Good morning, Bulletin readers, and welcome back from the long Thanksgiving weekend. Today we bring you a new investigation from our series on gun theft, as well as a sweep of news you may have missed over the holiday.
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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY
NEW from THE TRACE: At least 1,781 police guns were stolen over the past 10 years. As staffer Brian Freskos has previously reported, stolen firearms are arming the very criminals that many gun owners are taught to fear. Unsecured weapons pilfered from law enforcement officers are a fraction of the problem, but vexing for the lack of responsibility and accountability they reflect. “There are enough people in the world who are careless about guns, so you want police to set a standard,” one public health scholar told us. Yet department policies for securing service and personal firearms vary widely, and punishment for cops who allow their guns to fall prey to thieves is rare. Read the full investigation here.
Alabama police fatally shot a black man they mistook for a gunman who injured two at a mall on Thanksgiving. According to witnesses, 21-year-old Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., an Army combat engineer, was steering people away from the scene of the shooting, which injured an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old, when a police officer approached and opened fire without issuing a verbal command. Witnesses say that Bradford’s own weapon was in his waistband. Police named Bradford as the gunman in a press conference shortly after the incident, but have since retracted the allegation. The actual shooter remains at large.
There were at least four other store shootings during the holiday shopping weekend. Employees tried to intervene in a domestic dispute that turned deadly at a Florida Walmart, when a man fatally shot a woman before killing himself. In New Jersey, a man was shot in the wrist at a mall on Black Friday, but no suspect has been identified, and officials say the victim is not cooperating. Shots also rang out at malls in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Black Friday background checks were down 10 percent compared to last year. In 2017, the number of checks run through the federal database set a single-day record, at 203,000. This year, there were just over 182,000, the lowest number since 2014. But it was still the fourth-highest day for background checks on record.
Kentucky police may have prevented a mass shooting when they arrested a man with five loaded guns, including a modified AR-15, outside a manufacturing facility last week. After his arrest, the man told police he knew which building entrances were open and that he was “going to do what he needed to do.” Authorities believe he may have been targeting a woman who worked at the facility.
A Minnesota man was arrested after brandishing a gun at teens in a McDonald’s. Video of the incident that went viral on Twitter before the Thanksgiving break shows Lloyd Edward Johnson backing out of the restaurant, after he became angry with some Somali-American students and accused them of using welfare benefits.
“We are in a state of chaos.” So wrote then-11-year-old Sandra Parks two years ago in an essay about the gun violence that plagues her neighborhood in Milwaukee. Last week, Parks was killed by a stray bullet fired into her bedroom. She is at least the fifth child in four years in Milwaukee to be fatally shot by stray bullets that entered their homes.
ONE LAST THING
One of Jeff Sessions’s biggest legacies is ramped up gun prosecutions — which have disproportionately targeted black, low-level offenders. Sessions announced in 2017 that he would crack down on gun violence by focusing efforts on those with gun crime and felony records. George Joseph at The Appeal writes that, in practice, this meant U.S. attorneys delved into the dockets of local jurisdictions to elevate charges that might have resulted in probation if convicted on the state level, but would carry years of prison time if adjudicated in federal court.
Previous reporting from The Trace shows that Sessions had first used this tactic when he was a U.S. attorney in Alabama in the early 1990s, when he prosecuted every gun case that came across his desk. Then as now, the bulk were lower-level, felon-in-possession charges.