Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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[Vinoth Chandar/Flickr]

Daily Bulletin: Mayors Call on Federal Lawmakers to Strengthen Gun Laws

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Last week, the FBI arrested three members of a white supremacist group who allegedly discussed going to Monday’s gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia. Court documents from the case reveal the men had amassed an extensive, homemade gun arsenal. We’ve got the story below. 

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NEW from THE TRACE: They planned to start a race war, and armed themselves with ghost guns. Federal prosecutors allege that members of the white supremacist group The Base had violent plans for the January 20 gun rally in Richmond, Virginia. To arm themselves, they turned to the ghost gun parts and other DIY firearm accessories readily available online. FBI surveillance caught the men using one of the rifles they assembled at a gun range, where the weapon was firing fully automatic. Alain Stephens reports on a case that shows it’s more than hobbyists interested in firearm components and kits that allow buyers to avoid background checks and assemble untraceable guns.

A former NRA lobbyist who went to work at the Interior Department allowed the gun group to shape agency policy. Emails obtained by The Guardian reveal that Benjamin Cassidy, who became senior deputy director for external and intergovernmental affairs at Interior in 2017, helped an NRA official join an advisory body that shapes international recreational hunting policy and asked NRA officials to weigh in on policy decisions involving opening federal lands to target shooters. Cassidy stopped interacting with gun group officials in 2018 over ethics concerns and stepped down from his post last year. The Interior Department’s inspector general has been probing his contacts with his former colleagues.

More than a third of mass shooters had a history of domestic violence but still obtained guns. Researchers at Michigan State University looked at 89 mass shooters between 2014 and 2017. (Their work focused on incidents where four or more people were killed, excluding the gunman.) They found that 28 had histories of domestic violence, either anecdotally or known to law enforcement. But only six of them were barred from owning firearms. The study recommends that domestic violence gun bans could help prevent mass shootings if more domestic violence cases “move through the justice system to conviction,” and if bans included abusive dating partners and not just co-parents, spouses, and cohabitants.

Mayors again called on federal lawmakers to strengthen gun laws. Gun violence was one of the chief concerns for many of the nearly 300 city leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the annual winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “We are seeing no movement out of the capital, and our communities are begging for this change,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Many city executives raised particular concerns about the proliferation of ghost guns.

Advocates say a Pennsylvania bill to establish mandatory minimums for gun possession might not curb gun violence. A Republican-backed bill in the state House would impose a five-year prison sentence for illegal gun possession. But with mandatory minimums, “you throw a really wide net and you catch a lot of folks you aren’t intending to catch,” a professor of criminal justice told The Appeal. “We have decades of research showing that mandatory minimum sentences are ineffective and counterproductive responses to gun violence,” added the state policy director at Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Philadelphia plans to sue Pennsylvania for the right to enact its own gun laws. The City Council introduced a measure that would allow the city to file a court challenge against the state’s pre-emption law, which prohibits local governments from enacting gun regulations stricter than those passed by the state legislature. Forty-five states have similar laws.

An Ohio state lawmaker says he’s received death threats for his support of tighter gun laws. Representative Casey Weinstein, a Democrat, said he returned home last week to find a stack of printed memes, including one that read, “On this day in 1775, the British demanded we surrender our weapons. We shot them.” Weinstein tweeted that he was undeterred by the missives.

A West Virginia lawmaker invited the NRA to move its headquarters there. 
On the same day gun rights activists rallied in Richmond, Virginia, GOP state Senator Randy Smith sent a letter to the Fairfax, Virginia-based gun rights group touting his home state’s lack of gun restrictions, as well as tax incentives, and inviting it to relocate its headquarters there.

DATA POINT

On-duty police officers across the country have fatally shot nearly 1,000 people a year since 2015. —The Washington Post

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[Skip Plitt/Wikimedia Commons]

Daily Bulletin: Virginia Democrats, Undeterred, Continue to Advance Gun Bills

Good morning, Bulletin readers. A rush hour shooting capped a violent day in downtown Seattle. That story and more, below.

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One dead, seven injured in downtown Seattle mass shooting. Gunfire erupted shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday outside a McDonald’s following a dispute at the restaurant, according to authorities. A 9-year-old boy was among the wounded. Police have not announced any arrests. “There were a lot of people outside, guns came out, and people started running,” the city’s police chief said at a news conference. It was the third shooting in the downtown area in just 24 hours, according to The Seattle Times.

The Virginia Senate advanced a bill to create extreme risk protection orders. The bill passed on a party-line vote amid a rancorous debate. Such laws provide a legal remedy for removing guns from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others and have provoked particular ire among hardline gun rights supporters. One stridently pro-gun rights GOP lawmaker in Virginia said that anyone voting in favor of the legislation was “a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms.” The bill — along with measures to allow localities to ban guns during public events, limit handgun purchases to one per month, and require background checks on private gun sales — must still pass the Democrat-led House of Delegates. Governor Ralph Northam supports the measures.

Virginia is one of a dozen states now weighing so-called red flag bills in their current legislative sessions. Overall, 17 states have already enacted such laws, which gained popularity in the wake of the Parkland shooting. We’ve updated our red flag law tracker to show the state of play.

