What To Know Today

NEW from THE TRACE: U.S. states, cities, and experts back Mexico’s lawsuit against gunmakers. In August, the Mexican government sued several major U.S. gun companies, alleging that their negligent business practices had fueled cartel violence south of the border. Mexico’s lawyers argued that the American gun industry’s special legal shield only applies to cases of gun violence that happen within U.S. borders and violate American laws. On Monday, a flurry of amicus briefs came in to support Mexico’s case, reflecting endorsements from a host of gun violence prevention groups and academics; attorneys general from 14 states; and DAs from more than 20 American municipalities. “I feel very encouraged because this means that what we are doing as a government is worth doing,” said Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, legal adviser at the Mexican Foreign Ministry. “We are confirming that the missing link in this whole equation of illicit trafficking is the gun companies.” You can read the story here.

Better violence prevention requires better violence data. In a CNN op-ed, crime analyst Jeff Asher makes a compelling case for what many criminologists have been saying for years: The nation’s data infrastructure for gun violence and homicides is woefully inadequate, making diagnoses of violent crime — and therefore possible prescriptions — much harder. Asher points to the FBI’s system of national crime statistics that relies on voluntary submissions from police agencies and releases annual homicide data on an approximately nine-month lag. Last year, the bureau changed its reporting system in hopes of making crime reporting more accurate. But the switchover has been sluggish: Fewer than 60 percent of the nation’s nearly 19,000 police agencies are using it and experts fear the final FBI numbers for 2021 will be based on a smaller data pool than in past years. “Advocates for gun violence prevention put government funded research as a priority and had some success,” tweeted Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy & Research, about the essay. “Demands to fix the data infrastructure should be an equally high priority.”

A gunman killed two campus officers at a small Virginia college. Campus police officer John Painter, 55, and campus safety officer J.J. Jefferson, 48, were responding to a call about a suspicious person on the grounds of Bridgewater College yesterday when the 27-year-old suspect opened fire, police said. The suspect was apprehended later and charged with murder. “This is a sad and dark day for Bridgewater College,” the college president said. Jefferson had been the best man at Painter’s recent wedding. Related: A teenage student was fatally shot and another was critically injured just outside a school in Richfield, Minnesota, yesterday. Police said they apprehended two suspects. 

Birmingham’s police chief resigns amid city’s worsening struggle with gun violence. Police Chief Patrick Smith, a former Los Angeles police commander who has served as the Alabama city’s top law enforcement official since 2018, stepped down late last week, citing “personal business” in a letter requesting to be put on paid leave until February 25, when his resignation becomes official. His departure comes after a year in which the city saw more homicides than in any other year except 1991. During his time leading the Police Department, Smith withstood criticism from both reform-minded advocates and the local police union. Citing poor morale and staffing shortages, the leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police voted no confidence in Smith last year, a symbolic move but the first against a sitting chief in the city’s history. Mayor Randall Woodfin stood by Smith after the vote, reappointing him in October to another term, but the local FOP was reportedly gearing up for a union-wide vote this month. — Chip Brownlee, reporter

The DOJ won’t reopen a closed probe into the officer who killed Tamir Rice. A federal civil rights probe into the 2014 shooting was closed in December 2020. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke informed a lawyer for Rice’s family late last week that while the killing was a “tragic loss,” the agency stood by its prosecutors’ assessment that it wouldn’t be able to prove a civil rights violation occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann shot the 12-year-old Black boy, who had been playing with a toy gun outside a rec center, less than two seconds after opening his cruiser door at the scene. 

Americans bought an estimated 1.3 million guns in January. That’s slightly below December’s haul and down a sizable 42 percent from January 2021, according to our analysis of FBI data. Last month’s seasonally adjusted figure includes about 760,000 handguns and 560,000 long guns (rifles and shotguns).

Data Point

At least 82 — the number of guns that Los Angeles police say were stolen from a freight train in the city last year. “These guns were unguarded, unprotected,” said an LAPD captain. “God knows how many guns have been stolen that way.” [Los Angeles Times]