News and notes on guns in America

SCOTUS Strikes Down Longer Prison Terms for Federal Gun Crimes

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law allowing prosecutors to seek stiffer prison sentences for individuals convicted of committing certain crimes involving guns.

In a 5-4 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the majority, joining the court’s four liberal justices, while Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the dissenting opinion and joined the court’s three other conservatives.

The law examined by the court was passed in 1984 as part of a broad revision of the federal criminal statute, and authorized heightened penalties for federal defendants who use or possess a gun while committing a “crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.” Under the law, a defendant can get an additional five years for possessing a gun during a crime, seven years for brandishing a firearm, and 10 years for discharging the weapon. But a majority of court justices argued that the law was written so vaguely as to make it unclear which criminal offenses would be covered by the statute.

“In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all,” Gorsuch wrote in his opinion.

The court’s decision sided with defendants Maurice Davis and Andre Glover, who were convicted of a string of armed robberies targeting Texas gas stations in 2014. Both men were charged with robbery, conspiracy, and brandishing a shotgun. Davis was sentenced to 41 years in prison and Glover to more than 50 years.

In his opinion, Gorsuch wrote that the text of the law “provides no reliable way to determine which offenses qualify as crimes of violence and thus is unconstitutionally vague.” While the majority said there was no question that the robberies Glover and Davis committed were violent, they questioned whether the conspiracy charge entailed a risk of violence.

Gorsuch and the majority found that the law required judges and juries to impose a penalty not based on the actual facts of a given case, but rather on an understanding of an entire category of criminal conduct. As a result, the majority argued, courts under the law had to make sometimes arbitrary determinations about the classification of crime, including whether robberies or conspiracies in general always involved a substantial risk of violence.

The government unsuccessfully argued that prosecutors could apply the law to a defendant’s specific history and personality in a case without having to make broader categorical determinations about the nature of specific criminal activities.

In his dissent, Kavanaugh agreed with this view, noting that there are numerous other precedents in which the court affirmed the constitutionality of laws that allow judges and juries to consider the potential risk that criminal conduct could lead to violence when imposing a criminal penalty.

“That kind of risk-based criminal statute is not only constitutional, it is very common,” Kavanaugh wrote.

In light of Monday’s decision, a lower court must now determine whether to reduce Glover and Davis’s prison term on the conspiracy charge or completely resentence the two. Thousands of other inmates may also be eligible to have their sentences reduced.

Placeholder Image


Daily Bulletin: A Popular Gun World Duo Breaks With the NRA

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform have largely operated in separate lanes. But ideological lines can get tangled when laws that restore the rights of the formerly incarcerated include restoring their ability to legally own firearms. That story leads your Monday news sweep.

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


NEW from THE TRACE: The complicated collision of criminal justice reform and gun rights. In 2016, Marcus Schumacher killed a police officer during a domestic violence incident in North Dakota. It wasn’t the first time Schumacher had killed someone with a gun: More than two decades earlier, he was convicted of negligent homicide. But 10 years after his release, his gun rights were restored because of a state law that automatically reinstates them a decade after the completion of a prison sentence. Laws that restore gun rights for the formerly incarcerated have passed in several states recently. The politicians who have drafted them want to make it easier for people with criminal records to reintegrate into society. But some advocates say offenders’ needs are being put ahead of victims’. Ann Givens has the story.

At least 11 people were shot at a bar in Indiana. One person was killed in the early Sunday shooting in South Bend. The suspect is at large. The shooting was one of at least five mass shootings (defined as four or more persons injured or killed) on Sunday alone.

Armed militias have stepped into a conflict between Oregon lawmakers. The Oregon III% wrote on Facebook that its leadership voted “to provide security, transportation and refuge” for GOP state senators who fled the Capitol last week in order to deny the Democratic majority the quorum necessary to vote on a climate protection package. The state Senate cancelled a Saturday session after the State Police received a threat that militia members would mass outside the chambers. But none of the protesters who did show up over the weekend was seen carrying weapons, and a Sunday session proceed with the Republicans still absent.

A popular YouTube gun channel says it will cut ties with the National Rifle Association. The father-and-son duo behind Hickok45, which has more than four million subscribers, announced on Friday that “we can no longer take support from the NRA or continue to use our brand to ask people to join.” They cited reports of financial mismanagement, and said they hoped the organization would rebound.

A Florida woman turned in her estranged husband’s guns — and got locked up for it. Joseph Irby was arrested in Polk County, Florida, on June 15 for trying to run Courtney Taylor Irby off the road. While he was in custody, she went to his house, rounded up his guns, and turned them in to police. She was arrested and charged with grand theft of a firearm and armed burglary. “He wasn’t going to turn them in, so I am doing it,” she told the arresting officers.

Placeholder Image

Wayne LaPierre at the NRA Convention on April 26 in Indianapolis. [AP/Evan Vucci]

Daily Bulletin: The NRA’s Civil War Escalates

Good morning, Bulletin readers. A pair of bombshell developments concerning the continuing drama at the NRA lead your Friday roundup.

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


The NRA suspended its second-in-command for his alleged involvement in April’s failed leadership shakeup. Chris Cox heads the group’s Institute for Legislative Action and had been considered an heir apparent to CEO Wayne LaPierre. In legal filings first flagged by The New York Times, the National Rifle Association accused Cox of participating in an alleged conspiracy to oust LaPierre during the group’s annual meeting in April. An NRA spokesman told the Times that Cox has been placed on administrative leave. Catch up on this latest twist here.

Meanwhile, the NRA’s longtime marketing firm threatened to shut down NRATV. In a court filing on Wednesday, Ackerman McQueen said that if the NRA doesn’t post a $3 million letter of credit, Ackerman “will suffer immediate irreparable harm” and be forced to lay off nearly half its staff. That would spell the end of the Ackerman-produced NRATV.

Ten people were shot outside a Pennsylvania nightclub. Police say several shooters opened fire as patrons were gathered on the sidewalk in the city of Allentown early Thursday. Many of the victims were hospitalized for treatment; all are expected to survive.

The brother of the would-be Dallas mass shooter warned the FBI about him in 2016. He called a tip line three years ago and said the Army vet was “suicidal and had a fascination with guns.” But authorities couldn’t seize weapons from the man because there was no specific threat. The ATF said the gunman legally obtained the assault-style rifle he used in last Monday’s attempted attack, but that the FBI barred the agency from releasing further details. Police fatally shot the man before he could harm anyone.

A police officer was killed in California. Tara O’Sullivan, 26, was ambushed by a rifle-wielding man during a domestic violence call in Sacramento on Wednesday evening. The suspect held off officers for eight hours before being apprehended. O’Sullivan, a community service officer, joined the force in January 2018.

An Oregon lawmaker threatened to shoot police officers if they try to end a Republican walkout. GOP state senators have fled the capitol to deny the Democratic majority the quorum necessary to vote on a climate protection package. The state’s Democratic governor has authorized the State Police to arrest the AWOL legislators and compel them to return to complete the special session. To which state Senator Brian Boquist warned, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed.”


A short documentary explores the link between toxic masculinity and gun violence. More than 80 percent of perpetrators and victims of gun violence are men, according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. A 13-minute film from The Washington Post examines why American masculinity, which is closely tied to both gun culture and gun violence, doesn’t have a larger role in the gun debate. “Guns are really symbols of protection, and providing for men and their families,” said Scott Melzer, a sociology professor at Albion College. “But they’re also symbols of independence, and that’s a broader, bigger idea about what it means to be a man.” He added, “When we expect boys and men to be dominant, powerful, in control, in charge, to not give in, then we’re essentially coaching them, training them, rewarding them for potentially engaging in violence when they feel like they’ve lost control.”

Placeholder Image

[Ron Cogswell/Flickr]

Daily Bulletin: The House Passed a Spending Bill With $50 Million for Gun Violence Research

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Our newest reporting on the NRA’s financial scandals looks at accusations of malfeasance faced by the group’s former CFO earlier in his career. Your Thursday roundup begins below.

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


NEW from THE TRACE: The NRA’s longtime CFO embezzled more than $1 million from his previous company, former colleagues say. Woody Phillips worked as the NRA’s chief financial officer and treasurer for 26 years. Before joining the gun group, he was quietly fired from his post at Wyatt Company, a benefits consulting firm, where he allegedly used fraudulent vendor invoices to divert funds to a personal account. Mary Hughes, an accounts-payable manager who worked under Phillips at Wyatt, came forward with the information after reading our series of reports describing self-dealing and cronyism at the NRA during Phillips’s tenure there. Three former Wyatt colleagues corroborated her account. You can read Mike Spies’s latest story, in partnership with The New Yorkerhere.

The House passed a spending bill that includes $50 million for gun violence research. For the first time in more than two decades, the House approved federal funding for the study of gun violence. Last year, with Republicans in the majority, Congress passed a spending bill with language clarifying that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the authority to study gun violence, but didn’t authorize any money for it. The spending package must still clear the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump.

Chicago teens deemed most at risk of gun violence will receive mentoring throughout the summer. The city’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, unveiled the $1.4 million program on Wednesday, which will involve one-on-one counseling for 400 teens for four hours each day. “Summer for Change” will also offer participants a weekly stipend and group trauma therapy. Nearly 150 kids signed up the first day, a city education official said.