Rhode Island to divest from assault-weapon makers. The state’s $8.7 billion public pension fund will no longer invest in companies that make assault-style rifles for the civilian market, as well as companies that operate for-profit prisons. “We don’t want to be associated with businesses that we think are fundamentally immoral,” the state treasurer declared. Rhode Island will reinvest the $250,000 it held in both industries. Connecticut announced a similar plan last month.

Homicides in San Francisco dropped to a 59-year low. Murders fell 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, leaving the city with 41 killings last year. Mayor London Breed touted the decline, calling it “absolutely incredible.” She credited a shift to community-oriented policing, which relies on building trust in neighborhoods.

Missouri authorities had previously dropped a weapons charge against Sunday’s suspected mass shooter. The 29-year-old who is suspected of shooting 16 people, one fatally, outside a Kansas City nightclub was charged with a concealed weapons violation in 2016 that might have triggered a gun ban. But a county prosecutor told the AP that the charge was dropped after Republicans passed a law in September 2016 that allowed most residents to carry guns without a permit.

The researcher behind a federally funded AI-based tool says it could identify illegal gun transactions online. The Department of Health and Human Services is investing in technology that tracks illegal opioid peddlers by examining social media and publicly available data. The University of California-San Diego professor contracted by the government to create the tool told Recode he thinks it could also be used to track illicit online gun sales. Last week, The Trace and The Verge documented how one major online gun bazaar — Armslist — may be allowing users to steadily peddle guns without obtaining the required federal license or vetting their buyers.

Maryland’s capital county declared suicide a public health crisis. The resolution approved unanimously by the Anne Arundel County Council was proposed by a Republican councilman who sits on the county’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. He said he was motivated by a task force report that found 67 percent of gun deaths in his county were suicides.

DATA POINT

An online ammo retailer said the number of Virginia residents accessing its website during the first three weeks of 2020 increased by 137 percent year-over-year. The company credited the increase to the potential of new gun laws passing the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. WSET

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Daily Bulletin: The Links Between Community-Police Mistrust and Gun Violence

Good morning, Bulletin readers. An expansive new report looks at how improving community-police relations can reduce gun violence. That story leads your mid-week roundup.

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Distrust of the police fuels gun crime. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence looked at how poor police-community relations exacerbates gun violence across the country. “Everybody has largely missed the fact that if people can’t count on help from the state and its agents, they’re going to take care of themselves,” David Kennedy, the director of the National Network for Safe Communities, told The Guardian. “Sometimes taking care of yourself looks like day-to-day gun violence.” The report also pointed to promising double-digit homicide reductions in places like Camden, New Jersey, and Stockton, California, over the last decade and concluded that retaliatory shootings could be reduced through community policing, and by law enforcement building partnerships with street-level anti-violence groups, faith leaders, community organizations, and service providers. From The Trace archives: On “police legitimacy” and the deadly consequences of its absence or erosion.

The gun industry’s largest trade show kicked off Tuesday. Some 60,000 gun enthusiasts are expected to attend the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas this week. While federal gun background checks (a proxy for firearm sales) surged to near-record levels last year, business remains rocky for some dealers, who throng the event looking for products that might stoke fresh demand, AP reportsMeanwhile, three people were wounded in a shooting at a shopping center across the street from the convention. Police said a teenager fired into the crowd following a fight Tuesday night at the Fashion Show Mall across from the Sands Expo Convention Center.

A state lawmaker in Virginia is getting death threats from pro-gun activists over a bill that doesn’t involve guns. Delegate Lee Carter, a Marine Corps veteran and Virginia’s only socialist state lawmaker, introduced a bill this session that amends state law to allow public employees to go on strike without getting fired. Because of public safety concerns, he added an exemption for police officers. Per The Guardian’s Lois Beckett, some gun rights activists have interpreted this to mean that cops who don’t confiscate guns can be fired, and that misinterpretation has resulted in death threats. “I am having to take steps to protect myself and protect my family,” Carter said.

YouTube blocked some live news coverage of Monday’s gun rights rally in Richmond. A company spokesman told conservative outlet PJ Media it was “in line with our policies regarding content featuring firearms on YouTube.” The outlet noted that several livestreams of the event were taken down, including one from local outlet WUSA9. The platform’s policy bars “live streams that show someone holding, handling, or transporting a firearm.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed several gun-related measures into law. Legislation enacted Monday will fund a statewide community violence intervention program, provide counseling and social services to violent crime survivors, and mandate that the state Victim of Crime Compensation Office partner with trauma centers to provide referrals. The governor also signed a measure on Tuesday that sets guidelines for toy and imitation guns so they can be easily distinguished from real guns. From The Trace archives: Since 2015, police across the United States have killed more than 150 people who were holding look-alike weapons.

The Baltimore County Council approved licensing requirements for gun dealers. The Secure All Firearms Effectively, or SAFE Act, would require gun sellers to install alarm and video systems, as well as physical barriers to prevent smash-and-grabs; lock up weapons during off-hours, and employ a security guard approved by the police chief. The legislation is similar to new rules that took effect in Illinois last week and is meant to stem the tide of weapons to the black market that contribute to the city’s sky-high murder rate.

