News and notes on guns in America

Daily Bulletin: Red Flag Laws May Reduce Gun Deaths Among the Elderly

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s briefing: Although red flag laws were not intended to address gun ownership by the elderly, they uniquely apply where other gun control laws fall short, a study has found. And NRA staffers are “freaking out” after executives eliminated some employee perks, the latest indication that the gun group is hurting for cash.

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Institutional investors step up the pressure on the gun industry. Investors with a combined $4.8 trillion in assets have banded together to push gun makers to embrace a set of safety standards, including universal background checks, enhanced education and training, and new gun safety technology. It’s not political, they say. The risks associated with firearms are simply bad for business. 

Red flag laws have the potential to lower gun violence among the elderly, a research paper published in Arizona Legal Studies suggests. Laws allowing for the temporary removal of firearms from people in crisis were designed to prevent mass shootings and suicides within the general population. But a survey of the 13 states that have enacted such laws shows that they are particularly effective in reducing gun violence among the elderly, especially when the laws include family members among those authorized to seek gun violence restraining orders. “Although red flag laws were not intended to address elderly gun ownership, they uniquely apply where other gun control laws fall short,” the study says.

NEW from THE TRACE: No more free coffee for NRA employees. National Rifle Association insiders tipped Mike Spies to the elimination of some employee perks and other cost-trimming measures under consideration at the group’s Virginia headquarters. “The whole building was freaking out,” said one former employee, one of four sources who confirmed the belt-tightening moves. The cuts are the latest indication of the NRA’s apparent financial straits. Read Mike’s scoop, including the NRA’s response, here.

Legislation in Virginia would bar anyone convicted of a hate crime from owning a gun. Hate crimes in Virginia have risen by about 65 percent over the past five years, according to a State Police report. On Thursday, Virginia’s attorney general proposed new laws to prevent a further increase. Among them is a measure that would use law enforcement resources to identify hate groups and step in before they commit violence. Another would prohibit anyone convicted of a hate crime from owning a gun.

In Utah, 85 percent of gun deaths are suicides. That stunning number comes from a new study presented to state lawmakers on Wednesday. Nationwide, suicides account for close to 60 percent of gun deaths, but in states in the American “suicide belt,” which includes Utah, the share is even higher. According to the study, guns were used in approximately 50 percent of all suicide attempts in Utah between 2006 to 2015, which had a lethality rate of 87 percent.

A Republican state lawmaker doxxed a group of anti-gun-violence activists. A gun violence prevention group is calling for an investigation after a newly re-elected Oregon state representative allegedly posted the phone numbers and home addresses of the chief petitioners of a ballot measure that would ban assault weapons. The leader of the group decried the politician’s action as “clearly an attempt to harass and intimidate the chief petitioners and to undermine the ballot measure process.’’

A toddler fatally shot himself in an Alabama apartment. Family members say the 2-year-old boy died after he found the gun in a Birmingham home on Wednesday morning and unintentionally fired it. Following the shooting, police implored gun owners to lock up their firearms.

Audience members ran for cover during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  In what could be seen as a demonstration of how fearful Americans are of potential shootings, people started running after a man stood up and shouted “Heil, Hitler! Heil, Trump!” during a performance of the Jewish-themed musical in Baltimore on Wednesday night. “I’ll be honest, I was waiting to hear a gunshot, one theatergoer said. “I thought, ‘Here we go.


A new report lays out the links between community violence, suicide, and intimate partner violence. The paper, published this week in Public Health Reports, is organized around “three mutually reinforcing pillars of comprehensive violence prevention and response.” By taking a public health approach to violence prevention, survivor support, and criminal justice, the researchers argue, all three of the most common forms of gun violence could be reduced simultaneously. 

“Firearm policies at the federal level and for many states have two fundamental weaknesses,” the paper says. Standards for legal gun ownership are too low, and systems to prevent the transfer of guns to prohibited people are too weak. Among the gun policies recommended in the paper are domestic violence restraining orderssafe storage laws, comprehensive background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and permit-to-purchase laws

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[Finlay Mackay]

Daily Bulletin: They’re Surgeons. And Gun Owners. Here Are Their Recommendations For Saving Lives.

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s briefing: A round of hearings is revealing new details about the lead-up to the Parkland school shootings. Another reminder of violent white supremacists’ attraction to guns. And a firearm safety paper from a surgeons group has a secondary message: “This is our lane.”

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Gun-owning surgeons released new firearm safety recommendations. On Wednesday, a working group from the American College of Surgeons released a paper pushing for robust background checks, enhanced gun safety training, mandatory reporting requirements for people considered a threat to themselves or others, and the development of gun safety technology. Eighteen of the 22 surgeons who authored the paper are “passionate firearms owners, including hunters, self-defense proponents and doctors with previous military experience,” who own a combined 204 guns. The safety agenda comes amid a battle between medical professionals and the National Rifle Association that began when the group told doctors to “stay in their lane” instead of weighing in on gun violence. “This is entirely in my lane,” a gun-owning trauma surgeon who helped compile the recommendations said. “Those trauma victims come to us.”

