Shock and sorrow tore through another community on Friday after a middle school shooting in central Indiana sent a teacher and a teenage student to the hospital in critical condition.
The shooting occurred at Noblesville West Middle School, which overlooks a reservoir some 30 miles north of Indianapolis. At a press conference, officials confirmed that they had arrested a male student believed to be the assailant. Local news media reported that the teacher was shot while trying to tackle the shooter. The injured student was 13 years old.
Days before students were scheduled to begin their summer break, the burst of gun violence plunged the usually tranquil suburb into panic. The incident was called in to 911 as an active shooter situation shortly after 9 a.m., drawing a huge law enforcement response as officials scrambled to clear the school and evacuate its 1,300 students. Local news broadcasts showed the familiar image of students streaming out of a building into a line of waiting school buses. At nearby Noblesville High School, a throng of parents anxiously waited to be reunited with their children.
“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case, and I think that would include a lot of kids, not only the ones that truly were the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of the situation,” Lieutenant Bruce Barnes, a spokesman for the Noblesville Police Department, said during a news conference.
The shooting comes exactly one week after a 17-year-old student rampaged through Sante Fe High School south of Houston, using his father’s guns to kill 10 people, and a little more than three months after a 19-year-old armed with an assault-style rifle attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, taking 17 lives.
An analysis published earlier this week by CNN found that there had been 288 school shootings – defined as an incident in which at least one person besides the shooter was shot on school grounds – in the United States since 2009. That’s 57 times the number of school shootings that occurred over the same period in the world’s other major industrialized countries, combined.
For all their horrors, school shootings account for a sliver of the nearly 1,300 American children under 18 who are fatally shot each year. In the last week, at least nine American teens have died from gunshot injuries. They include a 16-year-old boy fatally shot in the face on Sunday in a neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and a 17-year-old Ohio boy gunned down by a friend early Tuesday morning after the two of them got into an argument.
Elsewhere, flying bullets left children unscathed but nonetheless shaken. On Thursday in Atlanta, gunfire caused a scare outside a preschool graduation ceremony. Police said two men were arguing over a child-custody matter nearby when one of them opened fire.
“Children were crying,” a state lawmaker who delivered the commencement speech told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“I just pray that their young minds somehow forget that as they left their pre-K graduation, there was gunfire waiting for them on the other side of the door.”
Criminal violence in that country is overwhelmingly committed with firearms, most of which are sourced from the United States. This week, experts on gun policy and Latin America and members of Congress held a Capitol Hill briefing on the issue. They urged the White House and lawmakers to confront the vicious cycle by which loose gun laws here fuel soaring crime south of the border and send refugees fleeing north.
The event was organized by Representatives Alan Lowenthal, Ruben Gallego, and Norma Torres, all Democrats. Several presenters pressed the point that the same policies that contribute to firearm violence in American communities also help arm transnational criminal organizations like drug cartels.
“We are part and parcel of this problem,” Lowenthal said.
The elected officials expressed exasperation with the Trump administration, which is openly hostile to Latin American refugees fleeing criminal violence. They also criticized the Obama administration for backing off cross-border trafficking after the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal in 2011. “I was deeply disappointed the Obama administration did not do more. They were scared” after Fast and Furious, said Gallego.
Current law and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives practices, which limit public disclosures of detailed trace data, shield gun dealers from scrutiny when weapons they sell end up used in crimes or smuggled abroad. “We know of the gun dealers taking part in this,” Gallego added.
The ATF has found that approximately 70 percent of all crime guns submitted by Mexican authorities for tracing every year originated in the United States. As Eugenio Weigand and Chelsea Parsons of the liberal policy institute Center for American Progress found in a report they released in February, the portion of homicides in Mexico committed with guns increased from a slim minority to fully two-thirds over the past two decades.
Yet American efforts to clamp down on the southward flow of guns has not kept pace, said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, an advocacy group. The number of prosecutions for smuggling goods out of the country, a statute used most commonly to bust gun traffickers, varies widely from year to year. According to the Federal Judicial Center, which tracks federal prosecutions, 159 defendants were charged in smuggling cases in 2017, up from 71 the year before.
Mexican law makes it far more difficult for civilians to buy firearms than in the United States. However, Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group, said that violence, criminal impunity, and police corruption have grown so rampant that Mexico has begun to see an increase in gun ownership by ordinary citizens for self-defense. Many of those residents are also turning to the black market, since they don’t feel they can count on corrupt police and the country only has one legal gun store.
Meyer argued that Mexicans are arming themselves out of desperation, rather than embracing an American-style gun culture — indeed, she said Mexicans have a “sense of bafflement” at American mores around firearms.
A 2017 survey of Mexican gun owners by David Perez Esparza of University College London and David Hemenway of Harvard found that most had acquired a weapon for self-defense during the past five years. A majority believed the proliferation of guns would ultimately make the country more dangerous.
The participants in Wednesday’s forum agreed that the best means of tackling the illicit cross-border gun trade were the same they would recommend for reducing shootings in the United States: universal background check requirements to reduce unregulated private sales, a revived ban on assault weapon, and better oversight of dealers.
Anti-violence activists in Mexico are aware of the common interest in reducing the flow of illegal weapons. On the same day that the Democratic Congress members and other policy experts were convened in Washington, a coalition of Latin American advocacy groups published an open letter expressing solidarity with the Parkland, Florida, teen activists, and calling for the United States to amend its gun laws and export practices.