New Hampshire to get federal funding to help prevent youth suicides. The National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire is getting more than $730,000 for an awareness and education campaign. The funding does not appear to address gun access. Last year, researchers at Boston University’s School of Public Health found that youth suicide rates are higher in states with a higher share of gun-owning households, like New Hampshire.

A church-held gun buyback in Pittsburgh ran out of cash in an hour. The Church of the Holy Cross’s MLK Day buyback handed out $5,100 for about 150 guns on Monday. “Some people were just bringing the guns in and they didn’t want the money,” the church’s senior warden told CNN. “They just wanted to get the guns out of their homes.”

DATA POINT

Sunday’s tragic killing of two police officers in Hawaii was a relatively rare case of gun violence in the state, which had fewer than 120 fatal shootings from 2014 through 2019. The Trace

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A memorial outside the Ohio Statehouse for the victims of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. [Barbara J. Perenic/AP]

Daily Bulletin: Shootings Across the Country Left Dozens Injured This Weekend

Good morning, Bulletin readers. A gun rights rally at the Virginia Capitol attracted heavily armed extremists but ended without the bloodshed some had feared. But as activists were protesting the prospect of new restrictions and safety laws, families across the country were reeling from multiple-casualty shootings.

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NEW from THE TRACE: Sound, fury, but no violence as thousands protest new gun laws in Virginia. Opponents of tougher gun laws chanted slogans, hoisted signs, and vowed to defend the Second Amendment at a rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday that many on both sides of the gun debate had feared would attract extremist violence. While the worst-case scenario did not materialize, militia members and white nationalists openly carrying assault-style rifles and clad in full battle gear did steal some of the spotlight from the pro-gun activists who had hoped to distance themselves from the fringe elements who were also drawn to the event. Authorities estimated the crowd, which skewed heavily male and white, at 22,000. Here’s Will Van Sant’s dispatch from the scene.  

Shootings across the country on Sunday left dozens injured. Sixteen people were shot, one fatally, when someone opened fire outside a bar in Kansas City, Missouri. Officers said the shooter started firing during a fight and was shot and killed by an armed security guard. Raeven Parks, 25, died in the incident. Three of the survivors are in critical condition. In San Antonio, seven people were shot, two fatally, when an argument escalated to gunfire at an area bar. The fatalities were identified as Robert Jay Martinez III, 20, and Alejandro Robles, 25. In Honolulu, two police officers were killed after responding to a stabbing at a home. The suspected gunman, who had reportedly attacked his landlord after receiving an eviction notice, then set fire to his and several other homes, police said. Honolulu’s police chief identified the victims as Kaulike Kalama, a nine-year police veteran, and Tiffany Enriquez, a seven-year veteran. They were both parents.

A Utah teen fatally shot four members of his family. A fifth person was wounded in the Friday incident in the town of Grantsville, about 40 minutes southwest of Salt Lake City. “Our hearts are broken by the horrible news,” Utah Governor Gary Herbert tweeted, adding, “Parents and grandparents, secure your firearms! Everyone, hug your loved ones tight. And remember love, not hate, will heal broken individuals and families.”

Temporary gun dealer security rules went into effect in Illinois. The requirements stem from a new law that aims to curb the diversion of firearms into the black market. As of Friday, gun stores are required to have alarm systems capable of notifying law enforcement in the event of a break-in and to track sales using an electronic record-keeping system. Todd Vandermyde, a former National Rifle Association lobbyist who now heads Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois, told The Trace’s Brian Freskos that some of his group’s members are hesitant to bring themselves into compliance for fear that security upgrades won’t satisfy the final requirements that the Illinois State Police are expected to release later this year: “How are you supposed to comply with a new law when you don’t even know for certain what the standard is?”

Washington State plans to sue the Trump administration over 3D-printed guns. Bob Ferguson, the state’s Democratic attorney general, said he will be leading a 21-state coalition when he files the challenge to a Trump administration rule, finalized on Friday, that would transfer regulatory authority of 3D-printed guns and other firearms from the State Department to the Commerce Department. Critics say the move would make it much easier to publish and share schematics for 3D-printed guns — which have no serial numbers, making them impossible for law enforcement to trace.

A bipartisan bill in Arizona would close the “boyfriend loophole.” The legislation, filed in the GOP-led state House and Senate, subjects abusive dating partners to a gun ban. Federal law only applies a domestic violence gun ban to abusive spouses, co-parents, parents, or live-in partners. The proposal also provides a procedure for the surrender of guns by convicted abusers.

DATA POINT

Gun violence rose by more than 40 percent in Canada in the five years after the national gun registry was dismantled in 2012. The country imported nearly two million American guns during that period. NPR

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Gun reform activists gather in New York City on August 18, 2019, to demand Congressional action on gun violence. [Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images]

Daily Bulletin: Suspected Neo-Nazis Built Functioning Machine Gun

Good morning, Bulletin readers. The Trace will be closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day, so your next daily briefing will arrive in your inbox on Tuesday. In the meantime, staff writer Will Van Sant will be monitoring the situation in Virginia.

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With risks of violence in Virginia, the FBI arrested three suspected members of a white supremacist hate group. “Although the charges were not directly linked to the Richmond rally, law enforcement officials said the three men had discussed attending” the anti-gun control demonstration scheduled for the Capitol on Monday, The New York Times reported. One of the men is a former reservist in the Canadian Army who is said to have entered the country illegally; another served as a soldier in the U.S. Army. Two of the three had built a “functioning assault rifle,” according to prosecutors. They were seen at a Maryland gun range firing the gun as a fully automatic weapon. The three men were charged with various federal crimes, including transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony.

A judge upheld a temporary gun ban imposed outside the Virginia Capitol. Citing public safety concerns, the state’s governor has declared a state of emergency and temporarily banned weapons — including firearms — from public areas outside Richmond’s Capitol building. Yesterday, gun groups — including one of the organizers of Monday’s rally — filed suit to block the ban, but a state judge rejected the injunction request. The groups say they will appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, the Virginia General Assembly is pressing ahead with gun reform. The state Senate passed a universal background check bill on Thursday, as well as a one-handgun-per-month purchasing limit and a measure that allows cities and towns to enact their own gun laws.

NEW from THE TRACE: How Armslist has created a haven for unregistered gun dealers. The “Craigslist for guns” is a major destination for firearm buyers and sellers. Its terms of use explicitly direct users to follow applicable gun laws. But Armslist’s hands-off approach to moderating its listings may be allowing users to steadily peddle guns without obtaining the required federal license, which would in turn require them to vet buyers with a background check. The Trace and The Verge scraped more than two million listings on the site and identified high-volume sellers who may be skirting the law. Former Trace fellow Sean Campbell and The Verge’s Colin Lecher have the story.

Gunshot survivors report longer-lasting physical and psychological pain than car crash survivors. Researchers found that between six and 12 months after their injuries, gunshot survivors were more than twice as likely to experience daily pain and about three times as likely to suffer from PTSD. “Our study shows that injury, and especially firearm injury, casts a long shadow over the lives of those who survive,” said an author of the findings, which were published in Annals of Surgery.

American Outdoor Brands booted its CEO over unspecified misconduct. The parent company of Smith & Wesson said James Debney “engaged in conduct inconsistent with a nonfinancial company policy” but did not provide specifics. Debney had run the company since 2011.

Tuesday’s school shooting near Houston was unintentional, prosecutors said. The 16-year-old boy who shot his 19-year-old classmate at Bellaire High School “did not intend to kill his friend,” the district attorney said Thursday. A police official said the boy had brought the gun from home. The teen was charged with manslaughter.

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[Will Fisher/Flickr]

Daily Bulletin: Virginia Governor Issues Emergency Order Banning Guns on Capitol Grounds

Good morning, Bulletin readers. The federal government is slow to release annual tallies of gun deaths, but the nonprofit, nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive has stepped in to track trendlines in something much closer to real time.

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NEW FROM THE TRACE: Gun deaths inched up in 2019. At least 15,292 people were fatally shot in 2019, excluding suicides, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which collects its data from law enforcement and media reports. That’s a 3 percent increase over 2018. Between 2014 and 2019, fatal shootings recorded by GVA rose 23 percent  while gun injuries were up nearly 31 percent. Daniel Nass digs into the numbersHow many people have been shot near you? We’ve added the 2019 incidents to our interactive “Atlas of American Gun Violence,” which maps 150,000 shootings spanning the past half-decade. Enter your address here.

Virginia’s governor issued a emergency order banning weapons on Richmond’s Capitol grounds. The order bans “everything from sticks and bats to chains and projectiles,” Ralph Northam said Wednesday, as well as guns. “It makes no sense to ban every other weapon but allow firearms when intelligence shows that armed militia groups plan to storm the Capitol” during a rally planned for next Monday to protest pending gun restrictions and gun safety legislation. The order is set to expire on Tuesday. More: Nick Martin at The Informant has an incisive roundup on the self-declared “extremist” Virginia gun group organizing the demonstration, and on the militias, conspiracists, and white nationalists the event is attracting.

Maryland wants to spend $23 million to demolish blighted buildings in violent neighborhoods. That’s among the crime-reduction expenditures in GOP Governor Larry Hogan’s new 2021 budget, which earmarks significant funding for Baltimore City, including $9.2 million to increase community policing efforts and $1.9 million to the State’s Attorney’s Office for gun violence prosecution. The big picture: Our Brian Freskos has reported on the violence-prevention potential that beautification efforts can have when well-targeted.

Missouri proposes violent crime reduction measures — but the governor rejects new gun regulations. Following homicide spikes in Kansas City and St. Louis, Republican Governor Mike Parson is calling on the GOP-controlled Legislature to increase funding for mental health care and witness-protection services and beef up penalties for violent crime. But he said he won’t back gun restrictions, or allow cities to enact their own. “As a lifetime member of the NRA, I have never, ever wavered my support for the Second Amendment,” he said.

