On February 11, a woman opened fire in Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston.

She had a “Palestine” sticker affixed to her AR-15. She’d been engaged in a contentious custody battle with her ex-husband and his family, some of whom are Jewish. She had a criminal history, served a short jail sentence, and was detained for a mental health emergency.

Two off-duty police officers working security at the church shot and killed her. Two other people were wounded, including the shooter’s 7-year-old son, whom she had brought with her. 

Some characteristics of the Lakewood Church shooting set it apart, while others underscore gaps in the law that have allowed a number of shooters to acquire firearms.

The shooter was a woman, which is rare.

Women are rarely perpetrators of gun homicide, and they are even less likely to carry out a mass shooting. 

The Trace has identified only a dozen high-profile public shootings perpetrated by women in the last five decades. They include the 2018 shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, which left three people wounded; the 2015 San Bernardino workplace shooting, carried out by a married couple who killed 14 people and wounded 22 others; and the 2006 shooting at a post office in Goleta, California, which resulted in seven deaths.

Two other shootings were perpetrated by people assigned female at birth, but reportedly in the process of transitioning: last year’s rampage at Covenant School in Nashville, and the 2019 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado. In each case, some conservatives seized on the involvement of a trans person, triggering transphobia and fear in the LGBTQ+ community. But cisgender people are responsible for the vast majority of mass shootings.

The shooter bought her guns legally despite having been detained for mental health reasons

Police said the shooter suffered a mental health crisis that resulted in officers detaining her under an emergency order in 2016, yet she was able to buy her AR-15 legally in December 2023. (In her bag, police also found a .22 caliber handgun, which she did not fire.)

Unless a judge ordered that the shooter be committed to a psychiatric facility after her 2016 emergency detention, she would still be allowed to possess guns under federal and state law. She is the 14th high-profile shooter in the last 20 years who was able to legally buy guns after being released from an emergency hospitalization. Others include the Lewiston, Maine, shooter (2023); the Buffalo supermarket shooter (2022); the Umpqua Community College shooter in Oregon (2015); and the Virginia Tech shooter (2007).

One mechanism for separating people in crisis from guns is a red flag law. Twenty-one states have one — but Texas is not one of them. In a Facebook post, Walli Carranza, the shooter’s former mother-in-law, blamed “the state of Texas for not having strong red flag laws that would have prevented her from owning or possessing a gun.”

“She had a particular kind of schizophrenia that caused her to become violent,” Carranza told local news station KHOU. “She threatened her husband, my own son, and we still couldn’t get intervention.”

Only five states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, and Washington — impose some form of a gun ban after an emergency mental health hospitalization that’s not followed by a court-ordered commitment.

The shooter’s criminal history didn’t trigger a ban on gun ownership

Over the past two decades, she had been arrested for several misdemeanors, including assaulting a detention officer, theft, passing a counterfeit bill, and evading arrest. A 2022 arrest for unlawful carrying of a weapon resulted in a two-day jail sentence and the destruction of her guns. Between 2005 and 2022, she’d been sentenced to a total of 307 days in jail for various crimes.

Yet she was still eligible to purchase a gun because the federal ban on gun ownership only applies to felony convictions punishable by up to a year of prison or probation, and misdemeanor convictions punishable by two years. Someone can be arrested for a slew of crimes and still legally own guns. 

Police did not disclose whether the shooter bought her guns from a federally licensed dealer or in a private sale. Texas is one of 30 states that doesn’t require background checks on private sales. That means people can buy guns from neighbors or friends, at a gun show, and over the internet without undergoing a background check.

States That Have Passed Universal Background Checks

Universal background check states require checks on all or most private gun sales.

The shooter had a “Palestine” sticker affixed to the stock of her AR-15 rifle. It’s not clear whether she was inspired by the Israel-Hamas war, but police said they found antisemitic writings of hers after the shooting. Carranza, the shooter’s former mother-in-law, who is a rabbi, said that while the shooter “raged against Israel and Jews in a pro Palestinian rant” during the incident, this was a function of her “severe mental illness.” 

According to Gun Violence Archive, since the October 7 terrorist attack in Israel, there have been at least five other gun-related bias incidents in the United States that reference the Israel-Hamas war. They include the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, Vermont, in November and a shots-fired incident outside a synagogue in Albany, New York, in December.