Hello, readers. Parkland activism marches on with a lawsuit against the maker and seller of the assault-style rifle used in the school massacre, as well as an ambitious youth voter registration drive. Plus, innovative research on Chicago’s underground gun market provides a new tool for stemming the flow of illegal weapons. Those stories and more, below.
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Two Parkland families are suing the maker and seller of the gun used to kill their children in February’s massacre. The parents of Jaime Guttenberg and Alex Schachter filed lawsuits on Wednesday against the gunmaker American Outdoor Brands, which owns Smith & Wesson, and the Coral Springs gun store Sunrise Tactical Supply. The lawsuit alleges that the businesses are complicit in “the entirely foreseeable, deadly use of the assault-style weapons that they place on the market.” Before the suit can proceed, the plaintiffs will have to convince a judge to void or clarify a 2001 Florida law that shields gun businesses from some liability.
New from The Trace: In Chicago, illegal guns are just a few “handshakes” away. To better understand how deadly weapons move through the streets of Chicago, researchers at Northwestern University mapped access to guns among residents with police records. Brian Freskos spoke with an author of the groundbreaking study, who summed up its potential use at ground-level. “We need people who deal with the impacts of gun violence to use these maps to direct those efforts.”
Police departments aren’t taking full advantage of a powerful crime-solving technology, a joint report from NBC Bay Area and The Trace shows. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) can match shell casings at crime scenes with the guns that fired them. Used properly, it has led to the arrest of repeat shooters. While the technology has been available since the 1990s, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says it will require a “paradigm shift” within police departments in order to realize its full potential.
U.S. senator from Florida introduced a bill to modernize the tracing of crime guns. The legislation from Democrat Bill Nelson would create an electronic database of gun sale records and require firearm dealers to provide the agency with electronic access to their transaction histories. The measure addresses one of the five policy priorities of the March for Our Lives movement, and comes as Nelson faces a re-election race against Governor Rick Scott, who signed a package of new gun restrictions after Parkland. Here’s our guide to why gun traces are so antiquated and laborious: “The ATF’s Nonsensical Non-Searchable Gun Databases, Explained”
The Massachusetts House of Representatives advanced an extreme-risk protection order bill. Despite opposition from local gun groups and the National Rifle Association, the bill is expected to become law. It goes further than some other red flag laws by including family members and other persons among those authorized to petition for the temporary removal of guns from people deemed a threat. Follow along: We’re tracking the status of extreme-risk protection order laws in state capitols across the country.
The Trump administration published a long-sought-after rule change for gun exports yesterday. Earlier this month, Alex Yablon explained the proposed shift, which would make it easier for American gun companies to export firearms. The plan, originally proposed by the Obama administration, stalled after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. President Trump is now pushing it forward.
Parkland students are organizing “the largest voter registration push for youth ever in American history.” That’s according to activist David Hogg, who shared the plan with Guardian reporter Lois Beckett. Hogg said student organizers will focus their energy this summer on getting young people to the polls in districts with low youth turnout and NRA-backed candidates. Related: Several states are recording spikes in youth voter registration since the Parkland shooting.
Hogg and his classmates are calling for a die-in today at Publix grocery stores. The chain has come under criticism after the Tampa Bay Times reported that it donated more than $500,000 to a pro-NRA gubernatorial candidate’s campaign in Florida.
A man who acquired firearms for a serial killer has pleaded guilty to federal gun charges. The buyer admitted to straw-purchasing at least a dozen weapons for Todd Kohlhepp, a convicted felon who killed seven people in South Carolina between 2002 and 2015. Related: A woman in Washington State was sentenced to one year in prison for straw-purchasing nine weapons for her boyfriend, Brent Luyster, a felon and white supremacist. In 2016, Luyster used one of the guns to murder three people.
Police raids resulted in the seizure of 53 illegal guns from motorcycle gangs in Rhode Island. Authorities on Wednesday arrested more than 50 members of Rhode Island biker gangs The Pagans and Kryptmen, who state police say were involved in gun and drug trafficking.
ONE LAST THING
Journeys of gun violence survival, rendered in miniature. Each year, more than 100,000 Americans are shot. Most of them live. Elizabeth Van Brocklin has been reporting on this overlooked population for more than a year. On The Trace’s Twitter page, she shared 10 first-person accounts from gunshot survivors she has met through her reporting. Their stories are incredibly powerful, even when told in 280 characters or less.
Chicago has heralded much-welcome reductions in gun violence this year, but the city is still regularly convulsed by shootings, with some 50 people injured or killed by gunfire in the first week of May alone. Just how easy it is for Chicago’s shooters to obtain their weapons came into sharper relief this month, thanks to innovative new research.
The study shows that a few degrees of separation stand in the way of criminals and someone who could supply them with a gun. Its findings could help law enforcement and anti-violence groups direct their resources more efficiently as they work to interrupt the flow and use of illegal firearms.
Published in the Journal of Urban Health, the research opens a window into Chicago’s illicit gun trade and highlights the importance of gangs and social connections in accessing firearms. Among the researchers’ findings is that criminals who had been arrested were on average between two and three “handshakes” away from someone caught with an illegal gun. Belonging to a gang puts guns within even easier reach.