Under a Kentucky proposal, all school resource officers would be required to carry guns. The bill’s Republican author called the measure a priority for his fellow lawmakers. It builds on a state law enacted last year in response to a 2018 school shooting that requires at least one officer in each school, but does not indicate whether they should be armed.

The weapon used in a recent Rhode Island killing was likely not a 3D-printed gun. The director of the Rhode Island Crime Lab said the weapon used to kill a 54-year-old woman in Pawtucket on January 1 bore the manufacturer’s mark of a Philippines-based gunmaker. Local police previously said they thought the weapon was made from a 3D printer.

DATA POINT

The Transportation Security Administration intercepted a record 4,432 guns at airport security checkpoints in 2019, a more than 350 percent increase from a decade earlier. TSA

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[Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: Poll Shows Guns Remain a Top Issue for Voters

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Last night’s Democratic presidential debate didn’t yield any questions about gun violence, but voters continue to consider it a top issue, according to a new survey. Read on for the numbers — and a new push to improve data about gun violence itself.

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Gun violence is a top issue for American voters. A new Gallup poll found that 74 percent of respondents see gun policy as being either “extremely important” or “very important” to their vote for president in 2020, making it the third most important issue after healthcare (81 percent) and terrorism/national security (80 percent). The moderators at last night’s Democratic primary debate again didn’t broach the subject. To catch up on Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals, check out our updated guide.

Experts called for improving gun data. The first of three panels of experts in public health, medicine, criminal justice, and data infrastructure convened by the research organization NORC at the University of Chicago identified gaps in “high-quality, transparent, and objective firearms data” around gun sales, injuries, and deaths; crime guns, and criminal justice. These gaps pose “a substantial roadblock to the development of a comprehensive feedback mechanism to inform policymaking intended to reduce and prevent firearms violence and misuse,” the group argued. Related: Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s gun injury estimates are unreliable, and after The Trace and FiveThirtyEight revealed serious issues with its methodology, the agency pulled some of the numbers from its site while promising to come up with bigger fixes.

NEW from THE TRACE: Second Amendment sanctuaries, explained. In the span of two months, more than 120 towns, cities, and counties in Virginia have adopted resolutions saying they won’t enforce gun laws passed by the state’s new Democratic government. But Virginia is hardly alone. Since 2018, more than 400 municipalities in 20 states have vowed to defy new firearm restrictions or safety measures. Jennifer Mascia unpacks this aggressive iteration of gun rights activism, its legal force (or lack thereof), and its grassroots fervor, which one conservative congressman has said exceeds the intensity of the Tea Party’s initial backlash to Obamacare in 2009.

Austin Police think stolen guns are causing an uptick in violent gun crimes. In a new report, the Texas capital’s Police Department revealed that serious gun-related crimes — including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — rose 58 percent between 2014 and 2018, while the share of homicides committed with guns also rose. During the same period, more than 4,200 guns were reported lost or stolen, many of them from cars. The department recommended a public education campaign to encourage gun owners to securely store their weapons, particularly in unattended vehicles. Read more: In 2017, we published a yearlong investigation into gun theft from legal owners, collecting nearly one million police records to connect stolen guns to their later use in crimes around the country.

Half of California gun owners support amnesty for high-capacity magazine owners and restrictions for alcohol abusers. Those findings come from a new survey  by the publicly funded UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. It found that 51 percent of gun owners supported a program to hand over ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, which are heavily restricted in the state. Additionally, 50 percent of gun owners support a five-year gun ban for people who get two DUIs within a five-year period. “Agreement between firearm owners and non-owners on many firearm violence prevention proposals is more common than typically recognized,” the researchers wrote. The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

A 19-year old was fatally shot at a Houston-area high school. Police said the victim was killed Tuesday by a fellow classmate at Bellaire High School just as school let out. The suspect and another person were later arrested, authorities said. “It’s utterly shocking in a community like ours,” said the mayor of the small city. “We enjoy the safety that comes with living here. We’re very family-oriented.”

DATA POINT

In the first two weeks of 2020, more than 500 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded by guns in America. Gun Violence Archive

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Law enforcement officers gather outside the Henry Pratt Co. manufacturing plant Feb. 15, 2019, in Aurora, Ill., where a gunman killed 5 people. [AP Photo/Matt Marton]

Daily Bulletin: Boom Times For Active-Shooter Insurance

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In the wake of last week’s warnings from the FBI and Homeland Security about the threat of retaliatory terror strikes by Iran, an announcement from another federal agency underscores the risks posed when terrorist motives combine with the U.S.’s ample supply of firearms.

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Barr declares Pensacola naval base shooting an act of terrorism: At a press conference, Attorney General William Barr said the Saudi national who committed the December 6 shooting, which left three people dead and eight others injured, was “motivated by jihadist ideology.” Barr cited anti-American and anti-Israeli social media posts, including one just hours before the attack. Barr also asked Apple to unlock two phones the perpetrator used, saying the company had offered no “substantive assistance” in the probe. In a statement to The New York Times, Apple said it had helped the FBI from Day One. Once again, mass shootings collide with privacy concerns: Per the Times: “In late 2015, Apple defied a court order to assist the F.B.I. in its efforts to search [the] device [of one of the San Bernardino shooters], setting off a fight over whether privacy enabled by impossible-to-crack encryption harmed public safety. The San Bernardino dispute was resolved when the F.B.I. found a private company to bypass the iPhone’s encryption. Tensions between the two sides, however, remained, and Apple worked to ensure that neither the government nor private contractors could open its phones.”

