Nine people are dead and 26 people were injured after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio last weekend. Officers neutralized the lone suspect after he fired for less than a minute using a .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle capable of penetrating ballistic resistant vests typically worn by police and resulting in catastrophic wounds to victims. The shooter had additional magazines with him.
“It was like World War II,” Holly Redman told the New York Times.” I just started crying and looking at all these people. That could have been us.”
The incident took place within 13 hours of another shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where at least 20 people were killed and 26 more wounded. The shooter, a 21-year-old from Allen, Texas, approached the Walmart around 10:00 AM local time and reportedly began shooting a semi-automatic rifle outfitted with large capacity magazines. Those shot range from two years old to 82 years old.
“I saw people crying: children, old people, all in shock,” Manuel Uruchurtu reported for the Times. “I saw a baby, maybe six to eight months old, with blood all over their belly. It was crying and crying. Fortunately it was still alive.”
Those mass shootings were not the only acts of gun violence this country experienced last weekend. Gun violence continues to harm communities on a regular basis—like in Chicago, where three people were killed and an additional 37 were injured in shootings across the city, including seven people shot at Douglas Park. Just last week, two people were shot and killed in a Southhaven, Mississippi Walmart; three people were killed and 12 others wounded by an active shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in northern California; and one man was killed and 11 others injured, when two gunmen opened fire at Brownsville, Brooklyn, block party attended by thousands.
This is what we know about gun laws in both states and nationally—and which policies could break this cycle of violence.
In 2017, Ohio had the nation’s 22nd highest gun death rate. There are 13.7 gun deaths in Ohio per 100,000 people every year. The state has enacted few laws to keep residents safe from gun violence; it received a D on our state gun law scorecard and was ranked 22nd out of the 50 states on the strength of its firearm laws.
Ohio does not require background checks prior to the transfer of a firearm between private parties; does not prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles or large capacity ammunition magazines; does not restrict firearm access by people convicted of most violent misdemeanors, including domestic abuse and hate crimes; does not require firearms dealers to obtain a state license; does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time; does not impose a waiting period on firearm purchases; does not regulate ammunition sales; does not require residents to safely store firearms around children; does not allow local governments to regulate firearms; and does not provide local governments with the discretion to deny concealed weapons permits. In 2016, Governor John Kasich signed a dangerous new law that made it easier for dangerous people to carry loaded, concealed guns in school safety zones, libraries and even childcare centers.
Ohio moderately strengthened its gun laws in 2018 by expanding domestic violence protection orders to include dating partners, and the state legislature has been considering a permitless carry bill which would make it much harder for law enforcement to identify prohibited people who are illegally carrying guns in public and increase the risk that everyday disagreements will escalate into shootouts.
With 20 people reported murdered, the El Paso Walmart shooting would be the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history have happened in Texas: 26 people were shot and killed at the Sutherland Springs shooting in 2017, 23 people were shot and killed at the Killeen shooting in 1991 and 16 people were killed in the University of Texas Tower shooting.
In 2017, Texas had the nation’s 27th highest gun death rate. There are 11.7 gun deaths per 100,000 people every year in the state. Texas has enacted almost no laws to keep residents safe from gun violence; it received an F on our state gun law scorecard and was ranked the 18th worst state for firearms laws.
Texas does not require background checks prior to the transfer of a firearm by an unlicensed person; does not prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles or large capacity ammunition magazines; does not restrict firearm access by people convicted of violent misdemeanors, many categories of domestic abuse and hate crimes; does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time; has not regulated unsafe handguns; does not require firearm owners to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement; and has no significant regulation on ammunition sales. Texas is also a major source of gun trafficking to other states; in 2016, Texas exported the third-largest number of crime guns among the states.
In 2015, Texas passed dangerous laws that allow guns on public college and university campuses, and allow the open carry of firearms in public places. In 2017, Texas further weakened its gun laws by removing school districts’ authority to prohibit concealed carry permit holders from possessing firearms in vehicles in school parking lots. In 2019, Texas did not advance gun safety legislation, including bills that would have established an Extreme Risk law and expanded background checks.
Gun violence is a public safety threat that has significant public health implications, but the gun lobby has effectively prevented our federal research institutions from studying gun violence for over 20 years, but federal funding from Congress can change that by investing in federal research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). The House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill for 2020 allocated $50 million of funding for gun violence research at CDC and NIH, and the Senate should immediately pass legislation with similar funding for gun violence research.
Despite a lack of research, we can connect the dots. Too much of what collided last weekend is common in the data we have access to.
Young adults, for example, are at an elevated risk of committing gun violence. The shooter in Dayton was 24 years old. The shooter in El Paso was 21 years old. The shooter in Gilroy, California, was 19 years old.
Individuals age 18 to 20 comprise only four percent of the population but commit 17 percent of gun homicides. Based on data from the FBI, 18- to 24-year-olds also account for a disproportionate percentage of arrests for homicide and violent crime in general. Young adults ages 18 to 25 also experience the highest rates of serious mental illness, and suicide attempts that result in death or treatment in a hospital peak between ages 16 and 21. It is well-documented that the biological processes that take place during late adolescence and young adulthood predispose individuals to riskier and less controlled behavior.
Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, four states tightened minimum age laws, specifically addressing the ability of people under 21 to access firearms: California, Florida, Vermont and Washington.
A universal background checks law would ensure that people prohibited from purchasing firearms cannot do so through an unregulated sale from an unlicensed or online seller or at a gun show. Closing this background check loophole is critical to making sure criminals and other dangerous people do not have access to firearms. It is also a policy that 97 percent of Americans support. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, over 150 days ago; the Senate should immediately pass this bill.
Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws enable family members and law enforcement to petition a court for a temporary order prohibiting a person from purchasing or possessing firearms. These orders are sought when the individual demonstrates behaviors that indicate they may be a danger to themselves or others. Countless shootings have demonstrated that people who do not fall within existing categories of prohibited people can still pose significant threats to themselves and public safety. In many cases, people close to a mass shooter had observed clear warning signs of violence but were unable to act to keep him from accessing weapons. Congress should pass legislation to incentivize states to pass these laws and help states to effectively implement them by providing grant funding. The Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (H.R.1236/S. 506) would provide grants to states which enact extreme risk laws.
Assault weapons, which played a role in both of last weekend’s shootings, are a class of semi-automatic firearm specifically designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently. They are a relatively new class of weapon—during the 1980s, the gun industry sought to reverse a decline in consumer demand for guns by developing and marketing new types of weapons based on high-powered military designs. Assault weapons are frequently the guns of choice for individuals who carry out horrific public attacks; a review of 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012 by Mother Jones found that assault weapons were recovered in almost a quarter of them.
In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which made it “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer or possess” a semiautomatic assault weapon. The law expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, semi-automatic, military style weapons that were formerly banned under federal law are now legal unless it is one of the seven states or the District of Columbia that have banned them.
Research examining the effect of the federal assault weapons ban on high-fatality mass shootings, categorized as those with six or more deaths, found that the number of high-fatality mass shootings fell by 37 percent and the number of people dying in such shootings fell by 43 percent. After the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again—we saw an astonishing 183 percent increase in high-fatality mass shootings and a 239 percent increase in deaths during such shootings.
Assault weapons have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters because of their capacity to inflict mass casualties in a short period of time, even when compared with other modern firearms. To minimize the risk that these weapons will end up in the hands of the next mass shooter, Congress should regulate semiautomatic assault weapons under the National Firearms Act (NFA), the same way that gun machine guns are regulated, and consider banning the future sale and production of assault weapons. Congress should pass legislation (H.R. 1296/S. 66) that would prohibit the future manufacture and sale of assault weapons coupled with legislation (H.R. 1263) which would require any semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine to be regulated under the NFA.
Similarly, large-capacity magazines, some of which can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, significantly increase a shooter’s ability to injure and kill large numbers of people quickly because they enable the individual to fire repeatedly without needing to reload. A review of mass shootings between 2009 and 2017 found that shootings involving large-capacity magazines resulted in twice as many fatalities, with 14 times as many injuries per incident on average, compared to those without. Even after removing the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, large-capacity magazines still resulted in nearly twice as many fatalities and six times as many injuries during this time frame. Another analysis of mass shootings between 1982 and 2012 found that large-capacity ammunition magazines were recovered in 50 percent of incidents.
Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning large capacity ammunition magazines. Although large capacity ammunition magazine bans are often enacted in conjunction with assault weapon bans, they can also be enacted as a stand-alone law. Large capacity ammunition magazine bans reduce the capacity, and thus the potential lethality, of any firearm that can accept a large capacity ammunition magazine, including a firearm that is not an assault weapon. Crime data also suggests that a ban on large capacity magazines would have a greater impact on gun crime than a ban on assault weapons alone. Congress should ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Legislation pending in the House and Senate would do just this (H.R. 1186/S. 447).
Hate and bigotry have also motivated some of the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history, just as it fueled the deadly violence last weekend. In too many cases, the presence of a firearm turns bigoted threats into deadly assaults. And yet, in most states, people who have been convicted of violent hate crimes would pass a background check to acquire a weapon.
Violent extremists and hate groups often use firearms as tools of violence and intimidation. In recent years, mass shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, a historic African-American church in Charleston and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, were among the deadliest hate crimes ever committed in the United States—and among the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history. The disturbing scenes playing out in the streets of Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 were yet another instance of the hate that plagues our communities every day.
Between 2010 and 2014, roughly 43,000 hate crimes were committed in the United States involving the use or threatened use of a gun. Since 2014, hate crime incidents across the U.S. have become more numerous and more violent. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked a 17 percent increase in the number of active hate groups since 2014, with rising hate crime rates driven largely by rising rates of violent hate and a record high number of active hate groups in 2018.
From 2016 to 2017, there was a 16 percent increase in hate crimes against black Americans and a 24 percent increase in hate crimes against Hispanic and Latino Americans. Police departments in numerous major cities have reported significant spikes in hate crimes, including New York City, which reported a 24 percent increase in hate crimes in 2016 followed by an additional 28 percent increase in 2017. Since 2014, the number of active anti-Muslim hate groups has increased four–fold, coinciding with a nearly 600 percent increase in hate crimes targeting the American Muslim community. The Anti-Defamation League has also reported a “significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016.”
While most U.S. states, and federal law, prohibit convicted domestic violence misdemeanants from acquiring guns, individuals convicted of violent hate crime misdemeanors remain eligible to keep and purchase guns in the majority of the country. The Disarm Hate Act (H.R. 2708/S. 1462) would prohibit people convicted of violent hate crimes from acquiring or possessing firearms after conviction.
“The defenders of the status quo—advocates of the firearms industry and the politicians paid to defend it—will tell you that horrific acts of violence like this are beyond our control,” Gabby Giffords said. “This could not be further from the truth. Every day we fail to take action, we choose this fate. Every day politicians fail to acknowledge and act upon this crisis, they allow the gun violence epidemic to continue.”