“It’s the equivalent of me asking Brian for a gun and Brian saying, ‘I don’t have one, but I got a guy,’” Andrew Papachristos, a sociology professor at Northwestern University and one of the study’s authors, told The Trace. “So it’s not immediate, but it’s pretty darn close.”
Previous research suggests that Chicago’s illegal gun market consists of a relatively small number of buyers and sellers. As a result, the new study argues, connections play a huge role. Gangs may make the process of acquiring illegal guns even easier by stockpiling firearms for leaders to distribute or loan out, and by facilitating introductions to brokers and traffickers. The study found that gang membership reduced the distance to an illegal firearm by 27 percent.
Papachristos conducted the study along with Anthony Braga, a criminologist from Northeastern University, and Elizabeth Roberto, a sociologist from Rice University.
To conduct their research, the team pored over hundreds of thousands of police records to conduct what is known as a network analysis. Using Chicago Police Department data, the team identified “co-offenders” — individuals who had been arrested together — and tagged those identified by the CPD as gang members. People arrested with an illegal gun were also tagged. Then the team mapped out the associations between all the parties, producing a network of more than 123,000 directly or indirectly connected offenders. Using that network map, researchers calculated how close an offender in the network was to someone known to have possessed an illegal firearm.
Law enforcement officials and anti-violence workers could use similar mapping techniques to target the suppliers of illegal guns and get those weapons off the street, Papachristos said.
“If part of the network has a ton of guns, that might be where you want to send your specialists, to get people to put them down, turn them in, or at the very least, not use them,” he said. “We need people who deal with the impacts of gun violence to use these maps to direct those efforts.”
Chicago police have long acknowledged the importance of cracking down on illegal guns, boasting that they seize an average of 7,000 firearms each year. But officials complain that their efforts are consistently overwhelmed by traffickers who exploit weaker gun laws in other states and elsewhere in Illinois to obtain firearms that they then ferry into the city. A report released by the city in October showed that more than half — 60 percent — of guns recovered by police between 2013 and 2016 were originally purchased in another state.
Researchers also looked at which offenders in the network had been victims of gun violence. They found that the closer gang members were to someone with an illegal firearm, the likelier it was that they had been shot themselves, underscoring how proximity to guns through social connections can put people at greater risk of death and injury, even if they do not possess weapons themselves.
“These guns are in these cars, in these houses, with these individuals in their hands, and even if people don’t know it, their risk could be elevated,” Papachristos said. “Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not going to kill you.”
Hello, readers. A window for a bipartisan gun safety measure opens (maybe) in Texas. Angry motorists are (still) pulling guns on other drivers. And a set of defamation lawsuits by Sandy Hook families against a notorious conspiracy-monger tests a bigger question: can peddlers of fake news be held liable in court? Those stories and more, below.
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Alex Jones is facing another lawsuit from Sandy Hook families. On Wednesday, six families of victims killed in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, and an FBI agent who responded to the scene filed a defamation lawsuit against the talk show host for peddling the objectively false theory that the shooting was staged by the federal government to facilitate new gun restrictions. Last month, two families filed similar lawsuits against Jones. One of the plaintiffs, Lenny Pozner, talked to The Trace in 2015 about how he has made it his life’s work to protect the honor of his murdered son.
Support for gun control has returned to pre-Parkland levels, according to a Reuters poll released Wednesday.After February’s mass shooting, the number of Americans who said they supported “strong or moderate regulations or restrictions on firearms” jumped to 75 percent. Now, that number has dipped to 69 percent. The poll was conducted before the Santa Fe, Texas, school shooting. Vox’s German Lopez argues that the longer-term trend lines tell the bigger story. During the years since Sandy Hook, he writes, “Some of the increase in support after mass shootings has stuck. So Americans are slowly but surely moving toward supporting stricter gun laws.”
One of the victims of Friday’s school shooting died protecting his classmates. Other students told officials that Christian “Riley” Garcia saved their lives by barricading a door in the art classroom during the massacre, Garcia’s pastor says.
Texas school safety roundtables find some consensus on safe gun storage. On day two of the closed-door talks in Austin, Governor Greg Abbott reportedly joined representatives of gun safety and gun rights groups in expressing support for responsible firearm-storage practices. After the session, Abbott told reporters he’s open to requirements for the reporting of stolen or lost guns (which are a significant source of crime weapons), as well as to hastening notifications to law enforcement when a person is involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment. The sessions continue today when survivors of Friday’s school shooting and last fall’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs join Abbott and other lawmakers in the state capital.
Parkland students made the rounds in Washington, D.C. David Hogg, one of the most prominent student activists, shared photos at the Capitol on Tuesday and described his 15 meetings with members of Congress as “very productive.” On Wednesday, his classmates were joined by students from Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood and other marginalized communities at a meeting of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the House of Representatives, where they offered suggestions for gun reform.
Baltimore police are increasingly solving murders by naming dead men as the perpetrators. The Baltimore Sun reports that the number of homicides closed “by exception” in the city has more than tripled in the past three years, which has contributed to a higher overall clearance rate. Police say it’s common for suspects and victims to overlap in the city’s cycle of retaliatory gun battles, but critics say those families have a right to answers, too.
A man who opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport last January has pleaded guilty to killing five people and wounding six others. The suspect was found “mentally competent” by a judge and is expected to spend his life in prison. At the time of his arrest, the 28-year-old military veteran told police that he had been “programmed” by the government. He has been taking medication to treat a schizophrenia diagnosis.