Democratic state lawmakers in Virginia begin to advance gun reform package. Legislation creating universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, a one-handgun-per-month limit, and a measure to let cities ban firearms at public events all cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. A notable exception: The committee’s Democratic majority unanimously pulled a Senate bill that would have banned assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, without grandfathering in existing weapons. Democrats are still expected to champion a House version of the ban — supported by Governor Ralph Northam — that would outlaw the sale of new assault-style rifles, but allow owners to keep the ones they already have.

As lawmakers debated, NRA members and gun rights activists demonstrated at the Capitol. The National Rifle Associations’s lobbyists handed out 30-round magazines provided by Magpul as a signal of their opposition to new gun restrictions. The ammo devices were all empty, The Washington Post reported. On Friday, Democrats on the House-Senate Rules Committee banned guns on the Capitol’s premises.

Milwaukee’s mayor credited a public health approach with a five-year decline in violence. Between 2015 and 2019, homicides dropped 34 percent and shootings were down 28 percent. Mayor Tom Barrett said that collaboration between the city’s Office of Violence Prevention and community groups helped account for the decline.

Florida lawmakers advanced a bill requiring background checks on gun sales at gun shows. The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee on Monday approved the Republican-sponsored bill, which does not extend to private sales between individuals. The Legislature is also considering bills that would require background checks to buy ammunition, require concealed carry permit applicants to undergo a mental health exam, and implement a ban on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Dallas public schools banned backpacks and other bags after a shooting at a basketball game. Texas’s second-largest school district said the new policy applies to high school sporting events, and attendees will be required to pass through metal detectors. Two people, including a police officer, were wounded Saturday night when someone opened fire during a fight at a basketball game. Last week, The New York Times reported that shootings at after-school sporting events have caused 19 deaths and more than 100 injuries over a seven year span.

The security guard who fatally shot a gunman at a Texas church was given the state’s highest civilian honor. Governor Greg Abbott awarded the honor to firearms instructor Jack Wilson, 71, for killing the White Settlement church shooter who had gunned down two other volunteer guards.

DATA POINT

The active-shooter threat has led to an uptick in specialized insurance: London-based Beazley, which underwrites “deadly weapons” insurance policies for workplaces, reported a 270 percent rise in business last year. CNBC

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[Skip Plitt/Wikimedia Commons]

Daily Bulletin: Ahead of Gun Rights Rally, Virginia Democrats Ban Guns in State Capitol

Good morning, Bulletin readers. We’re continuing to monitor the showdown in Virginia, where gun rights activists and militia members are planning to mass in the capital city of Richmond next week to protest a proposed package of firearm safety bills. Late last week, lawmakers voted on the first of those changes, which affects where protestors will be able to carry their firearms.

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Virginia Democrats voted to ban guns in the state Capitol. The measure passed Friday was one of the lesser provisions in the slate of new firearm laws the state’s new governing majority has vowed to pass, but can be read as further indication of heightened tensions. Gun rights activists expect a large turnout at a rally planned outside the Capitol next Monday, where they may be joined by armed militia members who share their opposition to gun restrictions. “The overall goal here is to protect and ensure the safety of our members and of the people that are in our building coming and going,” Democratic Delegate Marcus Simon said.

Five people were shot at a house party in Aurora, Colorado. Two of the victims of the Saturday night incident were teenage girls. All are expected to survive. Police are searching for the shooter.

Survey: Only 40 percent of gun owners at gun lock giveaways said they secured their weapons. Researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health arrived at the finding after polling gun owners waiting for free gun locks at sporting goods stores in Washington State between 2015 and 2018. “Safe firearm storage is associated with lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries among children and adolescents,” the authors note in their abstract, yet the share of gun owners who do not secure their weapons was the same whether children lived in the home or not. The results were published in the February 2020 issue of Preventive Medicine.

Dallas mayor’s task force recommends reducing blight to quell violence. The Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities issued a report recommending cleaning up crumbling buildings and abandoned lots and adding outdoor lighting, as well as adding more support for school-age children and training more violence interrupters to mediate street conflicts. The task force estimated that for every $10,000 spent on fixing up neglected buildings, nine violent crimes could be prevented. Go deeper: The Dallas report cited a similar program in Chicago, which Brian Freskos profiled in September.

After Rhode Island’s first known homicide with a 3D-printed-gun, state lawmaker reintroduces ghost gun ban. State Senator Cynthia Coyne unveiled a bill regulating homemade firearms that lack serial numbers, including 3D-printed weapons. A similar bill was introduced last year. On New Year’s Day, Cheryl Smith, 54, was fatally shot with a 3D-printed handgun, police say.