A man connected to the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman was arrested on gun charges. Jeffrey Clark, 30, appeared in court on Tuesday. Relatives said Clark and his brother, who died by suicide right after last month’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, befriended the gunman on a social networking platform popular with white supremacists and anti-Semites. They further indicated that the brothers were stockpiling guns and high-capacity magazines in preparation for a race war.

A commission investigating the Parkland shooting began an important series of hearings. The sessions began Tuesday, and are expected to focus on institutional failures that prevented an adequate response to the attack. Students say they warned administrators about the gunman. The accused shooter allegedly made racist threats and brought knives, bullets, and animals he had killed to school. But two students who reported this behavior to school administrators told investigators that they felt they were not taken seriously. Related: The family of a Parkland victim is suing the FBI. A lawsuit filed Tuesday by the parent of a 14-year-old killed in the attack alleges that the federal government failed to act on crucial evidence that could have stopped it. On multiple occasions, the lawsuits state, the gunman’s behavior was reported to authorities, but agents failed to adequately follow up.

The 13-year-old Indiana boy accused of killing his middle school classmate in May was sentenced. Yesterday, a judge ordered the Noblesville West Middle School shooter to be sent to a juvenile facility until he turns 18. “You took this community’s sense of safety,” the judge said. The teacher who intervened was given a medal of honor. Jason Seaman tackled the young gunman during the shooting. During the ceremony, he was presented with the medal by a student who was also wounded in the attack.

Local newsrooms are beefing up security. In the wake of The Capital Gazette shooting in June, media organizations across the country have begun to update their protocols for responding to violent threats. In Florida, a radio station has had detectives screen their phone messages. And at a newspaper in Idaho where security cameras were recently installed, a reporter stores a gun under his desk. “The cause of journalism is stronger than one idiot out there sending out cowardly threats,” he said.

Three people were killed in a murder-suicide on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Another woman was wounded in the Tuesday morning shooting, which police say was an act of domestic violence. The suspected shooter was found dead at the scene.

On one Kansas City highway, a rash of shootings is leaving drivers fearful. In the past week alone, there have been two shootings on Missouri’s U.S. 71 in which the victims and suspect did not know each other. “This is the best holiday to come around and enjoy with your family,” said one neighbor who is worried about drivers’ safety during Thanksgiving weekend. “If you don’t get a chance to do that, that’s just messed up.” ICYMI: A Pennsylvania bill would ban loaded guns in vehicles across the state in an attempt to prevent road rage shootings.

A 6-year-old was shot while waiting in a McDonald’s drive-thru in Texas. The girl was struck in the leg by a stray bullet while her family was ordering food on Tuesday. The round, fired by a security guard, was meant for a suspect who was trying to steal a cell phone from a nearby store. The suspected thief was also injured in the shooting.


A century of American Rifleman covers. The New York Times analyzed the covers of every issue of the NRA’s magazine since 1923 to chart the evolution of the brand’s identity from one defined by shooting sports to one defined by uncompromising politics. While early editions focused on marksmanship and firearm safety, recent covers have used incendiary tactics to provoke subscribers.

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The NRA Has Killed Free Coffee for Employees

The National Rifle Association is doing away with free coffee and water coolers for employees at its Fairfax, Virginia, headquarters — a cost-cutting move that has NRA insiders “freaking out,” The Trace has learned.

“The whole building was freaking out,” said one former employee who remains in contact with current staffers. Three other sources familiar with the gun group’s operations confirmed the story to The Trace.

The coffee cutback is the just latest indication that the NRA is hurting for cash. Membership revenue declined by $35 million last year, and the NRA recently rolled out its second dues increase in as many years. In May, the gun group sued Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, claiming that his state’s zealous regulatory efforts against its Carry Guard insurance program had cost the NRA “tens of millions of dollars” in lost revenue, legal fees, and other damages. (A federal judge recently ruled that the suit can go forward.)

Perhaps the most vivid evidence of belt-tightening at the NRA was its drastically reduced  spending on the 2018 midterm elections. The group shelled out just under $10 million on House and Senate candidates this cycle — less than half of what it spent on congressional races in 2014 and 2016.

The Carry Guard litigation and midterm spending, however reduced, have drained resources away from day-to-day operations, one former staffer said. “Money is going from the programs to fight the legal battle,” the staffer said. “They’re draining money from general operations to push over to [the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action]. They want the money to be able to push the agenda.”

According to NRA insiders, the austerity campaign has been led by Josh Powell, the group’s executive director for general operations. The coffee cuts, sources say, are part of Powell’s effort to overhaul the organization’s budget to make up for lost revenue. Powell, sources say, is scrutinizing every expense and contract with the help of the group’s new treasurer, Craig Spray.

“Josh is going to greatly reduce education and training and slash the number of the NRA’s publications down to one magazine,” said a source close to the gun group’s leadership. The group currently maintains six publications, including four print magazines.

Powell is an unlikely budget hawk. A Trace investigation into his business history last month found a trail of defaulted debts, including 20 lawsuits for more than $400,000 from jilted vendors.