The Republican governor of Texas vetoed a bill banning firearms in secure areas of airports. The measure would have mirrored federal law, but Governor Greg Abbott said it imposed “an unacceptable restraint on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding travelers.”

A bill advancing in California would strengthen that state’s red flag law. Assembly Bill 12 extends gun violence restraining orders from one year to five years and authorizes a simultaneous search warrant for guns and ammunition when a Gun Violence Restraining Order is issued.

The parents of a would-be school shooter in New Mexico face criminal charges. The couple was charged this week with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, four months after their 16-year-old son fired a gun at his high school north of Albuquerque. Police believe the teen got the unsecured firearm from his parents’ closet. According to the criminal complaint, they were warned about his desire to shoot up the school.

An Arizona man randomly firing his gun from a pickup killed a 16-year-old girl. Police say the 19-year-old was part of a group of teenagers drinking in a remote area north of Prescott, Arizona, on Sunday when he shot his revolver and hit Aneesa Williams in the head. He was charged with second-degree murder.

An illegal tailpipe modification that mimics the sound of gunfire has some New Yorkers jittery. “Straight piping” involves removing parts of a car’s exhaust system to produce loud pops that sound like gunshots. Aside from causing a panic among pedestrians, the modification also triggers police gunshot-detection systems.

A campus shooting survivor calls for action on gun violence. “Going through something like this once is enough,” wrote UNC Charlotte student Drew Pescaro as part of an open letter he posted to Twitter on Tuesday. Pescaro, who was shot during the April 30 rampage, called for cooperation among public officials and the public in finding gun violence solutions. “We use mental health issues as an excuse,” he wrote. Confiscating everyone’s guns isn’t the answer,” he said, but neither is “arming all the ‘good guys.’”


Meet the gun influencers of Instagram. The Facebook-owned social media platform doesn’t allow retailers to market the use or sale of guns on its site, but a number of gun-toting female influencers are technically skirting the ban while still making the gun lifestyle seem attractive, a smart new Vox feature shows. “We can pay them to promote our product, but we can’t promote our own,” said DeeAnna Waddell of Gunship Helicopters in Las Vegas. “In regards to Facebook and Instagram, it really is the only way for gun companies to grow.”

Placeholder Image

A handgun built with a Polymer 80 lower receiver recovered by the San Diego crime lab. [Sandy Huffaker for The Trace]

Daily Bulletin: Gun Criminals Often Get Their Weapons Just Days Before They Commit a Crime

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Demand for kits that turn some semiautomatic pistols into machine guns is leading to record seizures of those items at U.S. Customs stations. Plus, a new study sheds important light on guns used in crimes.

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


People convicted of gun crimes often get their weapons just days before they commit the act. That’s according to a new survey of convicted men incarcerated for firearm-related offenses in Illinois prisons. National data has shown that the guns collected at crime scenes are often a dozen or more years old — but in the study, the median time between when guns were acquired and used was two months. The researchers from the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Duke University found that 23 percent of the prisoners they interviewed had never owned a gun six months before their arrest. They suggest that policymakers and law enforcement focus on ways to disrupt the transactions that keep guns flowing through the illegal market.

NEW from THE TRACE: Border officials seized a record number of illegal machine gun kits in 2018. The conversion devices allow some semiautomatic pistols, like the popular Glock, to fire continuously with a single pull of the trigger. Customs officials seized more than six times the amount they obtained in 2016, according to data acquired by The Trace. Most have arrived in air parcels from Asia. Alex Yablon has the story.

A grieving Sandy Hook dad won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that says the shooting was a hoax. A Wisconsin judge issued a summary judgment on Monday in favor of Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, died in the 2012 shooting. From The Trace archives: Pozner told Mike Spies in 2015, “I’m going to have to protect Noah’s honor for the rest of my life.”

Two local Virginia Beach officials want to ban guns in city buildings. The councilmembers are requesting a resolution to support a state bill that would allow cities and towns to ban guns in municipal buildings. The call comes three weeks after a shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center left 12 dead. Members of the public can take guns into all municipal buildings in Virginia, except courthouses.

A Virginia Republican has a “Second Amendment-friendly” proposal for cutting gun violence. When the state’s Democratic governor convenes a special session on gun reform, Delegate David Yancey will pitch a bill that mirrors a federal law offering incarcerated persons reduced prison sentences for information about gun-smuggling rings.

A gun rights activist in Colorado was arrested for flashing a gun at a U.S. marshal. Kanda Calef, a former GOP candidate for the Colorado House, is charged with felony menacing after allegedly brandishing a pistol at the law enforcement official on an interstate highway. She then led a trooper on a brief high-speed chase.

An off-duty officer in Wisconsin was killed trying to stop a robbery at a bar. John Hetland, 49, was fatally shot Monday night after engaging a robbery suspect at a bar in Racine. Hetland was a 24-year veteran of the city’s police department.

Also in Wisconsin, a 5-year-old boy died of a gunshot wound after being dumped at a hospital. The boy, identified only as Cory, was dropped off at a Kenosha hospital, where he died on Monday afternoon. A family friend said the shooting was unintentional.


Congregants grieve — and fight hate — together. For 18 months after the Charleston church shooting, no American house of worship experienced a hate-fueled mass shooting. Then came shootings in Antioch, California; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Pittsburgh, and Poway, California. A community of survivors was born. After the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue last October, the pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and a survivor of the 2015 shooting flew to Pittsburgh to offer comfort. Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, survivors of both shootings prayed together, and leaders from both houses of worship were together again this week on the fourth anniversary of the South Carolina shooting. Beth Kissileff, whose husband survived the Tree of Light shooting, told the Post and Courier, “Unfortunately we are part of a network now.”

Placeholder Image

[Google Maps]

Daily Bulletin: Police Stopped an Active Shooter in Downtown Dallas

Good morning, Bulletin readers, and happy birthday to The Trace — We turn four today. Since our launch in 2015, we’ve published more than 1,500 articles and partnered with 103 other media outlets. We remain the only newsroom dedicated to covering the gun violence crisis full-time and in its entirety. With your support, our reporting is generating real impact.

Thank you for being such loyal subscribers, for sharing our nonprofit journalism with the people in your lives, and for sustaining our reporting with your donations. We could not do any of this work without you. —James Burnett, editorial director

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


Police stopped an active shooter in downtown Dallas before he could hurt anyone. Officers shot and killed a man after he opened fire outside a federal court building on Monday morning. A staff photographer from The Dallas Morning News managed to capture an image of the 22-year-old assailant, who wielded a semiautomatic rifle, carried several ammunition magazines on his belt, and wore a mask and combat gear. According to the man’s Facebook page, he owned two 40-round ammunition magazines in a collection he added to two days before his attempted attack. The Trace’s Alain Stephens reported last week on the gun industry’s promulgation of extra-large magazines and their use in a number of prominent mass shootings.

Police say they foiled an anti-Semitic mass shooting plot in California. Ross Anthony Farca, 23, was arrested last week for posting about his plan to kill Jews. Officers found a semiautomatic rifle and 13 magazines in his home northeast of San Francisco.

Lawyers representing Sandy Hook families reported Alex Jones for child pornography. A court previously ordered the conspiracy-mongering Infowars host to turn over files to the plaintiffs in their defamation suit against him. The families’ law firm said in court documents that they’d contacted the FBI after finding child pornography in emails sent to an Infowars address. Jones says he’s being framed. The parties will go before a judge on Tuesday.

At least two trans women have been fatally shot this Pride Month. Zoe Spears, 23, was shot and killed in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairmount Heights, Maryland, last Thursday. On June 6, Chanel Scurlock, 23, was fatally shot in Lumberton, North Carolina. So far this year, at least eight trans women have fatally shot in the United States. All of the victims were black.

The mayor of Phoenix apologized after officers held a black family at gunpoint. Mayor Kate Gallego said that she was “sick” over the May 29 incident, which was captured on video. Dravon Ames and his fiancée, Iesha Harper, said police pointed guns at their heads in front of their 1- and 4-year-old daughters after someone reported that one of their children had stolen a Barbie doll from a store. The family plans to sue.

An Indiana teen was killed while trying to sell his Xbox. Johnny Peluyera, 16, and his father met up with two men to sell the gaming system. One of the men brandished a gun, and Johnny was shot in the head while running toward his father’s car. His newly acquired driver’s license “was still coming in the mail,” his mother said. “He didn’t even get to hold it.”

A pro-gun rights Parkland survivor had his Harvard acceptance rescinded over past racist comments. Kyle Kashuv, 18, tweeted on Monday that the university rescinded his acceptance on June 3, shortly after racial slurs he’d made two years ago resurfaced. Harvard has retracted its offers to other applicants in the past after finding they had circulated racist memes or content.


He was the last NRA-endorsed Democrat in the Virginia General Assembly. Then came the last straw. State Senator John Edwards, 75, worked to block universal background checks after the shooting at Virginia Tech, supported a repeal of the state’s handgun buying limit in 2012, and happily accepted the NRA’s endorsement during his last election in 2015, shortly after the on-air WDBJ-TV shooting. But this year, he backed the entire slate of gun reforms proposed by the Democratic governor. His evolution was a response to the gun group’s increasing resistance to any type of reform. “The NRA’s attitude was always the same,” Edwards, a former Marine, told Virginia Mercury. “You can’t do anything. Nothing can be done. But something has to be done.”

Placeholder Image

[Justin Sullivan/Getty]

Daily Bulletin: Pro-Gun State Lawmakers Are Still Delivering Victories for the NRA

Good morning, Bulletin readers. An analysis of the NRA’s 2018 financial report highlights new details regarding the group’s unsustainable spending and looming debt payments. At the same time, our sweep of state capitols shows that right-wing legislators continue to deliver victories to the group. Those stories and more in your Monday roundup.

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


The NRA spent more than twice as much on fundraising last year than it did on marksmanship and gun safety trainingThat’s one nugget in this article from The Washington Post, the latest news organization to investigate the organization’s financial situation. Most of the details in the Post’s reporting come from the 2018 report that the National Rifle Association distributed to members during its annual meeting, which shows that the gun group has taken out a $28 million line of credit, borrowing against its Virginia headquarters. From our archives: Here’s Mike Spies’s original investigation on self-dealing and excessive spending at the NRA.

NEW from THE TRACE: Despite the turmoil at its HQ, the NRA has notched some significant state victories this year. Nine states have passed bills backed by the gun group during their 2019 sessions. Most of the legislation focuses on making it easier to carry guns in public spaces, but the organization’s most significant wins came via measures to arm teachers in Florida and Texas. Several Republican-led states did reject bills the NRA supported. Read Alex Yablon’s roundup here.

Texas’s Republican governor just approved a publicly funded safe gun storage campaign. The $1 million budget was a line item in the $250 billion spending package that Greg Abbott signed into law over the weekend. An NRA spokeswoman told the Texas Tribune that the gun group “didn’t oppose” the funding.

An off-duty police officer fatally shot a man with intellectual disabilities in a California Costco on Friday evening. According to local police, 32-year-old Kenneth French got into some kind of altercation with an off-duty officer as French was holding a small child. The officer then apparently opened fire on French and his parents, both of whom were hospitalized. His mother remains in a coma. The child was unharmed and the Los Angeles Police Department officer, hasn’t yet been publicly identified. According to a relative, French was nonverbal and his condition had declined in recent years. The gunfire sparked panic in the store as shoppers feared an active shooter.

Four people died and at least 22 more were injured in 16 shootings across Philadelphia over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, a 38-year-old woman died when a gunman fired into a deli in the northern part of the city. Two men were fatally shot in separate shootings between 1 and 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. And one adult was killed at a graduation party where at least five others were injured, including four teens between 15 and 17. Police have not announced arrests in any of the incidents.

Three people have been arrested for two smash-and-grab gun store burglaries in the D.C. metro area. The suspects range in age from 15 to 21 years old. The two robberies occurred early Wednesday and Thursday mornings in Maryland’s Howard and Montgomery counties. During the second incident, another 17-year-old was fatally shot by a responding police officer. Investigators believe at least one more person was involved. So far, at least 17 of the stolen weapons have been recovered.


Four years after the Charleston church shooting, no gun reforms have been implemented in South Carolina. Despite repeated efforts from Democratic state lawmakers, the only gun-related bills that have been signed into law have expanded gun rights in the state. One of the most frequently introduced reform bills seeks to change the default-proceed mechanism, which allows gun sales to move forward even if a background check hasn’t been completed within 72 hours; the policy is now known as the “Charleston loophole,” because it’s how the gunman who opened fire at Emanuel AME was able to get his weapon. Legislators have introduced a measure to close the loophole 19 times. It’s never made it out of committee.

Senators Urge Consumer Product Safety Commission to Regulate Toy Guns

Three Democratic senators sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Commerce urging them to adopt new regulations requiring toy and replica guns to look markedly different from their real-life counterparts. The inquiry follows a story by The Trace detailing the gun industry’s practice of cutting lucrative licensing deals with toymakers to produce replica firearms that are virtually indistinguishable from real ones.

“It is past due time for Commerce to revise its regulations concerning toy guns and imitation guns and for the CPSC to strengthen regulations concerning non-powder guns,” states the letter, signed by Senators Robert Menendez, Richard Blumenthal, and Edward Markey. “To that end, we ask the Department and the CPSC to adopt stricter specific mandatory regulations for such products.”

The Trace found that gun companies allow toy companies to use their branding to create hyper-realistic replica firearms. It’s not unusual for a replica weapon to share the same markings, weight, and materials as the real thing. The realistic nature of these toys make it difficult for police to distinguish between what is real and what is fake. In 2014, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Cleveland boy, was fatally shot by police when he was holding what police thought was a .45-caliber pistol. Investigators later found that the gun in question was an airsoft toy modeled on the Colt 1911 handgun.

