniform system for making sure that the relevant records from the nation’s 567 Native American tribes make it into NICS. Call it the reservation loophole.

Francesca Hillary, a spokeswoman for the Tulalip Reservation, said after the shooting that tribes had been asking for a streamlined records reporting system for more than a decade. While a 2010 Congressional Act required the Attorney General to ensure that tribal officials could access national crime information databases, leading to two pilot projects, the Department of Justice said in August that state regulations prevented information sharing among all of the nation’s tribes and the federal government. In the meantime, tribes have been relying on their own methods: some enter records directly in NICS, some rely on state or local agencies to do the reporting, and some have no involvement with federal and state databases at all.

That was rectified in August, when the federal government launched the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information, or TAP. Under the initiative, tribes will be given state-of-the-art biometric computer workstations capable of processing fingerprints and taking mugshots. It will be a while before each tribe is online, however. TAP’s initial phase will only include 10 federally recognized tribes.

Meanwhile, whether the Marysville Pilchuck shooting results in a rare NICS prosecution remains to be seen. Lying on a 4473 isn’t usually enough to be subjected to one, as such cases are a low priority for federal prosecutors. In 2010, the last year for which such information was available, the ATF referred only 62 of 72,659 denied applicants for prosecution — that’s 0.09 percent. The Center for American Progress suggested in 2013 that the ATF study the two million NICS denials issued since its inception in 1998 and develop a risk-assessment system for denied applicants.

Raymond Fryberg, who hails from a distinguished tribal family, lost his job at the tribal Natural Resource Department after the shooting, and his home is a frequent target of vandalism, Newsweek reported last week. Fryberg had kept the Beretta in the center console of his pickup truck and was blamed for allowing his unstable son to access firearms. In the days prior to the shooting, Jaylen had reportedly gotten into a scuffle with a football teammate over his Native American heritage and he and his girlfriend broke up over his “short fuse.”

Still, members of the Tulalip community struggle to understand why a popular homecoming prince would slaughter three of his friends and one of his cousins, and wound another cousin. “A lot of folks [thought] he would move up the culture ranks and become a leader,” state Senator John McCoy, a Tulalip member, told ABC News last year. “He had that kind of charisma and raw talent.”

[Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren]