A Non-Partisan Resource for Journalists

Covering the gun story after El Paso and Dayton shootings

What’s next?

The same temporary outrage conversations will arise, but there are some details stirring conversations that move past that.

Large capacity magazines: In the Dayton, Ohio, shooting, the killer claimed nine lives and injured 26 more in less than one minute. Bystanders captured the rapid-fire sound of round after round the shooter was able to get off without reloading. Police showed images of the “double drum” magazines the assailant used that could hold a hundred rounds.

The AP reported: “An analysis performed for CNN found that states that have enacted magazine restrictions are associated with fewer mass shooting events. “Whether a state has a large capacity ammunition magazine ban is the single best predictor of the mass shooting rate in that state, ” said Michael Siegel, a community health science professor at Boston University. These states are associated with a 63% lower rate of mass shootings, according to his analysis.”

Eight states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont) and the District of Columbia restrict gun magazines over 10 rounds. Colorado has a 15-round limit. Vermont restricts large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds for use in a long gun, or more than 15 rounds for use in a handgun. Hawaii limits large capacity magazines that are used only in handguns. New Jersey’s law allows grandfathered large-capacity magazines but requires them to be registered. New Jersey also allows high-capacity magazines used in shooting competitions.

Earlier this year a federal judge set aside California’s restrictive high capacity magazine ban. It took a week to get the ban reinstated and just in that time, experts say, hundreds of thousands, maybe a million, of extended capacity magazines may have been sold in that state. In Colorado, 30 sheriffs joined together to opposed the ban on high-capacity magazines because, they said, such restrictions hinder people’s ability to defend themselves.

Most of the states with magazine restrictions do not require people to surrender high capacity magazines that they own. New York gives magazine owners a month grace period if they bought a high capacity magazine manufactured before Sept. 13, 1994, to get rid of it/them.  Even then, the law does not require the owner to get rid of the magazine until he or she is notified by law enforcement or county licensing officials that possession is unlawful.

The Connecticut law allows owners of high-capacity magazines to keep them if they bought the devices before 2014 and the owner registers the magazines with the state.

From 1994 to 2004, the federal government banned the sale of high-capacity magazines but didn’t ban possession of them if they were bought before the ban. In 2004, the regulation expired.

Body armor: Police say the shooter in Dayton wore body armor. No state outright bans the sale or ownership of body armor, although in Kentucky it is a crime to commit a crime while wearing body armor.
The federal criminal code does forbid felons convicted of a violent crime from possessing body armor under most circumstances.

Here is some background from the National Institute of Justice about the different classifications of body armor.

The Dayton police chief said it was critical for police to have their “patrol shotguns” to combat the body armor protection.

The guns: The gun used in Ohio was a .223 caliber rifle, generally referred to as an AR-15 type semi-automatic weapon. The weapon used in Texas was also a semi-automatic rifle. It appears the El Paso shooter used a WASR-10 AK-47 type rifle rather than the more common AR-15. Both are semi-automatic. The WASR-10 sells for about $600 and is 7.62x39mm caliber. AKs have a maximum effective range of about 300 yards while ARs have an 800-yard range. The WASR is a civilian version of the fully automatic AK-47 version.  So far, police say, it appears the weapons in both shootings were legally purchased.

Mental illness and violence: On Sunday, President Donald Trump blamed mental illness for the dual weekend mass killings.

“These are people who are very, very seriously mentally ill,” he said. The president promised he would have more to say about the shootings Monday morning.

Be careful about how you report about mental illness. National surveys say Americans believe people with mental illnesses are likely to act violently but in fact, most people with mental illness are not.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says: “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.”

This summary from Harvard points out that people with mental illness and a history of drug use are more likely to be violent. Past violence is the single biggest predictor of future violent behavior, the research says.

One predictable scare in the days to come: bomb threats. Journalists, don’t be surprised if — in the days ahead — you see a rise in bomb threats. It is hard to directly connect threats like that to this weekend’s violence but past experience teaches us that you will see a rise. Researchers at Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University found that between 20-30% of attacks are set off by other attacks. The study said, “We find significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are incented by similar events in the immediate past. On average, this temporary increase in probability lasts 13 days.”

In some communities, public schools begin opening this week.  After the mass shooting in Las Vegas, there was a spike in copycat threats. Let me just repeat what I wrote then:

I hope you will think, today, about how your newsroom should respond if copycat threats arise in your coverage area. Have a newsroom conversation, talk about your values and ethical guidelines. This is a time to have the conversations about how you value accuracy over speed and how you are dedicated to throttle back the tone and content of headlines and social media posts.

How would your newsroom react if the threat calls came to you? What if you detect them online or through social media? Be sure that you include other parts of your company in your conversations in case the threats flow in through the switchboard. Be sure all employees understand that everything they post on social media whether on personal or business accounts have the potential to cause harm.

This is the ideal time for you to have conversations with school administrators and police about their protocols. How do they handle these cases and what concerns do they have about coverage of them? Front-end conversations signal to authorities that you are thoughtful and careful. Ask school systems how they communicate with parents when there is a threat. Use this front-end discussion to gather contact names and numbers that you can call after hours or on weekends.

I would be circumspect about running any stories about copycats if there are none. I see no benefit in planting the seed in somebody’s mind so soon after a brutal event like Vegas.

Attitudes about gun laws: History shows us that after a series of high-profile killings like this weekend, there is a hue and cry for stronger gun and ammo laws. But history also shows the attitudes as measured by Gallup, for example, show no overwhelming call for change.

8Chan and video games: It is inevitable that after a violent event people will begin looking for someone, a specific someone or something to blame. One early target this weekend is the website 8chan, which for the third time this year is where a mass shooter published his plans and explained his motivations. The El Paso shooter referenced the mass killer from Christchurch, New Zealand,’s online screed as an inspiration.

8chan’s founder, who is no longer associated with the site, told the Washington Post and The New York Times that the site should shut down.  Cloudflare, the company that hosts 8Chan, says keeping the site up may help law enforcement find the most troubling conversations that would go deeper underground if the conversations were hosted less publicly.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appeared on Sunday morning TV blaming violent video games, in part, for creating a violent culture. After the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Trump called together a meeting of video game companies to talk about gaming violence. There is nothing new about this conversation. In 1992, Congress held hearings on that very topic. In 2011, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California’s attempt to restrict violent video game sales to minors is unconstitutional. The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who pointed out that schools sometimes require students to read violent classical literature, for example, “Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake.”

The opinion also included this passage, “The State’s evidence is not compelling. California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, “[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.” (Video Software Dealers Assn. 556 F. 3d, at 964.) They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.

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