Incidents like Rice’s fatal shooting are not uncommon. The Trace’s analysis of a Washington Post database of police shootings found that 153 people have been shot by officers while wielding toy guns since 2015.

Currently, there are very few regulations regarding the appearance of airsoft guns. Federal law requires airsoft guns to have a bright orange tip, but the part can easily be removed.

Read the full letter here:

Placeholder Image

[Google Maps]

Daily Bulletin: Another Gunmaker Plans to Leave the Northeast

Good morning, Bulletin readers. One federal bill being pushed by Democrats would strengthen the vetting for gun buyers. Another seeks to prevent the spread of a technology that could undermine any tighter restrictions. Your end-of-week roundup begins below.

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


NEW from THE TRACE: Handgun purchase licenses get a double boost. A group of House and Senate Democrats on Thursday introduced a bill that would provide grants to states that adopt “permit-to-purchase” laws, which go beyond standard gun background checks by requiring people to get licensed by law enforcement before buying pistols. The legislation coincides with a new study finding that handgun purchase licenses have been effective in reducing homicides and suicides. Only nine states, plus Washington, D.C., have such systems in place. Alex Yablon has the rundown.

Two concealed carriers in Florida fatally shot each other in a road-rage incident. One of the drivers slowed down to try to apologize to the car he’d cut off in Davie. The other motorist got out of the car and shot him. The first victim, a Marine veteran, fired back before dying at the scene. The second later died in a hospital and would have been charged with murder had he survived, police said.

New Jersey lawmakers are weighing an update to a problematic 2002 smart-gun law. The measure considered by the state Assembly yesterday would repeal a law intended to require retailers in the state to shift to only stocking smart guns after they hit the American market. The mandate drew irate pushback by some gun rights hardliners and may have inadvertently stifled the development of smart guns. The new bill would instead only require retailers to offer at least one model of smart gun. As Alex Yablon reported Monday, most gun owners say they support smart guns in the abstract, but are still hesitant to adopt the technology.

Stag Arms says it will be the next gunmaker to leave the Northeast. The Connecticut company is planning to relocate to a state that offers “significant support for the firearms industry.” Stag is one of several gun manufacturers to move all or part of its operations out of the state since Connecticut began tightening gun laws following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Democratic Governor Ned Lamont signed a new safe gun storage law yesterday.

Democrats on the Hill re-introduced a ban on DIY gun blueprints. U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Robert Menendez and Representative Ted Deutch unveiled the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act, which would prohibit the online distribution of blueprints and instructions that allow people to manufacture their own unserialized, untraceable weapons. Senate Dems introduced the same measure last year after the Trump Justice Department overturned Obama-era guidelines against the online distribution of schematics for so-called ghost guns.

A school principal in Missouri was put on leave after tweeting gun pics to a Parkland survivor. The unidentified school official from Platte County replied to a recent tweet by survivor-turned-gun reformer David Hogg with photos of himself and his children shooting guns. “We understand why the public response has been strong with regard to student safety in our nation’s schools,” the district said in a statement.


Vox visualized mass shootings in America. So far in 2019, at least 191 people have been killed and 656 wounded in 173 mass shootings, which the news outlet defines as events resulting in four or more victims. All but five states have experienced a mass shooting since 2013. Despite the news coverage they receive, mass shootings only account for 2 percent of annual gun deaths in the United States. In total gun violence fatalities, our country remains an outlier, a disparity vividly captured in this chart.

Placeholder Image

[Lynn Hey/News & Record via AP]

Democrats’ Bill Would Nudge States to Require Permits for Handgun Purchases

A group of House and Senate Democrats on Thursday introduced a bill to encourage states to adopt “permit-to-purchase” laws for handguns, which would require that buyers first have a license from law enforcement before legally obtaining firearms.

“Handgun licensing saves lives for the same reason drivers’ licensing saves lives,” House sponsor Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland said in a press release. “It takes the dangerous people out of our way as much as possible.”

The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act stops short of creating a federal licensing program, but would provide grants to states that create their own permitting systems. To qualify, states would have to require applicants be 21 or older, show up to a police station, and provide fingerprints and a photograph, in addition to submitting to a background check.

Like background checks, permit-to-purchase laws have polled well. According to a 2017 national survey, about three quarters of Americans approve of the licenses, including nearly 60 percent of gun owners.

Senate co-sponsor Chris Van Hollen, also of Maryland, has introduced similar bills since 2015. But this is the first time the legislation has been entered into a Democratic-controlled House. For now, the bill stands little chance of becoming law, given that a GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the bill and President Donald Trump has been reluctant to diverge from the National Rifle Association, which opposes permit-to-purchase laws.

