Inevitably, when a gruesome mass shooting occurs in the United States, the gun lobby responds by stating that any reforms to our gun laws aimed at preventing future tragedies would affect only “responsible, law-abiding citizens.” Indeed, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30, 2013, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre responded to the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary by declaring, "Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of deranged criminals."
But what about when the deranged criminals who kill innocent Americans en masse are “law-abiding gun owners” and “good guys,” at least as defined by contemporary American gun laws, which are the weakest in the civilized world?
To be clear, the overwhelming majority of modern mass shootings were committed by Americans who legally purchased the firearms they used to kill with. Mother Jones analyzed 62 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since 1982. Of the 142 guns possessed by those killers, more than three-quarters were obtained legally.
The following is a compilation of mass shootings by legally armed killers:
- September 27, 2012 – Andrew Engeldinger kills seven and injures one in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- August 5, 2012 – Wade Michael Page kills seven and injures three in Oak Creek, Wisconsin with a gun purchased from a federal firearms licensed dealer in nearby West Allis.
- July 20, 2012 – James Holmes kills twelve and injures fifty-eight in Aurora, Colorado with guns purchased over the Internet and from gun shops.
- May 20, 2012 – Ian Stawicki kills six and injures one in Seattle, Washington with guns purchased from Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Washington.
- April 2, 2012 – One L. Goh kills seven and injures three in Oakland, California with a gun purchased from Bullseye in Castro Valley, California.
- February 22, 2012 – Jeong Soo Paek kills five in Norcross, Georgia.
- October 14, 2011 – Scott Evans Dekraai kills eight and injures one in Seal Beach, California.
- January 8, 2011 – Jared Lee Loughner kills six and injures thirteen in Tucson, Arizona with a gun purchased from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson.
- August 3, 2010 – Omar Thornton kills nine and injures two in Manchester, Connecticut with guns purchased from a dealer in East Windsor, Connecticut.
- November 5, 2009 – Nidal Malik Hassan kills thirteen and injures thirty in Fort Hood, Texas with a gun purchased from a gun shop in Killeen, Texas.
- April 3, 2009 – Jiverly Wong kills fourteen and injures four in Binghamton, New York with guns purchased from Gander Mountain in New York.
- March 29, 2009 – Robert Stewart kills eight and injures three in Carthage, California.
- June 25, 2008 – Wesley Neal Higdon kills six and inures one in Henderson, Kentucky with guns purchased online and from retailers in Champlaign, Illiniois.
- February 14, 2008 - Steven Phillip Kazmierczak kills six and injures twenty-one in DeKalb, Illinois with guns purchased from Tony’s Gun & Ammo in Champaign, Illinois and from a website operated by TGSCOM, Inc.
- October 7, 2007 – Tyler Peterson kills six and injures one in Crandon, Wisconsin with a gun given to him by the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department.
- April 16, 2007 – Seung-Hui Cho kills thirty-three and injures seventeen in Blacksburg, Virginia with guns purchased from a website operated by TGSCOM, Inc.
- October 2, 2006 – Charles Carl Roberts kills six and injures five in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with guns purchased from local gun stores in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
- March 25, 2006 – Kyle Huff kills six and wounds two at a rave afterparty in Seattle, Washington with guns purchased at sporting goods stores in Kalispell, Montana.
- January 30, 2006 – Jennifer Sanmarco kills eight in Goleta, California with a gun purchased from a pawn shop in Grants and Gallup, New Mexico.
- March 12, 2005 – Terry Michael Ratzmann kills six and injures one in Brookfield, Wisconsin with a gun purchased from a gun dealer in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
- July 8, 2003 – Douglas Williams kills seven and injures eight in Meridian, Mississippi with guns purchased from a private dealer.
- February 5, 2001 – William D. Baker kills five and injures four in Melrose Park, Illinois with guns that were purchased from Pepper Sports in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
- December 26, 2000 – Michael McDermott kills seven in Wakefield, Massachusetts with guns purchased from gun stores in Massachusetts.
- December 30, 1999 – Silvio Leyva kills five and injures three in Tampa, Florida with guns purchased from Big E’s in Tampa, Florida.
- November 2, 1999 – Bryan Uyesugi kills seven in Honolulu, Hawaii with a gun he legally purchased ten years earlier.
- September 15, 1999 – Larry Gene Ashbrook kills eight and injures seven in Fort Worth, Texas with guns purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers seven years earlier.
- July 29, 1999 – Mark O. Barton kills nine and injures thirteen in Atlanta, Georgia with guns purchased from a gun store in Warner Robins, Georgia.
- March 6, 1998 – Matthew Beck kills five in Newington, Connecticut with a 9mm pistol that he had a permit for.
- December 18, 1997 – Arturo Reyes Torres kills five and injures two in Orange, California with guns purchased from B&E Gun Sales in Orange County, California.
- February 9, 1996 – Clifton McCree kills six and injures one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
- April 3, 1995 – James Daniel Simpson kills six in Corpus Christi, Texas.
