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The inconvenient facts about ‘tougher background checks’

By Jim Geraghty, National Review

Yet another horrific school shooting, and yet another call for legal changes that, had they been in place before the shooting, would not have changed the outcome.

A few months ago, the National Institute of Justice, the research agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, and The Violence Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center, completed what they called the most comprehensive study ever done of mass shootings in the U.S. from 1966 to 2019. Among the report’s conclusions:

Persons who committed public mass shootings in the U.S. over the last half century were commonly troubled by personal trauma before their shooting incidents, nearly always in a state of crisis at the time, and, in most cases, engaged in leaking their plans before opening fire. Most were insiders of a targeted institution, such as an employee or student. Except for young school shooters who stole the guns from family members, most used legally obtained handguns in those shootings. [Emphasis added.]

Nearly half of individuals who engaged in mass shootings (48 percent) leaked their plans in advance to others, including family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as strangers and law enforcement officers.

This morning, there are reports that the 18-year-old gunman who yesterday killed 19 students and three adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, sent “cryptic and now chilling messages to a stranger” through his Instagram account hours before the attack.

Some may fairly ask how a troubled 18-year-old young man obtained the funds to purchase several thousand dollars’ worth of firearms and ammunition before he started his rampage.

As far as we know, as of this writing, the Uvalde shooter had no criminal record. No one in law enforcement, his family, or his school ever filed a petition seeking to remove firearms from his possession because he posed a potential threat to himself or others. As far as we know, no one ever filed a restraining order against him. The shooter purchased his firearms legally.

In the coming days and weeks, you will hear a lot more calls for “tougher background checks,” but because there was no paper trail indicating that the Uvalde shooter was a threat, it is hard to see what kind of “background check” would have prevented this legal adult from purchasing a firearm. Federally licensed firearms dealers are not going to comb through the Instagram and social-media accounts of potential buyers.

You will also hear calls for an “assault-weapons ban” in the coming days. According to that NIJ study, the majority of mass shooters use handguns, and the overwhelming majority of school shooters do not legally purchase their weapons but instead took them from family members:

Notably, most individuals who engaged in mass shootings used handguns (77.2 percent), and 25.1 percent used assault rifles in the commission of their crimes. Of the known mass shooting cases (32.5 percent of cases could not be confirmed), 77 percent of those who engaged in mass shootings purchased at least some of their guns legally, while illegal purchases were made by 13 percent of those committing mass shootings. In cases involving K-12 school shootings, over 80 percent of individuals who engaged in shootings stole guns from family members.

Based upon what we know of mass shootings over the past five decades, an “assault-weapons ban” would not have prevented the majority of school shootings or mass shootings. In about a quarter of past mass shootings, a ban would have required the shooter to use different weapons, probably lower capacity, and perhaps, on the margins, reduced the number of casualties. But even that point is highly debatable: The Virginia Tech shooter used a Walther P22 with a capacity of ten rounds and a Glock 19 with a capacity of 15 rounds, and he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

The mass shooters who have horrified us the most in recent years are teenagers and very young adults who haven’t yet accumulated a criminal record, and who were children less than a decade ago. According to local reports, the Uvalde shooter turned 18 on May 16.

If you go to CNN’s coverage of the shooting this morning, it is a long list of world leaders and NBA coaches calling for gun control. The site seems much less interested in telling you what actually happened.

Read more at National Review.

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