When The Trace asked the NRA about the cuts, the gun group did not dispute them. “The historical fact is nobody returns investment and results in defending Second Amendment freedoms like the NRA,” Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesperson, said. “We will continue to honor our commitment to our members by carefully managing financial and professional resources, including reviewing vendor contracts — in an effort to maximize their value in support of our mission.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the chief defendant in the NRA’s lawsuit regarding Carry Guard. It is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, not Mario Cuomo.

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Daily Bulletin: Without Red Flag Laws, Officers Go to Great Lengths to Disarm Potentially Dangerous People

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Today, The Trace’s Elizabeth Van Brocklin is out with a revealing look at a practice called “scoop and run,” which could give police another tool for preventing gun deaths. To report her story, a partnership with NBC Philadelphia, Elizabeth tracked down shooting victims who were saved when cops tossed them into the back of cruisers — and pressed other cities’ police departments on why they aren’t more open to doing the same.

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NEW from THE TRACE: In Philadelphia, cops often transport shooting victims to the hospital rather than wait for EMTs. Experts say more cities should follow the city’s lead. Trauma doctors say “scoop and run” may save lives by getting patients to the hospital in the critical moments before they bleed out. Experts say it can improve community relations. But scoop and run has yet to catch on in many cities battling high rates of gun violence. Elizabeth Van Brocklin digs into why

The number of hate crimes reported to the FBI jumped by 17 percent last year, according to federal data released yesterday. Sixty percent of the reported incidents were racially motivated. ICYMI: One hate crimes expert is bracing for an increase in hate-motivated shootings. Though rare, premeditated attacks like the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting are more likely to involve guns, as perpetrators will want to inflict the most damage and thus opt for the most lethal weapon they can readily obtain, criminologist Jack McDevitt told The TraceRelated headline: An Ohio man was arrested after pointing a gun at his neighbors and yelling racial slurs this weekend. A victim told police that the 24-year-old said his family was in the KKK as he threatened to shoot a group of people at an apartment complex. 

Is school safety technology worth the price tag? To find out whether the $2.7 billion school security market is fulfilling its promise, The Washington Post surveyed dozens of schools that had experienced shootings about what could have prevented them. Of the 34 schools that responded, only one suggested that enhanced school security might have reduced the bloodshed. Most said that there was nothing they could have done or stressed the importance of creating more trusting, caring communities. Many had robust security plans already in place, but still could not stop the incidents. Others emphasized that the responsibility to prevent school shootings shouldn’t fall on schools in the first place.

Ohio lawmakers are considering a “stand your ground” bill. The Ohio House is expected to approve legislation today that would eliminate the duty to retreat before using lethal force, and shift the burden to prosecutors to disprove self-defense claims. If passed, the bill will move to the Senate. But the state’s outgoing Republican governor says he would veto it. John Kasich is pushing for a “red flag” bill instead. “The idea,” he said Thursday, “is that if somebody in our family or our workplace is emotionally unstable and poses a threat, we should have the ability to go to court and take guns from those people until they can be stabilized.”

Age limits on gun purchases can reduce violence without infringing on liberty, public health researchers argue in a new article in Preventive Medicine. The article examines the ethics of laws raising the minimum age for firearms to 21. “We conclude that gun ownership is an important right, but one that nevertheless is ethical to regulate,” the researchers wrote.

The Michigan man who shot at a black teen asking for directions will go to prison. Jeffrey Zeigler, 53, was sentenced Tuesday to four to 10 years behind bars for firing his weapon at a teenager who knocked on his door. Zeigler says he believed the 14-year-old boy, who got lost after missing his bus to school, intended to rob him. Video footage shows Zeigler aiming a gun at the teenager, though he originally said the gun fired unintentionally. “This will affect my son forever,” the boy’s mother said.

An employee at a fast food distribution center opened fire on his coworkers. Three people at the Albuquerque warehouse were wounded in the shooting on Monday night. The gunman was later found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A school resource officer shot himself in his office. Eastern Tech High School in Baltimore County went on lockdown on Monday after a 21-year veteran of the police force died by suicide inside the school. Students remembered the officer as a friendly face on campus. “He was genuinely a kind person, and you wouldn’t think there would be anything wrong,” one of them said.


Without red flag laws, officers go to great lengths to disarm people who pose a threat to public safety. Most active shooters exhibit warning signs before they attack, according to FBI research. But agents often struggle to act on this intelligence, in part because of lobbying efforts to block legislation that would allow police to temporarily disarm people believed to pose a threat.

Recently in Detroit, law enforcement agents resorted to a rarely enforced law against lying on a credit card application to disarm a legal gun owner whose behavior concerned federal agents. Prosecutors say the 25-year-old idolized mass shooters like the Columbine gunmen, posted about taking “revenge” on black people, and searched online for topics like, “How long do police take to respond to an active shooter?”

“When we talk about red flags,” the assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan said, “these are literally staring us in the face.” A red flag bill has been filed in the Michigan legislature, but it has not seen any movement since its introduction because of Republican opposition.

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Daily Bulletin: CDC Report Flags Dramatic Rise in Gun Suicides

Good morning, Bulletin readers. An eye-opening study on gun ownership in California raises contrasting takeaways about the effects of the state’s strict gun laws on its firearms owners. It also showcases the importance of government-funded research on gun issues: It was conducted by the first state-funded gun violence research lab in the country.