Handgun licensing tries to achieve the same goal as universal background checks — stopping gun sales to prohibited purchasers — with different means. A background check is conducted at the point of sale by electronically querying state and federal databases. If the check turns up no prohibiting records, like a felony conviction or court order for involuntary psychiatric commitment, the sale can go through. However, the buyer does not necessarily retain any kind of record of the check. And in most states, checks only have to be conducted for retail sales, leaving open a vast loophole for unregulated private sales between individuals.

With a permit-to-purchase law in place, retail or private sellers could not transfer a gun to someone else unless the buyer has a law enforcement-issued license. Often, states require that applicants show up in person at a police station to apply. The application process involves a standard background check, but can also entail fingerprinting and training requirements. Depending on the state, the licenses are valid anywhere from 30 days to 10 years, and applicants must get rechecked upon renewal.

Permit-to-purchase laws for handguns currently exist in nine states and the District of Columbia, according to the Giffords Law Center. In an additional two states, California and Washington, purchasers must obtain a permit demonstrating proficiency in gun safety.

The permit-to-purchase proposal comes less than four months after the House passed a universal background check bill. But experts say there is evidence that permit-to-purchase laws reduce gun violence more effectively than background checks alone, which have a mixed record in practice.

Handgun purchase licenses on top of background checks allow for easier enforcement of prohibitions against firearm sales to known dangerous people, can deter rash decisions, and have been effective in reducing homicides and suicides, according to a new white paper on handgun permits released Thursday by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.

“It’s hard to hold someone accountable for failing to conduct a background check. It’s easy for law enforcement to ask a seller, ‘Did you see the permit?’” said Cassandra Crifasi, a public health scholar at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the paper. “And the process of applying could create an extra layer that, while it won’t necessarily deter someone from buying a gun, could reduce impulsive purchases in a way that a standard background check might not.”

A number of additional studies have found that permit-to-purchase laws contribute to reductions in shootings. Conversely, repeal of the laws is associated with sharp increases in gun crime. Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase law, which was created in 1995, is associated with a 40 percent decline in gun homicides and a 15 percent fall in gun suicides. In Missouri, meanwhile, the 2007 repeal of the state’s permitting requirement was associated with a dramatic increase in homicides and suicides by guns.

“Of the thousands of Americans murdered every year by firearms, over 90 percent of those deaths occur with a handgun,” said Van Hollen in a press release. “Permit-to-purchase laws have been proven to change that, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage states to put these programs in place.”

Placeholder Image

[Kevin Whipple for The Trace]

Daily Bulletin: Gun-Friendly Maine Rejected a ‘Stand Your Ground’ Bill

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Our new West Coast correspondent Alain Stephens brought in a strong contender for The Trace Quote of the Month in his latest article, which focuses on the jumbo ammunition magazines that gun companies have been churning out: “They know damn well they are highly increasing the lethality of firearms available to the public — for profit,” an ex-ATF agent told him. Find his story, and more, below. 

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


NEW from THE TRACE: The gun industry is betting on even higher-capacity magazines. Spurred by the prospects of lucrative military contracts, American gun companies have developed a new generation of high-capacity magazines that let users reliably fire 40 or more rounds before stopping to reload. Experts say the larger models will soon dominate the civilian market. But they’re not just sought after by gun enthusiasts: Perpetrators of some of the most high-profile shootings over the last five years used magazines with capacities of 40 rounds or higher, according to a review of police records by The Trace’s Alain Stephens. In the majority of states, extended magazines can be purchased without a background check.

Officials in St. Louis voted to fund a violence interruption program. On Tuesday, the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment agreed to set aside $500,000 for a program that uses the Cure Violence model. Four children have been fatally shot in the Missouri city since Saturday. Myiesha Cannon, 16, was the most recent victim. The others are a 3-year-old girl, an 11-year-old girl, and a 16-year-old boy. Mayor Lyda Krewson called the deaths “outrageous.”

Maine rejected a “Stand Your Ground” bill. The measure would have removed the duty to retreat to safety before using deadly force in a public confrontation. It was voted down in the state House along party lines.

New York lawmakers aim to pressure other states on gun trafficking. The state Senate passed a measure that would require the state Department of Criminal Justice Services to publish quarterly reports on the origin of crime guns. The proposal aims to reduce activity along the “Iron Pipeline,” a smuggling route along the I-95 corridor by which guns are acquired in Southern states with lax laws and sold in Northern states with tighter controls. The bill cleared he New York State Senate on Tuesday and now moves to the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

An off-duty FBI agent may have stopped a shooting at a New Mexico brewery. A Utah man followed his ex-girlfriend into an Albuquerque establishment this past weekend and pulled out a gun, drawing the notice of two off-duty FBI agents. One of them opened fire, killing him. “Those FBI agents were heroes,” a witness said.