An Indiana lawmaker wants to raise the age to buy long guns. State Senator Greg Taylor, a Democrat who says he regularly carries a concealed handgun, introduced a bill that would raise the age to buy a shotgun, rifle, or semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21. Only four states require purchasers of shotguns and rifles to be 21.

Inside the St. Louis school whose young students are growing numb to gun violence. Ashland Elementary is surrounded by more shootings than nearly any other school in the city. In a St. Louis Public Radio segment, some of its fifth- and sixth-graders described their rote response to the crack of gunfire. “It’s sad because they’re completely desensitized,” a staff member said, “yet everything that they want to do revolves around confrontation, fighting and shooting fake guns at each other.”

Alleged bad apple gun dealer indicted in New York. The owner of Chester’s Hunting & Fishing in Long Island is accused of selling assault-style rifles without a state license, which he lost in 2015. He also allegedly bought guns in other states and sold them to prohibited purchasers in New York. Authorities found him in possession of 116 assault weapons, 820 high-capacity magazines, and lower receivers without serial numbers, which can be used to manufacture ghost guns.

DATA POINT

Washington, D.C., police recovered 115 ghost guns in 2019 — a 360 percent increase from the year before. — Washington City Paper

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In this Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 photo, a man stands near the doorway as Lynchburg residents meet over a 2nd Amendment sanctuary resolution. [Emily Elconin/The News & Advance via AP]

Daily Bulletin: An Increasingly Aggressive Backlash to Gun Reform in Virginia

Good morning, Bulletin readers. The 2020 legislative season is underway at statehouses around the country, bringing policy battles that could shape the trajectory of gun reform during this election year. Below, we flag some of the developments worth tracking. 

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Gun reform push in Virginia draws increasingly aggressive backlash. In a Guardian dispatch, Lois Beckett looks at the highly charged atmosphere in the state, where Democrats are preparing to follow through on their pledge to pass a slate of new gun laws. A number of Democratic lawmakers have reportedly received threats, and “some of these [gun rights] activists have warned of violence if Democrats push forward with gun control,” Beckett writes. The state’s leading gun rights group expects a turnout of 30,000 at a January 20 rally in Richmond; armed militia groups are also expected to send members, raising fears of a repeat of the deadly clashes sparked by the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. A spokesperson for the governor, who has no plans to withdraw gun reform measures, said that “everyone needs to work to turn the rhetoric down.”

Across the Potomac, the mayor of Washington, D.C., pleaded with Virginia lawmakers to carry through with reforms. Forty-one percent of crime guns seized in the District in 2018 were traced to Virginia. “As a neighboring jurisdiction, Washington, D.C., is directly impacted by Virginia gun control,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

Missouri officials begin 2020 with a focus on community gun violence. As the state Legislature convened Wednesday, the Republican House speaker urged a tough-on-crime approach, calling on lawmakers to beef up law enforcement and witness protection programs in cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. The Democratic House minority leader countered with a plea for “common sense” measures that will “make it harder for the bad guy with the gun to get the gun in the first place.” Gun deaths in Missouri have increased by more than 55 percent over the past decade. Last week, the Missouri Foundation for Health gave $1.5 million to the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research to study the epidemic in the state and look at potential solutions.

New Mexico’s governor unveiled a new red flag bill. The new measure from Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, would let family, friends, and police petition a judge to remove a gun from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others. The measure is expected to pass Democratic-led Legislature, but has drawn the ire of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, which said the vast majority of the state’s sheriffs oppose the bill. Seventeen states have red flag laws. Legislatures in other states, including New Hampshire and Virginia, are considering similar measures this year.

A start-up aims to more seamlessly detect weapons for large crowds. Evolv Technology, an alternative to traditional metal detectors, raised $30 million in a new round of funding this week. The technology is already in use in several places, and the company’s CEO says the first year the scanners were installed at the Biltmore — a historic hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, that doesn’t permit guns — about 1,500 people were asked to remove firearms from the premises. Jeb Bush and Bill Gates are the among the investors.

Delaware shooters often share a “community gun,” making it harder to solve crimes. Communal firearms or “block guns” are not a new phenomenon in high-crime neighborhoods, but knowledge of the phenomenon is not widespread: The Delaware News Journal reports that participants in a gun violence forum were “stunned” by a Wilmington defense attorney’s description of the practice: “I’m now having cases where one gun is attached to five, six, seven, eight different shootings.”

DATA POINT

There were zero people shot in Chicago on Tuesday, the first time the city has gone a full day without a reported shooting since November. So far this year, 37 people have been shot in the city, seven of them fatally, according to Gun Violence Archive. ABC 7

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[George Frey/Getty Images]

Daily Bulletin: 13.9 Million Guns Were Sold in the U.S. in 2019, Industry Analyst Says

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Today, we bring you a follow-up to our investigation of America’s largest active-shooter training company, published in partnership with HuffPost last month. We’ve also got a news item on a Virginia bill sure to add fuel to the fight over gun laws already underway there. 