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NEW from THE TRACE: The vast majority of California’s assault-style weapons are possessed by a small contingent of hardcore owners. Researchers at the Violence Prevention Research Center at the University of California, Davis found that four out of five assault rifles in the country’s most populous state are owned by people who have 10 or more guns. The findings are among the initial takeaways from a broad survey of Californians and their relationship to guns. Another data point: 25 percent of gun-owning respondents said they had purchased a firearm without going through a background check. Read on for more.

After a decade-long decline, gun deaths are on the rise in the United States, according to a CDC report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were a combined 72,349 gun deaths in 2015 and 2016 — 27,394 homicides and 44,955 suicides — the highest recorded levels since 2006 and 2007. Especially worrying: Gun suicides increased 21 percent between 2006 and 2016.

A police officer responding to a shooting at a Chicago-area bar mistakenly killed a security guard who was holding one of the suspects at gunpoint. An ejected patron opened fire at a bar in Robbins, Illinois, early Sunday, wounding three people. An armed security guard, 26-year-old Jemel Roberson, returned fire and held the suspect at gunpoint. Despite the fact that several witnesses identified Roberson as a security guard, a responding officer fatally shot him. “They basically saw a black man with a gun and killed him,” a witness said.

A Democrat in North Carolina who flipped her state House district got involved in politics after Sandy Hook. Christy Clark, a paralegal, won the 98th District by 333 votes while outspending the Republican incumbent 5-to-1. Clark started volunteering with Moms Demand Action after the 2012 elementary school massacre. “My youngest child was in first grade at the time,” she said. “I could envision that being my child very easily.” (Moms Demand is affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety, whose nonpolitical arm is one of The Trace’s funders.) Her victory helped break a Republican supermajority in North Carolina’s lower chamber.

New York state lawmakers object to the Jets’ partnership with MGM Resorts because the company sued Las Vegas shooting victims. The New York Jets signed a multiyear partnership last month with hotel giant MGM Resorts that includes sponsorships and app content. Last week, two New York state senators came out against the deal. In July, MGM sued more than 1,900 victims of the Las Vegas shooting in an attempt to avoid liability.

A student-run activist group in Washington, D.C., created an anti-gun-violence PSA. Students from Thurgood Marshall Academy, a charter high school in D.C., filmed a 1.5-minute spot protesting the disproportionate burden gun violence places on their neighborhoods. “We have a right to go to school without fear,” one of them says. On Thursday, the teens met with the chief of police and spoke frankly about the role police mistrust plays in the cycle of violence. Washington has recorded 145 homicides as of November 9, a nearly 50-percent jump from the same time last year.

The 3-year-old son of an Arkansas police officer unintentionally killed himself with a loaded gun he found in his home. Rion Faulkner found a loaded handgun in a back bedroom and shot himself in the head on Thursday afternoon. His mother said she stepped away briefly to use the bathroom when she heard a gunshot. No word on whether his parents will be charged.


Las Vegas massacre survivors formed a group text on Snapchat. Two of its members died in the Thousand Oaks shooting. Three days after last year’s massacre in Las Vegas, California-based survivors gathered at Borderline Bar and Grill, a country music venue in Thousand Oaks, because it felt like home. They started a group text on Snapchat, so they could always be in contact. Last Wednesday, group members Telemachus Orfanos and Justin Meek (who had not attended the country music festival where the Las Vegas shooting occurred but joined the group text as a friend) were among the victims of the gun rampage at Borderline. Over the past year, Brendan Hoolihan, another Vegas survivor, had grown especially close to Orfanos. “It was a ‘we’re in it together’ type of thing,” Hoolihan recalled to The Washington Post.

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Most Californians Who Own ‘Assault Rifles’ Have 10+ Guns

The AR-15 has been called “America’s rifle,” a weapon emblematic of our national gun culture. But a new survey finds that in the country’s most populous state, a small contingent of hardcore collectors own the vast majority of ARs and other so-called assault rifles.

The research, published by the Violence Prevention Research Center at the University of California-Davis, found that four out of five assault rifles in the state are owned by people who own 10 or more guns. In total, the results suggest Californians own nearly a million assault rifles — or about 5 percent of all guns in the state. That’s roughly in line with national estimates of gun ownership.  

The findings are the product of a broad survey of Californians and their relationship to guns. Among the survey’s other key findings: 25 percent of gun-owning respondents said they had purchased a firearm without going through a background check. California has required checks on all gun sales or transfers since the early 1990s.

In regards to assault weapons, respondents were asked whether they own a “rifle of the type sometimes called ‘assault rifles’, ‘modern sporting rifles’, or ‘modern tactical rifles’, including AR rifles, AK rifles, and SKS rifles.”

California law employs a narrower, more complicated definition: Any semiautomatic, centerfire rifle with that can accept a detachable magazine and has any one of several features, including a pistol grip or flash suppressor. The state also has a list of hundreds of weapons — many of them AR and AK variants — that are expressly labelled assault weapons. California law forbids the sale of new assault weapons and requires all existing ones to be registered with the state Department of Justice.

