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News and notes on guns in America

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Daily Bulletin: Washington State’s ‘Lie and Try’ Law Nabs Nearly 700 People in Its First Year

Good morning, Bulletin readers. This week we kick off with a Trace partnership on foregone gun traces, the first batch of results from a state law targeting prohibited persons who “lie and try” to buy firearms anyway, and new frontiers for gun safety in states that already have robust restrictions in place.

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

NEW from THE TRACE: We set out to determine how domestic abusers in South Carolina got their guns. Instead, we found a critical breakdown in crime-fighting intelligence. In collaboration with The Post and Courier of Charleston, Ann Givens investigated three dozen South Carolina homicides in which the killers had prior domestic violence charges that should have prevented them from possessing firearms. Her reporting repeatedly ran into dead ends: In nearly two-thirds of the cases, there was no evidence that the police had asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace the murder weapon. Law enforcement experts say comprehensive tracing is key to stopping traffickers and straw purchasers and identifying problem dealers. But only New Jersey requires traces for all crime guns, and in the absence of mandates, use of the simple tool by local law enforcement agencies is spotty. Read the full investigation here.

In a single year, nearly 700 people barred from gun ownership attempted to purchase weapons in Washington state. A law that took effect in July 2017 enlisted a state sheriff and police chief’s group to investigate instances of “lie and try” by reviewing attempted firearms transactions in which the buyer failed a background check and determine which merit police follow-up. In its first year on the books, there were more than 3,200 denied gun transactions, and 669 people were referred to police for further investigation. Of those, 255 were convicted felons, and 192 had protection orders against them barring them from gun ownership. As The Trace has reported, in Florida, prosecutors have no authority whatsoever to pursue the thousands of “lie-and-try” cases in their state. A bill to close that loophole went nowhere this spring.

Gun violence researchers are building an online course to teach young people how to interpret gun violence statistics. Johns Hopkins professor Daniel Webster says the March for Our Lives movement inspired him to create a course that can educate student activists on the nuances of gun policy. The class will launch for free online next year.

California already has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws. Now one legislator wants to add a gun tax. The proceeds of the tax would go to support local violence prevention programs. The measure’s sponsor, Marc Levine, says the Legislature should look to places like Chicago, or Seattle, which place a $25 tax on most guns sold within their city limits. From The Trace archives: Why both liberal and conservative economists are fond of this kind of levy.

A second Broward County sheriff’s deputy has been placed on restricted duty for his response to the Parkland shooting. A public safety commission released results of an investigation that revealed failures in law enforcement’s reaction to the shooting, showing that deputy Edward Eason did not immediately enter the high school upon his arrival, and instead drove to the opposite side of the campus, where he put on his body camera and bullet-proof vest. Eason was one of eight deputies at the high school in time to hear gunfire but did not enter the building, the investigation showed.

The Republican governor of Massachusetts has said his administration will ignore court orders to restore hundreds of gun licenses. At the heart of the matter is a conflict between state and federal law: A state board considers whether gun rights should be fully restored to individuals who have been convicted of certain serious misdemeanors, while the ATF says the same offenses are automatic disqualifiers. In May, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration announced that the state would adhere to the federal standard, which required revoking 340 gun permits. At least a dozen of those one-time license holders have sued the state, and some judges have ruled in their favor. Despite pushback from local police, who say the move is undercutting their licensing authority, Baker’s administration won’t budge.

After watching red states enact red flag laws last year, New York Democrats prepare another push for extreme risk protection orders. The party took control of the state Senate from Republicans on Election Day, and says a red flag bill that stalled after Parkland will be among its top priorities when the Legislature returns to business in January. Also on the agenda: a proposal to increase the time for background checkers to finish vetting complicated cases, from three business days to 10.

ONE LAST THING

“Deadly mayhem in the newsroom for no reason at all?…It seemed far-fetched, yet paralyzing.” So writes Boston Globe editor Felice Belman, reflecting on her brush with the type of terror that many journalists fear today. Twenty years ago, an agitated young man came into her New Hampshire newsroom and indicated that he was going to shoot himself — after he had shot others in the building. Belman recounts her cool reaction that led to the newsroom’s evacuation (no one was hurt); what her colleagues found in their subsequent reporting on the gunman, and her mixed emotions when she learned he had died.