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NEW FROM THE TRACE

A Virginia bill that could shutter the NRA’s shooting range draws criticism from both sides. The proposal, introduced Wednesday, would outlaw ranges at private buildings where 50 or more employees work. One of the only two known facilities it would affect is housed within the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax. Sponsor Dan Helmer, a freshman Democratic delegate, did not reply to our request for comment, but told a local paper: “Yes, this plan would affect the NRA. We also think it will save lives.” Andrew Goddard, the legislative director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, which supports stronger gun safety laws, takes a different view. He called the measure “a very ill-advised move.” Will Van Sant has the story.

The ALICE Training Institute is overstating the effectiveness of its active shooter protocols. The company advocates training students and teachers to physically confront gunmen if necessary. As our December investigation highlighted, there’s little evidence to support its approach, which has been linked to injuries and can traumatize participants. On its website, the company lists 18 incidents in which it claims its training saved lives. We just completed a review of every case — and found that the record is a lot more complicated.

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW TODAY

Joe Biden is emphasizing gun reform as he makes his final push in Iowa. The former vice president is spending $4 million in the state ahead of the February 3 caucuses, BuzzFeed News reported. Biden supported stronger gun laws throughout his three decades in the Senate and helped to spearhead the Obama administration’s response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. 

A Walmart employee in Illinois disarmed a potential gunman. Justin Smithey intervened on Saturday when a fight broke out in a Walmart across the river from St. Louis. One of the participants pulled out a gun, terrifying shoppers. “I started to see all the kids and innocent people, and I knew something had to be done,” he said.

New Jersey dropped a gun charge that could have barred the Texas church shooter from firearms. The man who killed two armed security volunteers at a church in White Settlement, Texas, last month was charged with felony-level unlawful weapon possession in 2016. But prosecutors let him plead the charge down to misdemeanor criminal trespass, so his offense did not trigger a federal gun ban. The New Jersey prosecutor said the deal was “fully reasonable and legally appropriate.”

Grants are now available for Pennsylvania churches that want to beef up security. The state’s Commission on Crime and Delinquency is providing $5 million to faith-based nonprofits for threat assessment, emergency response training, surveillance, and metal detectors. The funding comes 14 months after an anti-Semitic gunman stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people.

The New Hampshire House advanced a bill that would create extreme risk protection orders. The measure is also expected to pass the Democrat-led Senate, but the state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, might not sign it. In August, Sununu vetoed three gun bills, including a universal background check expansion and a three-day waiting period to buy a gun.

DATA POINT

An estimated 13.9 million guns were sold in the United States in 2019, according to a gun industry research consultancy that analyzed federal background check figures and excluded concealed-carry permit checks, rechecks, and renewals. The total is up roughly 100,000 from 2018, but well shy of the record set in 2016, when Americans purchased an estimated 16.6 million guns. Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting

Virginia Bill Would Shutter the NRA’s Shooting Range — and Is Taking Fire From All Sides

As the Virginia General Assembly, newly under Democratic control, begins to consider an array of firearms-related bills — more than 100 have been introduced, so far — one measure has drawn criticism from both sides of the gun debate.

Under a narrowly tailored proposal introduced Wednesday, the shooting range at the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax would appear to be illegal. The measure outlaws the operation of a privately owned indoor range at a building where 50 or more employees work.

Andrew Goddard, the legislative director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, which supports stronger gun safety laws, said he could think of no range in the state that matches what’s described in the the bill other than the one the NRA operates at its headquarters. He said the measure was clearly meant to “poke the NRA in the eye.” 

“I think it was a very ill-advised move,” Goddard added. “It’s actually counterproductive.”

Goddard told The Trace that he was speaking in a private capacity, not on behalf of the center, because he’d not discussed the bill with his board of directors.

Ammoland, the gun-rights news website, could identify only one other shooting range in the state that could face closure under the proposal.  

Delegate Dan Helmer is the bill’s sponsor. Helmer is a Democrat and West Point graduate who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NRA range is near his district. In November, he defeated a Republican incumbent in an election that gave control of state government to Democrats for the first time in more than two decades and made stricter gun laws a likelihood in Virginia.

That prospect has led to raucous and at times ugly debate. A recent fundraising email that Helmer sent included screenshots of a violent threat made against him online and another comment that targeted his Jewish faith, according to a Virginia Public media report.

Helmer did not respond to requests for comment. Speaking to the Prince William Times, he said, “Yes, this plan would affect the NRA, we also think it will save lives.”

Goddard, whose son was injured in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 people, said there were plenty of good reasons to “pick on” the NRA, but operating a gun range wasn’t among them.

“If gun owners don’t get the chance to train,” he said, “then we are going to have more untrained gun owners walking around with weapons, and that’s not going to make us any safer.”

In a later text exchange, Goddard referenced the massive number of proposed bills dealing with firearms in the mix as the General Assembly’s session got underway on Wednesday. He likened Helmer’s bill to one of the “eccentric” proposals that state GOP lawmakers had made in the past and predicted that “cooler heads” would ensure the measure went nowhere.

“I am going to talk to the man myself,” Goddard said, referring to Helmer.

The Trace invited the NRA to comment, but got no immediate response.