In response to the state’s assault weapons regulations — considered among the most stringent in the nation — many manufacturers offer so-called “featureless” or “California legal” versions of AR-15 or AK-47 rifles. These models often come with magazines locked in place, or creatively designed grips.

“California legal” guns aren’t subject to the state’s assault weapons law, but they would count for the purposes of the researchers’ survey. As a result of the discrepancy, the total number of assault weapons registered with the California Department of Justice is far lower than the total suggested by the survey. As of this July, Californians had registered or applied to register 226,388 guns.

The researchers conducted the survey online this October, questioning 2,500 state residents over the age of 18.

The researchers noted that people who said they owned assault weapons were demographically distinct from the rest of the population of the young, diverse state: 69 percent of assault weapon owners are over 45 years old, 84 percent are male, and 67 percent are white.

Past surveys of gun ownership have not asked who owns this particular controversial subset of weapons. The National Firearms Survey, released in 2016 by public health researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities, was the most comprehensive national look at which Americans own which guns, but it only asked about whether respondents owned handguns or long guns — not specific models or styles within those category.  

Without comprehensive data on assault rifle ownership, there’s no way of knowing exactly how many people own the weapons, which occupy a central place in debates over American gun violence and policy. But the survey released this week suggests a group of so-called super-owners may be fueling the demand for AR-15s and their counterparts, not the public at large.

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Daily Bulletin: House Democrats Are Vowing to Force a Debate on Gun Reform

Good morning, Bulletin readers. A string of mass shootings was followed this weekend by bouts of the everyday gun violence that often gets less attention. But while it’s important to recognize the full scale of the problem, one journalist who has covered this beat alongside us for years makes a convincing case that the public and policymakers also need a better understanding of the available solutions. Please read on for more. 

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NEW from THE TRACE: A family violence researcher argues that we need to take seriously the harm guns can do even if they’re never fired. Susan Sorenson’s most recent research addresses the toll inflicted when abusers flaunt guns around their victims: Because of the lethality of firearms, a victim’s fear was three times greater if they were threatened with a gun versus another type of weapon. At least one observer told her those scares “didn’t count,” since the victims sustained no physical injuries. But, Sorenson writes, “Survivors often say that bruises and broken bones heal much faster than the psychological wounds of abuse.” Read her column here.

Pittsburgh’s mayor wants to challenge his state’s pre-emption law. After the Tree of Life shooting two weeks ago, Mayor Bill Peduto wants to regulate powerful weapons in his city, but Pennsylvania law prohibits municipalities from enacting their own gun laws. “If [state legislators are] unwilling to address those issues, then they need to be able to answer the reason why,” Peduto said.

Meanwhile, with a new majority in the House, Democrats vow to force a debate on gun reform. Nancy Pelosi, the chamber’s likely next Speaker, indicates that universal background check legislation will be the party’s first move. “It doesn’t cover everything, but it will save many lives,” she said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called any such bill passing through his GOP-held chamber “highly unlikely”; Democrats know that, but want their Republican counterparts to go on record against policies favored by solid majorities of voters nationwide.

Gun violence reporter: “I am sick of media outlets making a case for hopelessness and stalemate after the latest mass shooting.” In a Twitter thread, The Guardian’s Lois Beckett wrote that the gunman in the Thousand Oaks shooting was a “textbook case” of someone whose guns could have been confiscated under California’s red flag law. But the tool remains underutilized, in part because a lack of public and official awareness. “What’s depressing is not the lack of solutions,” Beckett added, “but the fact that options to help exist, and people DON’T KNOW ABOUT THEM.”

As high-profile shootings dominated the headlines this weekend, the daily drumbeat of gun violence continued. On Saturday alone:

  • Two young men were killed, and four people were injured, after a gambling argument at a Memphis home.
  • A teenager was fatally shot, and two more were injured, including a 19-year-old suspected of firing the fatal shot, at a home in Blue Springs, Missouri.
  • Two men were found dead outside a bar in Gwinnett County, Georgia, including one of the bar’s co-owners, in the early hours of the morning.
  • South Carolina man shot and killed his wife and then himself in their yard.


The details that come with each new mass shooting are uniquely painful, but what comes next has begun to feel eerily predictable, according to the NPR reporters who are tasked with covering each shooting. In this segment, they identify the pattern of events: There’s the press conference at which law enforcement officers seek to calm the community; the scrambling families looking for loved ones who might have fallen victim; the memorial vigils; the troubling feeling that the next gun rampage is inevitable.

Along with this familiar script are the images that accompany it. As Alice Gregory wrote for The Trace in the aftermath of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, these incidents have spawned now-familiar photographic sub-genres: the candlelight vigil; the sobbing, solitary onlooker; the press conference; the phalanx of first responders.

The Trace’s James Burnett and Elizabeth Van Brocklin also wrote about the phenomena in a Washington Post column shortly after the Parkland shooting, noting that the student-led movement that arose from that tragedy owes its power in part to its refusal to accept the usual run of play. Their demands to break the cycle echoed through the midterms, raising the cost for politicians who choose inaction.