A “stand your ground” bill is inching ahead in Ohio. The measure, which expands the locations where citizens can use deadly force in self-defense, is supported by the National Rifle Association. The bill, which passed a House committee on Tuesday, heads to the House floor for a vote. Republican Governor John Kasich has said he opposes the measure.
In New Jersey, a package of gun safety bills is advancing. The New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved six gun-related bills this week. Among them: a red flag bill, expanded background checks, and a limit on magazine sizes. The legislation will now move to the Senate for a vote.
North Carolina lawmakers punted a red flag bill. On Monday, a North Carolina state representative proposed a gun-violence restraining order bill that would allow judges to temporarily remove guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others. By the end of the day on Tuesday, it had been cast to the Rules Committee, where lawmakers say “bills go to die.” Meanwhile: In Pennsylvania, a group of law enforcement officials voiced their support for a similar bill in their state. “When we see an opportunity to have a tool to prevent these tragedies, we support it,” said the executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.
ONE LAST THING
Three instances of gun-related road rage on Tuesday left two people injured. In Woburn, Massachusetts, a drunk driver reportedly chased a vehicle down a highway before crashing into it, pulling over, and pointing his gun at the driver. In another instance that day, a man in Woodstock, Georgia, fired a gun, hitting another driver whose 1-year-old child was also in the car. Tuesday evening, a road rage incident in Parker, Colorado, also escalated to gunfire. One man was injured. The sound of gunshots sent bystanders into a panic and a nearby hospital into a lockdown.
Between 2015 and 2016, the number of road rage incidents involving guns more than doubled, our analysis found. There are no signs the pace has let up. According to Gun Violence Archive, there have already been 264 road rage incidents involving guns in 2018, leaving at least 24 people dead and another 64 injured.
The Trace’s yearlong investigation into the violent consequences of rising gun theft has earned a reporting award from the Deadline Club.
“The Trace’s topnotch technique paired sophisticated data analysis with dogged shoe-leather reporting to circumvent governmental opacity and link the alarming statistics to real-life stories,” wrote the contest judges. “The result: An exceptional package that covers a largely unknown, under-reported and real danger that demands our attention.”
The Deadline Club is the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Its annual journalism contest honors the best work by New York-based news organizations.
Joining The Trace as finalists in the category of Reporting by Independent Digital Media were fellow nonprofit news organizations The Intercept and InsideClimate News. Winners were announced on May 21.
The Trace’s Brian Freskos led the exhaustive reporting that powered the Missing Pieces project. Trace visual journalist Daniel Nass provided data analysis and visualizations, and contributor Max Siegelbaum added further reporting.
Little research exists on gun theft and its role in providing the tools for violent crimes, and the federal government has not made public its data on gun theft. To get around those obstacles, Freskos and his collaborators collected more 800,000 law enforcement records from more than one thousand state and local agencies.
After standardizing the data, they looked for matches between guns reported stolen and guns later recovered at crime scenes. Their reporting identified at least 1,500 stolen firearms used in violent crimes, including murders, sexual assaults, and armed robberies. After securing previously unpublished figures from the Federal Bureau Investigation, the investigation pinpointed a worsening problem: the number of guns reported stolen has risen every year for at least the past decade.
Crucial to the project was the collaboration of 13 local NBC stations, which produced in-depth segments on the effects of rising gun theft in their communities. To further facilitate local reporting and follow-up research, The Trace also made public the massive collection of data it gathered, leading to subsequent articles by several more local outlets.
Missing Pieces has prompted several major police departments to warn residents of the public safety risk posed by lax gun storage. Editorial boards in cities with high rates of gun violence, as well as online publications serving gun owners, published warnings to their readers about the dangers of unsecured weapons. In April, a top gun violence scholar, citing the investigation, issued a call for more research on the threat of stolen firearms.
The Deadline Club award comes as The Trace expands its collaborative model to new audiences and mediums.
On May 22, we released the first two episodes of Aftermath, a podcast on shooting survivors co-reported by The Trace’s Elizabeth Van Brocklin and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Amber Hunt. In a separate partnership that debuted this month, Van Brocklin worked with Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health to explore the long-term psychological trauma of gun violence.
The Trace is always eager to hear from journalists interested in partnering with our nonprofit newsroom. Got an idea for a project? Please drop a note to Senior Editor Akoto Ofori-Atta at [email protected].
Hello, readers. One thing we report on here at The Trace is relevant new research. Sometimes the findings are shocking on their own, like this item from Monday: “Roughly 4.6 million American kids live in homes with unlocked, loaded guns.” Sadly, the daily headlines we sweep when compiling these newsletters have a tendency to include terrible illustrations of the statistics we cover. Such was the case with two stories involving toddlers in Virginia. Please read on.
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The Washington Post asked every member of the House of Representatives how they would vote on the March for Our Lives gun policy agenda. What the paper found:
156 Democrats and two Republicans expressed support for all five of the proposals, which include universal background checks and bans on assault-style weapons ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds
One Democrat and 24 Republicans opposed or declined to support the proposals
One Dem and three GOP members support some but not all of the Parkland activists’ remedies
Another 245 lawmakers did not reply
“Given The Post‘s extensive efforts to contact every lawmaker, nonresponse may be its own type of response: a deliberate refusal to engage on the issue,” writes Christopher Ingraham in his analysis. Eighty-six percent of non-respondents were Republicans. Related: In March, we broke down the Parkland platform.
Some California lawmakers want to let school employees file for gun-violence restraining orders. On Monday, the state Assembly passed a bill that would expand California’s red flag law. The change would also allow co-workers to petition for the temporary removal of guns from people at risk of harming themselves or others.
Two more states are advancing red flag bills. An extreme-risk protection order bill cleared a New York State Senate committee on Tuesday. Today, the Massachusetts House of Representatives is scheduled to take up a red flag bill. Stay updated: We’re keeping track of these bills across the country.
Educators are lobbying against policies that would arm teachers and staff. Since Parkland, 14 states have introduced 25 measures to arm teachers and staff. Of those, only one has passed: The Florida School Safety Bill passed by lawmakers after Parkland included a provision that allows some teachers to be armed with the consent of the school district and sheriff’s department. One reason the measures have stalled is vocal opposition from educators — the majority of whom oppose being armed, according to polling by the National Education Association.
“Door control” is an inadequate response to school shootings, experts say. After Friday’s school shooting, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas said that “too many entrances and too many exits” was a key reason the gunman wasn’t stopped. Security experts told the Washington Post that limiting doors would be prohibitively expensive and a potential fire hazard.
The school security market is now a multibillion-dollar industry. Despite little proof that high-tech security systems prevent violence, companies are selling technology built for the military and police to schools all over the country.
An Ohio man was shot twice when the revolver he kept in his oven went off. Detectives say the gun, which was stored in the broiler for safekeeping, discharged after someone turned on the oven to cook on Sunday.
Two Virginia 2-year-olds were unintentionally shot and killed on the same day. A toddler in Louisa, Virginia, was accidentally shot by his 4-year-old brother while the siblings were playing with a gun they believed to be a toy, the sheriff’s office said. In Roanoke, police say a boy who unintentionally shot himself later died in the hospital. From The Trace Archives: About every other day in the United States, children injure or kill someone with a firearm, our analysis from 2016 found. Between September 2014 and September 2016, The Trace’s Jennifer Mascia counted nearly 300 such incidents. In 113 of the cases, the shooter was under the age of 4.
In the past decade, the United States has had 57 times as many school shootings as the six other major industrialized nations combined. CNN reviewed media reports and databases of shootings worldwide and counted 288 shootings at American schools since 2009. France and Canada are tied for second place, with two recorded shootings each.
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A gun doesn’t have to go off to cause harm in an abusive relationship: By one estimate, 4.5 million American women have been coerced or bullied by an armed intimate partner. Have you ever been threatened with a gun in the context of an intimate relationship? For an upcoming article, we are interested in hearing your story. Please consider filling out our short questionnaire. Your answers will be confidential.
Hello, readers. Reach for those bookmark buttons: We’ve got one, two, three, four Trace originals for you today. Those links, plus the latest on the Santa Fe school shooting, round out today’s briefing.
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New from The Trace: Aftermath, our new podcast collaboration, premieres today. In the first episode, a woman who was shot by her stepfather when she was 13 shares her five-decade journey of recovery. In episode two, hear about how a shooting rampage at a country music concert brought two best friends even closer. Aftermath is a partnership of The Trace’s Elizabeth Van Brocklin and the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Amber Hunt and is distributed with help from the USA Today Network. Follow this link to subscribe via iTunes.
Roughly 4.6 million American kids live alongside unlocked, loaded guns. Trace contributor Nora Biette-Timmons digs into the data on safe firearms storage, and the lack thereof in some homes, including just how many American children live in households where adults fail to safely store their firearms.
Texas commences roundtables on school safety. Governor Greg Abbott has invited lawmakers to meet with students, educators, and advocates at the state Capitol this week to discuss a range of issues, including school security, mental health, bullying, and gun policy.
Governor Abbott’s re-election campaign scrapped a plan to give away a shotgun. The contest drew controversy after Friday’s attack.
The school resource officer who was shot while rushing the gunman at Santa Fe High School is still fighting for his life. Officer John Barnes was wounded when he ran toward the sound of gunfire on Friday. Since then, his heart has stopped twice and his kidney function is still “in peril,” according to his stepfather. Officer Barnes, whose lifelong dream was to be a cop, has been hailed as a hero by his colleagues, friends, and family for his actions last week.
The explosives found on the campus of Santa Fe High School on Friday were functional, law enforcement officials now say. Authorities had previously said that the devices were duds incapable of inflicting harm.
Oliver North, the incoming president of the National Rifle Association, blames school shootings on a “culture of violence.” He used to promote violent video games. The Washington Post spots the apparent hypocrisy, noting that North once appeared in an ad campaign for “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” an edition of the controversial first-person shooter franchise. “I don’t think the average American grasps how violent war is about to become,” he says in one of the promos.
Over the past school year, more than 30 guns have been confiscated on K-12 campuses in Atlanta. Records from the five largest metro-Atlanta school districts document at least 33 guns confiscated by police since the start of the school year. Nine of those were confiscated after the Parkland shooting. From The Trace archives: In the 2015–2016 academic year, The Trace found 269 instances of students caught with guns on school grounds.
A former education secretary called for a student strike for gun reform. “Maybe it’s time for 50 million school parents to simply pull their kids out of school until we have better gun laws,” Arne Duncan tweeted on Friday. Related: Students are organizing a nationwide die-in day on June 12. On the second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, organizers are calling for protests “at the [Capitol] and anywhere with lethal legislative inaction.”
Microsoft’s co-founder donated a million dollars to a gun safety initiative in Washington State. The ballot measure would raise the minimum purchase age and strengthen background checks for semiautomatic rifles, create standards for safe storage, and mandate that gun buyers be notified of the risks of firearm ownership. In a statement on Twitter announcing his donation, Paul Allen called the measure “a reasonable and necessary measure that will improve the safety of our schools and our communities.” The initiative needs 259,000 signatures of registered Washington voters to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. In recent election cycles, Washington approved universal background checks and extreme-risk protection orders via popular vote.
The 72 hours after the Santa Fe shooting were some of the most violent this year. Gun Violence Archive notes that 88 people were killed by gunfire and another 222 were injured in the three days immediately following the shooting.
ONE LAST THING
Four women open up about the trauma of gun violence. To learn more about the psychological toll of the gun violence epidemic, Elizabeth Van Brocklin, in collaboration with Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health magazines, spoke with four survivors about how their lives were changed by a bullet, and what they’ve done to heal. The women told her about their nightmares, depression, and sleeplessness. They also shared how they’ve used counseling, advocacy, and volunteering to help ease their pain. Read their stories here.
A country where one in three households owns guns is a country where a lot of children grow up alongside deadly weapons. New calculations indicate just how many of those kids live in homes where adults fail to safely store their firearms.
According to the analysis, an estimated 4.6 million American children reside in a household where at least one gun is kept loaded and unlocked. The study’s authors alsodetermined that the share of child-rearing gun owners who don’t secure all their firearms has nearly tripled since the last time similar research was conducted.
The findings were published online on May 10 in the Journal of Urban Health, a little more than a week before a gun rampage outside of Houston provided a horrific illustration of the dangers that arise when firearms are left accessible to children and teens.
Kids find guns and unintentionally shoot themselves or others. Unsecured firearms are a leading means of youth suicide. As the nation was reminded last Friday, children also sometimes use their parents’ or caregivers’ guns to commit homicides or mass murders: The 17-year-old student charged with fatally shooting 10 and wounding 13 more at his high school in Sante Fe, Texas, on Friday reportedly carried out his attack with a shotgun and revolver belonging to his father. A federal analysis of school shootings released in 2004 found that 65 percent of perpetrators used a gun owned by a relative.
The new numbers on kids and unsafely stored guns are the latest takeaways from the National Firearms Survey of 2015, the most comprehensive examination of American gun ownership in 20 years. Led by Deborah Azrael of Harvard and Matthew Miller of Northeastern University, the inquiry measured a dramatic shift in preferences and behaviors, away from rifles owned for hunting or sport-shooting and toward handguns possessed for self-defense.
Overall, the new analysis shows, more gun owners with children in their homes store all their guns unloaded and locked up (29 percent) than leave at least one firearm loaded and unsecured (21 percent). The authors believe that among some gun owners, a perceived need to keep firepower at the ready may trump safer storage practices. Households where respondents said they own at least one gun for self-defense were nearly 10 times more likely to leave a gun loaded and unlocked than those for whom firearms serve recreational purposes.
“The overall story that we see is rather than movement toward safer storage, we see movement away from safer storage and that is problematic,” Azrael says.
The rise in the number of children living with unsecured guns cannot be explained only by general population growth, Azrael and her co-authors write in their paper. While earlier studies employed methodologies that may have depressed estimates of unsafe storage, correcting for those undercounts does not affect the overall upward trend.
Adult gun owners have adopted more dangerous storage habits while a related idea has taken root. Polls show that over the past two decades, Americans have come to believe that gun ownership increases public safety and that a home with guns in it is a more secure one. This belief has been fed by the political and media arms of the National Rifle Association. It is not supported by scientific evidence. To the contrary: a 2014 review of existing research published in the Annals of Internal Medicinefound that access to guns doubles the risk of homicide and triples the risk of suicide.
Separate studies suggest that shootings by children are among the most preventable forms of gun violence. After spending two years poring over existing assessments of gun laws, researchers at the RAND Corporation found that statutes imposing criminal liability on adults who allow their firearms to fall into kids’ hands have consistently reduced both firearm suicides and accidental shootings among young people. The RAND team concluded that child-access prevention laws — or CAP laws, to wonks — were the most effective of the 13 categories of laws they examined.
The NRA generally opposes CAP laws or works to water them down. Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have CAP laws in place, though the strength of those laws varies considerably.
Hello, readers. Today we bring you up to speed on the news about Friday’s school shooting in Texas – plus an incident in Mississippi that is just the latest reminder that so much gun violence goes unnoticed.
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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY
The FBI updated the casualty count from Friday’s mass shooting: 10 were fatally shot, and 13 were wounded at Santa Fe High School in Texas. The number of injured was initially estimated at 10. The 17-year-old student who has confessed to the shooting used a shotgun and a handgun reportedly owned by his father. Two devices he intended to use as bombs were ineffective, according to authorities.
Stories of the victims are emerging. Two of the dead were teachers; the other eight were students aged 15 to 17. The Houston Chronicle is collecting remembrances. Glenda Perkins and Cynthia Tisdale, the murdered educators, were both grandmothers. The eight teens had passions ranging from Harry Potter to football to their churches.
One victim was an exchange student from Pakistan due to return home in three weeks. The funeral of Sabika Sheikh,organized by the Islamic Society for Greater Houston, was the first held for Friday’s victims. Though Sheikh had no family in the United States, the service was packed, with mourners overflowing into the courtyard of the local mosque where it was held. Her body is being flown back to Pakistan, where her family will hold a second funeral.
Santa Fe High had adopted aggressive measures to prevent a school shooting. Two armed resource officers patrolled the school, and last fall, the school board approved a plan to arm teachers (though none were carrying weapons yet). After a false alarm in February, the school went into lockdown — and won an award for its emergency response. On Friday, school police officers confronted the shooter within minutes, then engaged in a prolonged gunfight with him. Amid the volley of bullets, school resource officer John Barnes was shot in the arm.
The school’s baseball team had a playoff game on Saturday. Two injured students joined their teammates in the dugout. Pitcher Rome Shubert, 16, was grazed in the back of his head with a bullet; catcher Trenton Beazley, 15, was also injured by gunfire, and had his arm in a sling. Both boys were hiding in a closet when the gunman opened fire through the door. Santa Fe lost the game, but the community gained an occasion for solidarity: Spectators from neighboring towns showed up wearing the team’s colors or T-shirts saying “Santa Fe Strong.”
After yet another school shooting, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has “hit rock bottom.” In a Facebook post that has since received 36,000 reactions, Acevedo directed his ire at those public officials who “acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing.” In March, Acevedo joined students walking in the March for Our Lives in Houston, which is 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe.
Meanwhile, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has called for a statewide moment of silence this morning. In a statement yesterday, he asked that all Texans join to remember the victims, their families, and the first responders at 10 a.m. local time today.
Young activists are personalizing school shooting fears. The Twitter hashtag #IfIDieInASchoolShooting seems to have been launched by a high school student and anti-gun-violence activist in Arlington, Virginia. Thousands of people joined in yesterday, including Parkland students Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez. Some tweets were political (“dump my body in the White House lawn”); others hit emotional notes. Zion Kelly, a Washington, D.C., teenager whose twin was fatally shot during an attempted mugging in the fall, tweeted “#IfIdieInASchoolShooting or any shooting, I want to be buried right next to my brother.”
Several states are recording spikes in youth voter registration. A new analysis from the New York Times finds that after the February shooting, young people (those in their mid-20s and younger) made up a higher proportion of voter registrations in March and April than they had in January and February, especially in swing states like Florida and North Carolina. In April, more than half of newly registered voters in Pennsylvania were young people.
Gun violence continued unabated over the weekend: Seven people were injured and one was killed at a Mississippi nightclub. Police believe the incident in Hazelhurst, about 35 miles south of Jackson, began as a fight. Two suspected gunmen have been identified and there are warrants out for their arrest. The lone fatality was 26-year-old Jonathan Miller.
ONE LAST THING
What it’s like to be a teen gun-violence-prevention activist deep in gun country. After the Parkland shooting, 16-year-old Moriah Engdahl of rural Gillette, Wyoming, began reading about the connection between guns and suicide, and decided to join her peers across the country fighting for new firearms laws. The “Campbell County Ten,” which staged a March for Our Lives event, has dwindled to single digits, but Moriah has remained, fighting to keep guns out of her high school.
The Washington Post’s thoughtful profile of Moriah and her gun-loving father, Alan, was published on Friday, just hours before yet another school shooting rocked the country.
One million American women have survived a gunshot wound or been shot at, according to a 2016 review. But a gun doesn’t have to go off to cause harm in an abusive relationship. The same study estimated that 4.5 million women in the United States have been bullied or coerced with a firearm by an intimate partner.
“If the gun is simply displayed in a hostile way, it can create an ongoing environment of threat and intimidation,” the study’s lead author told us. “It can facilitate chronic, ongoing, physical — as well as sexual and psychological — abuse.”
The problem of “coercive control” includes any behavior that seeks to make an intimate partner feel it’s too dangerous to leave the relationship. Guns, because they are so lethal, can be a darkly effective means to that end. Their mere presence has the potential to elicit a victim’s compliance.
For an upcoming article, The Trace is reporting on this often-overlooked aspect of domestic violence. Have you ever been threatened with a gun in an intimate relationship? We are interested in hearing your story. Please fill out the short survey below.
If you are comfortable speaking with a reporter, you can let us know that when answering the final question. Please know that your answers will remain confidential unless you choose to give your permission to share them with readers.
Santa Fe High School freshman Caitlyn Girouard, center, hugs her friend outside the Alamo Gym where students and parents wait to reunite following a shooting at Santa Fe High School Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle)
On the second-to-last Friday before summer break, a gunman entered his Texas high school armed with a shotgun and a revolver, unleashing a torrent of bullets that would leave 10 people dead and as many wounded. The victims included students and staff.
Around 8:00 a.m., the sound of shotgun blasts filled the halls of Santa Fe High School. The fire alarm rang, sending students and faculty streaming into the hallways and stairwells. Once in the parking lot, they formed a single-file line, hands above their heads. Some crowded together outside the building, panicked and tearful.
This is a developing story
For the latest updates, follow us on Twitter at @TeamTrace.
The gunman surrendered after he was confronted by law enforcement. Officials said the 17-year-old student suspected of carrying out the shooting also planted several explosive devices inside the school and in nearby areas.