A 12-year-old Mississippi girl was unintentionally shot and killed by her brother. The boy, also 12, suffered a gunshot wound to his hand as they played with an unsupervised firearm in Horn Lake on Monday.


Three years after the Pulse massacre, the shuttered nightclub stands as a rebuke to hate. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the rampage at the Orlando nightclub. In the city’s downtown, bells tolled 49 times to remember each of the victims of the shooting, which remains the largest attack on the LGBTQ community in modern American history. “It was a terrorist attack,” the club’s owner, Barbara Poma, told People. “It happened to a community that was already disenfranchised.” Since the shooting, an interim memorial has sprung up in front of the club that includes tributes to the victims and remembrances of the lives lost. A permanent memorial and museum are scheduled to open on the site in 2022.

[Google Maps]
Placeholder Image

Daily Bulletin: Democrats Launch New Push to Repeal the Gun Industry’s Legal Protections

Good morning, Bulletin readers. We’ve been reporting on a push by some U.S. attorneys to bring federal gun possession cases against convicted abusers. Now the Justice Department has announced a new working group to expand the effort. The story leads your mid-week roundup.. 

Receive this daily news briefing by email every morning. Sign up here.


NEW from THE TRACE: Attorney General William Barr launched a wider crackdown on abusers caught with illegal guns. The Department of Justice announced the formation of a working group to bolster existing efforts by U.S. attorneys in several states. The panel will share best practices for prosecuting abusers and provide guidance on how to work with local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits. The news follows The Trace’s reporting, co-published with Slate, documenting an uptick in federal prosecutions of illegal gun possession by owners with records of domestic violence. Kerry Shaw has the story.

Democrats launch a new push to repeal the gun industry’s legal protections.  U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and U.S. Adam Schiff of California on Tuesday introduced a measure that would void the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields the gun industry from most lawsuits stemming from the criminal misuse of its products. The repeal bill has been introduced several times in recent years, but went nowhere.

The governor of Vermont vetoed a waiting period for gun sales. On Monday, Republican Phil Scott rejected a measure that would have instituted a 24-hour waiting period on gun sales, saying that he’d already enacted numerous gun restrictions since he assumed office, including a red flag law. The bill took on urgency in December after a Vermont man fatally shot himself just hours after he purchased a handgun. The governor didn’t think the waiting period addressed “the underlying causes of violence and suicide.”

An assault weapons ban inches toward the 2020 ballot in Florida. Leaders of the gun reform group Ban Assault Weapons Now! said they’ve gathered enough signatures to send a draft of a constitutional amendment to the state Supreme Court for review. If they get the court’s green light to continue, they’d still need to collect another 600,000+ signatures by February 1 to get the amendment on the ballot.

The Colorado GOP ended its recall effort against the sponsor of a red flag law. Colorado Republican Vice Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said the party would no longer seek to recall Democratic Representative Tom Sullivan, whose son died in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. “2020 is the year to oust him,” she wrote on Facebook.

West Virginia domestic violence shelters file suit against a law that allows people to have guns in cars. The coalition wants to scotch a 2018 state law that prohibits property owners and managers from banning guns stored in vehicles in their parking lots, or even asking about them. The shelters say abusers sometimes drive onto their lots and that the law makes their jobs more dangerous.

The son of one of the “Hunger 9” demonstrators was shot. McArthur Richards Jr., 29, was shot several times and critically wounded close to the Liberty Square development in Miami early Monday. His father, McArthur Richards, was part of a group of demonstrators who embarked on a 21-day hunger strike in March to raise awareness of the community’s struggle with gun violence.

A 5-year-old South Carolina girl was killed in an unintentional shooting. The incident happened at a home in Charleston on Monday. Police say a 12-year-old fired the gun. In St. Louis on Sunday, a 3-year-old girl was killed and a 6-year-old girl was wounded while playing outside after someone opened fire from a car.


“The more that I understand what I’m fighting for or against, the more able I am to make rational decisions.” That’s one of the responses to a question The Christian Science Monitor posed to its readers following the Virginia Beach shooting: “Have you taken any action in your own life in response to gun violence?” The answers reflect the political and cultural divides that can complicate efforts to reduce shootings, even as safety stands as a shared value and specific policies enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support.

• “Bought better locking and storage items to keep my firearms out of the wrong hands.”
• “I’ve acquired more firearms.”
• “I stay away from concerts and other public places.”
• “I’ve taken time to learn how to use a gun myself and fire it.”
• “I stay in more.”

Finally, there was this food for thought: “I fear that the term ‘gun violence’ often represents the fear of mass shootings. I’m an old white guy, but it distresses me to see middle-class Americans ignore the injustice and violence that plague the poor and only respond when they see victims they can identify with.”

Read the full range of reactions here.