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People comfort each other near the scene of Wednesday's shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. [AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill]

California County Home to Borderline Shooter Has Barely Used State’s ‘Red Flag’ Law

The shooter in Wednesday night’s Thousand Oaks nightclub mass shooting lived in a county where police have not often utilized the state’s “red flag” law, written to keep guns out of hands of dangerous people.

According to the local sheriff, the deceased suspect lived in the Ventura County town of Newbury Park. Police had been called to his home this past April to investigate a disturbance, but he was cleared after a psychiatric evaluation and was not subject to any kind of mental health-related court order.

That leaves open the question of whether the police could have sought an order to keep him away from guns. However, state data shows that, during the first two years of California’s gun violence restraining order law (GVRO), authorities in Ventura County removed guns from potentially dangerous people far less frequently than their counterparts in neighboring Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to data provided by the California Department of Justice, courts issued only four GVROs in Ventura County during 2016 and 2017. Next door in Santa Barbara County, which has about half the population of Ventura County, authorities seized guns 21 times during the same period. Los Angeles County, the most populous in the state, used the orders 32 times.

The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this year that nearly half of California’s counties did not file a single gun violence restraining order in 2016 and 2017.

GVROs and similar programs in other states allow police or family members to petition a judge to temporarily seize guns legally owned by someone whom they can demonstrate is at risk of harming themselves or others.

California passed its GVRO law in the wake of the 2014 Isla Vista spree killing, which was committed by a young man whose parents had pleaded with police to intervene because they feared he might do something dangerous. Police said that, despite the perpetrator’s disturbing behavior and aggressive impulses, he had not committed any crimes, and they had no legal basis to stop him from buying or possessing a gun.

Application of the GVRO law has been uneven throughout the state, but the big Southern California counties have pursued them most frequently. Santa Barbara County, which contains Isla Vista, has used the orders at a higher rate than perhaps any other county in the state. Many counties in the rural north did not secure a single restraining order in 2016 and 2017.

Allison Anderman, managing attorney with the Giffords Law Center, told The Trace that, in her experience, California’s GVRO often goes under-utilized because police agencies don’t know about the law’s existence.

Daily Bulletin: What to Know This Morning on the Thousand Oaks Shooting

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Flags flew at half-staff again yesterday, as details emerged about another horrific mass shooting, this time at a California country music bar. It was the second mass shooting with more than 10 fatalities in less than two weeks. We’ve compiled the latest details, along with other important headlines, below.

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The gunman, Ian Long, was a 28-year-old ex-Marine who’d been on active duty from August 2008 to March 2013. Police had responded to a disturbance at Long’s home earlier this year, but he did not qualify for an emergency psychiatric hold. (California law triggers a five-year gun ban after someone is held for involuntary psychiatric observation for 72 hours.) One of Long’s neighbors from a nearby town told ABC 7 that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, adding, “I don’t know what he was doing with a gun.” It is not yet known if law enforcement considered invoking California’s red flag law, which can be used to disarm legal gun owners who pose a clear threat.

Police arrived at the Borderline bar two-and-a-half minutes after the shooting began. One of the responding deputies was fatally shot, police say. Fifteen minutes later, the second group of law enforcement personnel arrived and the country and western venue and found the suspect dead in an office room with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

There were six off-duty police officers inside at the time of the shooting. A woman who was at the bar said the officers stood in front of her daughter to protect her.

A young congresswoman-elect had plans to celebrate her victory at the bar where the shooting took place. Katie Hill, 31, won a long-shot race to represent California 25th District, which had not elected a Democrat since 1992. She wrote on Twitter that she had been planning to have drinks at Borderline Bar and Grill on Thursday. Her stepsister’s roommate had escaped through a window. “This community is my community,” she wrote. “This is far too close to home.”


New from The Trace: Gun rights groups blocked enforcement of California’s total ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. The shooter was a legal gun owner, but sales of the kind of extended magazines reportedly used in the attack have been barred since 2000. A ballot initiative passed in 2016 also outlawed high-capacity magazines already in circulation. But local gun rights advocates and the National Rifle Association brought suit, and a judge issued an injunction against the total ban two days before it was supposed to go into effect. Brian Freskos has a primer on the case. From the archives: A 2017 study showed that in multiple cities, high-capacity magazines were disproportionately found on guns tied to violent crimes

The NRA has pushed for a bill that would make it easier for veterans with mental health issues to own guns. The measure would require a court hearing and a judge’s ruling in order to add a veteran to a federal database of those deemed mentally incompetent. Under current law, any veteran who has been assigned fiduciaries because of mental incompetency can be barred from gun ownership. Critics of the legislation note that veterans suffer from elevated suicide rates, and records show that veterans barred from guns include tens of thousands with schizophrenia, PTSD, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. 

Most active shooters use pistols, not rifles. Though mass shootings often elicit opposition to assault-style rifles, the majority of active shooters — including the Thousand Oaks gunman — use pistols to carry out such attacks.

The United States is a particularly dangerous place for teens. An analysis from Johns Hopkins Medicine this year found that 15- to 19-year-old Americans are 82 times more likely to die of a gun homicide than young people in other wealthy nations.