The shooting is the deadliest act of gun violence in the United States since a man killed 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, just three months ago. Like Parkland, Santa Fe — a small city about 45 minutes south of Houston — never had a reputation for violence. According to Gun Violence Archive, the last fatal shooting there was in 2014.
The Associated Press and several other news outlets, quoting law enforcement sources, have identified the suspected gunman as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis.
An Instagram account that appeared to belong to Pagourtzis followed several gun-focused feeds, and made at least one post referring to firearms.
In late April, a Facebook account that appears to be associated with Pagourtzis posted a picture of a T-shirt printed with the phrase, “BORN TO KILL,” and another of a jacket festooned with pins of symbols from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, WWII-era Japan, and the dark, horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.
The shooter was reportedly armed with at least 2 guns
In a news conference, Governor Greg Abbott said the gunman was armed with a shotgun and 38-caliber revolver. (An earlier report by the Houston Chronicle erroneously stated that the shooter was also armed with an AR-15 style rifle.)
Abbott said the weapons were owned by the suspect’s father, and that he did not yet know whether the father knew the guns were in his son’s possession.
While federal law prohibits licensed dealers from selling a long gun to anyone under the age of 18 or a handgun to anyone under the age of 21, there is no minimum age to possess a firearm. Further, Texas law allows transfers of guns to people under the age of 18 who have the written permission of a parent or guardian, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Texas holds gun owners criminally responsible if a child younger than 17 gains access to their unsecured, loaded weapons. The penalties are more severe if the child actually fires the gun.
Police have recovered explosive devices inside the school and in the surrounding area
Following the shooting, investigators discovered multiple explosive devices inside the high school. They also found devices, including molotov cocktails, inside a car and a nearby home.
Abbott said it appeared the shooter had built the explosives himself.
At least 10 people are wounded, including a school resource officer
The governor said that a school resource officer, retired Houston Police Officer John Barnes, was wounded while engaging the gunman. Barnes was shot in the arm and arrived at a local hospital in critical condition.
Additional victims include students and staff.
Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, a level II trauma center in Webster, said it had received seven patients.
Mainland Medical Center in Texas City said it had received two patients.
The John Sealey Hospital, part of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston said it had received three patients.
“I have never been more afraid in my life”
On Twitter and to journalists at the scene, Santa Fe High students described how a routine Friday morning transformed into chaos. “I watched some girl shot dead right in front of me,” wrote one student.
For everyone wondering, someone walked into my class today with a shot gun. I heard 2-3 shots and shit started flying at me. I can’t begin to explain the thoughts that we’re going through my head. I watched some girl shot dead right in front of me. Prayers to all the families.
“I am so sorry this epidemic touched your town,” Jaclyn Corin, 17, tweeted. “Parkland will stand with you now and forever.”
My heart is so heavy for the students of Santa Fe High School. It’s an all too familiar feeling no one should have to experience. I am so sorry this epidemic touched your town – Parkland will stand with you now and forever. pic.twitter.com/ckVPxYi6qz
Fred Guttenberg, who has been advocating for gun reform since his 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, died in the Parkland shooting, tweeted, “This has been my fear since February 14th, that another mass casualty shooting would happen before we did anything. We do not need thoughts and prayers, we need action.”
This has been my fear since February 14th, that another mass casualty shooting would happen before we did anything. Now, we have 8 more children dead and our leadership in Washington has done nothing. We do not need thoughts and prayers, we need action and we need it now.
Santa Fe High School students last month held a walkout against gun violence
Students at the high school were among the thousands nationwide who walked out of class to protest gun violence on the ninth anniversary of the Columbine massacre on April 20.
“Santa Fe High School says #NeverAgain,” one sign read.
It was the second mass shooting in Texas in three days
On Wednesday, a man in the North Texas town of Ponder opened fire in his ex-wife’s home, wounding her and killing their three children and her boyfriend. The suspect then turned the gun on himself.
The mother, Amanda Simpson, said in a Facebook video from her hospital room that she had spoken with her ex-husband the day before to tell him she did not want to reconcile.
Elected officials offered condolences and a limited discussion of policy responses
Governor Abbott, a Republican, ordered all Texas state flags to be lowered to half-staff through Tuesday.
Senator Ted Cruz, also a Republican, released a statement saying that he and his wife, Heidi, “are keeping the students and faculty of Santa Fe High School in our fervent prayers.”
Republican Senator John Cornyn tweeted that he had spoken with the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office. Randy Potts, a Republican who represents the area in the House of Representatives, tweeted that he was “praying for Santa Fe.”
President Trump weighed in shortly after reports of multiple fatalities. “This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years, too many decades now,” he said. He added, “My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others.”
At an appearance with Abbott and Cruz, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged parents who own guns to lock up their weapons. He also said that schools have too many vulnerable entrances. “Had there been one single entrance possibly for every student, maybe he would have been stopped,” Patrick said.
Abbott said that his office would soon release a list of possible policies to reduce gun violence, including improved school mental health services, funds to improve physical security at schools, and ways to confiscate guns from dangerous people. Abbott also said he would convene roundtables with teachers and educators to come up with ways to prevent school shootings.
There have been at least 34 school shootings resulting in casualties so far this year
The Santa Fe shooting was the third gun incident at a school in the past week. In Dixon, Illinois, a student who opened fire in a high school was injured by an officer who returned fire. In Palmdale, California, a student who brought a rifle into a high school bathroom injured a classmate after firing approximately 10 rounds.