- June 20, 1994 – Dean Allen Melburg kills six and injures twenty-three in Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
- December 7, 1993 – Colin Ferguson kills six and injures nineteen in Long Island, New York with a gun purchased at Turner’s Outdoorsmen in California.
- August 6, 1993 – Kenneth Junior French kills four and injures eight in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
- July 1, 1993 – Gian Luigi Ferri kills nine and injures six in San Francisco, California with guns purchased at Super Pawn and Pacific Tactical Weapons in Las Vegas.
- October 15, 1992 – John T. Miller kills five in Watkins Glen, New York with a gun purchased from Mumford Sports in Lichfield, Ohio.
- May 1, 1992 – Eric Houston kills four and injures ten in Olivehurst, California with guns purchased from a local gun retailer.
- November 14, 1991 – Thomas McIlvane kills five and injures five in Royal Oak, Michigan with a gun purchased from a local gun retailer.
- November 1, 1991 – Gang Lu kills six and injures one in Iowa City, Iowa with a gun purchased from Fin & Feather in Iowa City, Iowa.
- October 16, 1991 – George Hennard kills twenty-four and injures twenty in Killen, Texas with guns purchased from Mike’s Gun Shop in Henderson, Nevada.
- September 14, 1989 – Joseph Westbecker kills nine and injures twelve in Louisville, Kentucky with guns purchased from Tilford’s Gun Sales in Louisville, Kentucky.
- January 17, 1989 – Patrick Purdy kills six and injures thirty in Stockton, California with guns purchased from Sandy Trading Post in Sandy, Oregon on August 3, 1988, and Hunter Loan and Jewelry Co. in Stockton, California on December 28, 1988.
- February 16, 1988 – Richard Farley kills seven and injures four in Sunnyvale, California with guns purchased from different sporting goods and gun stores in Northern California.
- April 23, 1987 – William Cruse kills six and injures fourteen in Palm Bay, Florida with guns purchased from a gun store in Norwood, Ohio and The Oaks Trading Post in Melbourne, Florida.
- August 20, 1986 – Patrick Sherrill kills fifteen and injures six in Edmond, Oklahoma with guns issued by the Oklahoma National Guard.
- July 18, 1984 – James Oliver Huberty kills twenty-two and injures nineteen in San Ysidro, California.
- August 20, 1982 – Carl Robert Brown kills eight and injures three in Miami, Florida with a gun purchased from Garcia Gun Center in Hialeah, Florida.
And it’s not like these shooters were squeaky clean individuals. In many of these cases, the shooter was able to legally purchase firearms despite having a significant criminal, mental health, and/or substance abuse history.
This includes the May 2012 shooting in Seattle, Washington, in which concealed handgun permit holder Ian Stawicki killed a total of five people. Friends and family members of Stawicki had seen signs of mental illness in him throughout his entire life. He was charged with four domestic violence-related misdemeanors in 2008 after his girlfriend was injured in an altercation with him at their home. Two years later, Stawicki inexplicably accused his younger brother of causing him blindness and punched him repeatedly in front of their mother. He was charged with assault. All these charges were later dropped when his girlfriend and family declined to press forward with them. Nonetheless, Stawicki’s own father, Walter Stawicki, saw the potential danger and tried to have his son’s concealed handgun permit revoked. Law enforcement told him that under the state’s existing “Shall Issue” law, there was nothing they could do.
Aurora, Colorado gunman James Holmes passed background checks and bought firearms despite seeking mental health treatment and confessing his violent thoughts to a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado. Dr. Lynne Fenton was so alarmed by her sessions with Holmes that she reported him to a campus threat assessment team as well as to campus police. Prosecutors also allege that Holmes threatened a professor at the university and was banned from campus at one point.
Sikh Temple shooter Wade Michael Page legally bought the firearm he used to kill in Wisconsin and had also obtained permits to purchase handguns in North Carolina. This was despite the fact that Page had an extensive history of alcoholism, with prior guilty pleas for DUI and criminal mischief offenses. Page had also been discharged after six years in the Army when he was caught doing exercises while intoxicated. Later, in 2010, Page was fired from a trucking company in North Carolina for driving under the influence. Then there was Page’s involvement in hate groups. In addition to two far-right wing punk rock bands (End Apathy and Definite Hate), Page was involved with many white supremacist organizations and was even suspected of funding a domestic terrorism group. Because of this activity, Page was being monitored by both federal officials and anti-hate watchdog groups.
Why are so many mass shooters “law-abiding citizens” and legal gun purchasers? Because the prohibited categories for gun purchasers are not particularly stringent and for the most part have not been updated since 1968. While the Lautenberg Amendment prohibits those with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from purchasing firearms, other misdemeanor convictions (including for violent offenses) have no effect on a person’s ability to buy guns. In terms of mental illness, in most states only those who have been involuntarily committed or formally adjudicated by a court as a “mental defective” are prohibited from purchasing firearms. Many people who are dangerous mentally ill do not fall into one of these two narrow categories.
Clearly, more needs to be done to keep guns out of the wrong hands. And until something is done, we will continue to see “law-abiding citizens” take innocent American lives in mass shootings.