As stories of the victims emerge, family and friends are giving us all a sense of the voids they will leave behind. The victims include a college freshman, a recent grad, an aspiring soldier, a fledgling coffee entrepreneur, a Little League umpire, and a Navy veteran who survived the Las Vegas massacre, only to be killed in this latest gun rampage. Here are glimpses at several of them. 

Sergeant Ron Helus was a 29-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office who was planning to retire next year. Helus owned a gun safety company and taught firearms safety courses to concealed-carry permit applicants, law enforcement officials say. Helus was honored with a procession on Thursday morning along the 101 Freeway, where residents gathered and two lines of uniformed deputies raised a salute.

Cody Coffman, 22, had been looking forward to the birth of his sister and was planning to enlist in the Army, his father said. He volunteered as an umpire for a youth baseball league. “This is a heart I will never get back,” his father told reporters on Thursday.

Justin Meek, 23, had recently graduated from California Lutheran University. In a statement, the university president said that Meek had died “heroically” and had saved lives during the shooting. Students and community members flooded the university chapel on Thursday morning to remember him and other victims.

Alaina Housley, 18, had been at the bar with several friends on Wednesday night when she was killed. Her aunt, “Sister, Sister” actress Tamera Mowry-Housley, described her as “an incredible young woman with so much life ahead of her.”

Noel Sparks, 21, was a student at Moorpark College who enjoyed horseback riding and was a member of the United Methodist Church Westlake Village. “She was always so joyful to help others and fill needs,” her friend wrote in a Facebook post.

Sean Adler, 48, had recently retired as the wrestling coach at a local high school to open his “dream business,” a coffeeshop called Rivalry Roasters. He still made time to work with students, the team wrote on Facebook, and did shifts as a bouncer at Borderline to make extra income as his coffeeshop got off the ground. “He was positive, motivational, and truly wanted the best for the people around him,” the post read.

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Democrat Lucy McBath, who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in Georgia's 6th Congressional District speaks during a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Daily Bulletin: Gun Violence Activist to Represent Georgia in Congress

Hello, readers. One of the final races to be decided in the 2018 midterms produced a dramatic shift in Georgia, where the Congressional seat once occupied by Newt Gingrich will now be held by a Democrat who ran on her work and life story as a gun reform advocate. That news, along with other notable outcomes from Tuesday’s vote, continues below.

The mother of a shooting victim won a Congressional seat. In Georgia, Lucy McBath, a black woman whose teenage son was fatally shot by a white man over “loud music” in 2012, declared victory on Wednesday over incumbent Republican Karen Handel, who conceded this morning. The district, Georgia’s 6th, was represented by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

And a man whose son was killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting was elected to the Colorado Legislature. Tom Sullivan, a gun reform advocate, defeated a Republican with an A-rating from the NRA.

A clear majority of midterm voters favored stricter gun laws, according to an NBC News exit poll. Sixty percent of those surveyed said they support tighter regulations on firearms; that includes 42 percent of gun owners and 76 percent of non-gun owners. Ten percent of voters said gun policy was their number one issue, 70 percent of whom voted Democratic.

County gun rights ordinances passed in Oregon with the help of militia groups. Militia groups celebrated a victory on Tuesday when voters in eight counties approved a ballot measure declaring the right to own semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, regardless of state or federal law. Two right-wing militia groups — the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers — campaigned for the ordinance across the state. From The Trace archives: Right-wing militias are becoming increasingly active in local politics. In 2017, Alex Yablon wrote about how chapters of  Three Percenters and Oath Keepers have emerged as political players, providing security for local pro-Trump politicians and Republican organizations.

The Supreme Court refused to hear a concealed-carry case. On Monday, the court turned away a challenge to a California law that allows sheriffs to deny concealed-carry permits for good cause. The challenge, brought by two Californians who were refused licenses more than a decade ago, alleges that they were deprived of their Second Amendment rights and equal protection under the law. After their case was dismissed, they appealed to a higher court, which upheld the dismissal. The Supreme Court then turned it away.

A man was killed by police who came to take his guns under Maryland’s new “red flag” law. Gary Willis, 61, answered the door with a gun in his hand when police arrived to disarm him during a pre-dawn visit on Monday. After struggling with officers over the gun, one of them shot him. A family member made the call to police requesting an extreme risk protective order. Another family member said officers should have negotiated with Willis longer.

A grieving family is pushing for a law that would make it illegal for off-duty cops to drink while armed. Two years after an intoxicated off-duty police officer fatally shot Michael Gaffney, 37, during a bar fight in New Jersey, the victim’s family wants lawmakers to take up “Gaffney’s Law,” a bill that would implement criminal penalties for off-duty officers who drink while carrying concealed guns. “This never should have happened to Michael. It should have already been a law,” Gaffney’s mother said.

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Daily Bulletin: Where Gun Reform Candidates Made Gains Last Night

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Anyone else need an extra cup coffee this morning? After a long night tracking the returns, we can begin to discern patterns and reach some takeaways regarding how groups and candidates on both sides of the gun issue fared in the 2018 midterms, and what those results might mean going forward.

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There was no widespread anti-gun-control backlash. The old logic of Democratic campaign strategists in competitive contests was that raising gun reform as an election issue meant mobilizing pro-gun voters to defeat you. Last night, Democrats earning F ratings from the NRA for their views on gun laws prevailed not only in increasingly blue swing states like Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Colorado, but also in conservative strongholds like South Carolina and Kansas. In the House of Representatives, where votes are still being tallied in a handful of nail-biter races, pro-gun-control Democrats who flipped seats in GOP territory may pad the majority that the party seized in this election.

Gun violence prevention groups got a positive return on their investment in House races. In a first, Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords outspent the National Rifle Association this year on federal contests. In four of the six House races the reform groups poured the most money into, their preferred candidates won. They may claim a fifth in Georgia’s 6th District, where Democrat Lucy McBath received $4.1 million from gun reform groups in a race that’s too close to call, though McBath is leading by 0.9 percent. McBath became a gun violence prevention activist following the death of her son, Jordan Davis, in a 2012 “stand your ground” shooting in Florida, and the district has been in the national spotlight ever since Jon Ossoff raised a boatload of money in a losing special election bid early in the Trump era. (Standard disclosure: Everytown’s nonpolitical arm is among The Trace’s funders.)

The NRA’s candidates helped Republicans hold the Senate. The map always looked tough for Democrats, whose slim path to a majority disappeared when Republicans picked up Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana and held Tennessee — the three Senate races where the NRA made seven-figure plays during a cycle in which its overall spending was down dramatically.

The Parkland kids who brought a jolt of momentum to gun reform did not see it translate into what would have been a cathartic win at home. Democrat and proud NRA foe Andrew Gillum lost the Florida gubernatorial race to Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis in a state where available campaign finance data shows Everytown spending at least $3 million and the NRA at least $1.3 million. The Guardian’s Lois Beckett was on the scene as March For Our Lives activists watched the returns, and captured their mix of anger, frustration, and resolve. In another high-profile governor’s race in which gun issues were a factor, Georgia Democratic hopeful Stacey Abrams is declining to concede until all ballots are counted in a contest that could come down to fewer than 10,000 votes.

Democratic gains in other gubernatorial and state legislative races may well be the biggest story of 2018 when it comes to the fate of actual gun safety measures. The party gained seven governorships, including in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker was bounced despite more than $1 million in support from the NRA. Democrats also flipped six legislative chambers.

Voters continue to choose stronger gun laws when they get to decide directly. Washington State’s multi-million-dollar Initiative 1639 passed with 60 percent of the vote, after the NRA tried (and failed) to keep it off the ballot and spent nearly $500,000 to defeat it. The measure enacts strict regulations on those seeking to buy assault-style weapons; implements a safe-storage requirement; and increases penalties for gun owners who fail to use gun locks. It’s at least the fourth gun safety ballot initiative to pass in Western states in the past few years.

George Soros Is Not the Gun Grabber the NRA Says He Is

“Your Freedom is Under Attack!” warn emails the National Rifle Association sent to its members, urging them to vote for pro-gun candidates in this Tuesday’s midterm elections. Under attack from whom? Villains who have sent the political right into a froth this campaign season: “George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and the anti-gun elite.”

While the NRA has publicized Soros’s role bankrolling left-leaning causes for more than a decade, in the past year the group has seized on him as a useful villain in its election messaging. In 2018’s pantheon of “anti-gunner” enemies, the Hungarian-born Jewish hedge fund billionaire and liberal philanthropist has outranked Bloomberg (who founded Everytown for Gun Safety, a seed donor to The Trace that provides ongoing funding). Some of the tweets provoked backlash from critics who said they promulgated anti-Semitic tropes about cosmopolitan Jewish financiers manipulating politics.

The messaging is particularly odd because, while Soros has said he favors stricter gun laws, he has not sunk much into gun control causes in nearly 20 years.

Though Soros has contributed tens of millions to Democratic Super PACs, he channels his issue-specific giving through the Open Society Foundations, a collection of nonprofits he founded in 1984, originally to advocate for democratic norms in the former Eastern Bloc. Over the past three decades, the Open Society Foundations have ballooned into one of the largest philanthropic operations in the world, with an endowment of approximately $20 billion and an annual operating budget of nearly $1 billion.

In an emailed statement, Open Society said that, while it made one-time contributions to gun violence reduction efforts following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and this past February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, it has not had a gun violence program since the turn of the millennium. Spokesperson Laura Silber said that, over the past 20 years, Open Society has spent $3 million total on efforts to reduce gun violence.

The majority of that $3 million was directed toward the Funders’ Collaborative For Gun Violence Prevention between 1999 and 2002. The philanthropy’s annual reports and budgets from 2014 to 2018 do not mention guns or gun violence even once.

Despite Open Society’s turn away from the issue of gun violence, rumors circulated on the right wing that Soros funded the March for Our Lives, the post-Parkland youth protest movement. In February, Open Society issued a statement denying any connection to the demonstrators.

Facts aside, though, Soros makes a useful villain for the NRA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The group’s allies in the Trump-led Republican Party have already said, without evidence, that this “globalist” enemy is behind the caravan of Central American refugees heading north through Mexico.