Mass shooters exploited gun laws, loopholes before carnage
The suspects in the shootings at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school and a Buffalo, New York, supermarket were both just 18, authorities say, when they bought the weapons used in the attacks. They were too young to legally purchase alcohol or cigarettes, but old enough to arm themselves with assault-style weapons.
They are just the latest suspected U.S. mass shooters whose ability to obtain guns has raised concerns. Some shooters got guns legally under current firearms laws, or because of background check lapses or law enforcement’s failure to heed warnings of concerning behavior.
Here is how some suspects in shootings where at least 10 people were killed got their guns:
UVALDE, TEXAS: MAY 24, 2022. 21 DEAD.
Salvador Ramos legally purchased two guns in the days before the attack that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School — an AR-style rifle from a federally licensed gun dealer in the Uvalde area on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. Ramos made the purchases just days after turning 18, the minimum age under federal law for buying a rifle. He also purchased several hundred rounds of ammunition. At least one of the rifles was modeled after the U.S. military’s M4 carbine rifle, though without the M4′s ability to switch to fully automatic or fire a three-round burst. Ramos was killed at the school by a Border Patrol team.
BUFFALO, NEW YORK: MAY 14, 2022. 10 DEAD.
Payton Gendron legally purchased the Bushmaster XM-15 E2S used in the attack on Tops Friendly Market from a federally licensed gun dealer near his home in Conklin, New York, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Buffalo. In an online diary that surfaced after the attack, Gendron said he bought the AR-15-style weapon in January, bought a shotgun in December and received a rifle as a Christmas present from his dad when he was 16. Last year, Gendron was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation under a state mental health law after writing “murder-suicide” in response to a teacher’s question. New York is one of 19 states with red flag laws that allow courts to take guns from people posing immediate danger, but that didn’t happen with Gendron, who was 17 at the time. State police described his threat as “general in nature.” Gendron is charged with murder.
BOULDER, COLORADO: MARCH 22, 2021. 10 DEAD.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol, a semi-automatic weapon with a capacity of up to 30 rounds, six days before the shooting at King Soopers grocery store, police said. Alissa was prone to sudden rage and was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to probation for attacking a high school classmate. Colorado has a universal background check law covering almost all gun sales, but that misdemeanor would not have prevented him from buying a weapon, experts said. Had it been a felony, federal law would’ve barred his purchase. A judge ruled Alissa is mentally incompetent to stand trial.
EL PASO, TEXAS: AUG. 3, 2019. 23 DEAD.
Patrick Crusius bought an AK-47-style rifle and 1,000 rounds of hollow-point ammunition online 45 days before he walked into a Walmart store and opened fire, killing 23 people and injuring two dozen others, before confessing that he had been targeting Mexicans, according to prosecutors. A Crusius family lawyer said his mother raised concerns about the purchase in a call to police on June 27. Police said she asked if Crusius, then 21, was old enough to buy a gun. Police said she was assured he was, if he passed a background check, and she’d seen no recent change in his behavior. He’s charged with capital murder in Texas and federal hate crimes and firearms offenses.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA: MAY 31, 2019. 12 DEAD.
Former Virginia Beach city employee DeWayne Craddock legally purchased six firearms in the three years before he opened fire on a municipal building, including the two .45-caliber pistols used in the attack. A review of the shooting commissioned by the city found that Craddock displayed no warning signs or “prohibited behaviors associated with a pathway to violence,” and had no known history of mental health treatment. Craddock was killed by police. ___
THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA: NOV. 7, 2018. 12 DEAD.
Ian David Long, a former Marine machine gunner who served in Afghanistan, used a legally purchased .45-caliber pistol with an extended magazine in the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill. Months before the shooting, sheriff’s deputies called to Long’s home found him acting irrationally, but a mental health specialist didn’t feel he needed to be involuntarily committed. California has a red flag law, but there’s no indication authorities sought a court order to take away Long’s guns. Long killed himself.
PITTSBURGH: OCT. 27, 2018. 11 DEAD.
Robert Gregory Bowers had a carry license and legally owned the Colt AR-15 SP1 and three Glock .357 handguns police said he used to kill worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue. Bowers spent months posting rants against Jews on Gab, a social media site favored by right-wing extremists. He also posted photos of his “glock family.” Just before the attack, he posted a screed against a Jewish organization, saying “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” None of the rhetoric appeared to raise red flags. His case is pending. ___
SANTA FE, TEXAS: MAY. 18, 2018. 10 DEAD.
Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student, used a shotgun and a .38-caliber handgun that his father purchased legally and stored in a closet at their home, authorities said. Prior to the attack, Pagourtzis posted a photo on social media of a T-shirt with the phrase “Born to Kill” and had writings indicating he planned to attack his high school. A judge sent him to a mental health facility after ruling he was incompetent to stand trial.
PARKLAND, FLORIDA: FEB. 14, 2018. 17 DEAD.
Nikolas Cruz legally purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle in February 2017 from a licensed dealer a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, authorities said. He’d been treated at a mental health clinic but hadn’t been there in more than a year. Federal law prohibits gun purchases if a court declares a person a “mental defective” or commits that person to an institution, but not if the person seeks treatment voluntarily. Cruz was 19 at the time of the shooting. He pleaded guilty in October. A four-month penalty trial scheduled to begin this summer will determine if he is sentenced to death or life without parole.
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS: NOV. 5, 2017. 25 DEAD.
Devin Patrick Kelley’s history of domestic abuse barred him from buying guns. He was able to because information about his crimes was never entered into a federal database used for background checks. The Air Force failed to follow rules requiring that it inform the FBI about his conduct. Kelley purchased four guns, including an AR-15-style rifle found at First Baptist Church, from licensed Texas and Colorado dealers over a four-year span. Kelley killed himself. ___
LAS VEGAS: OCT. 1, 2017. 58 DEAD.
Stephen Paddock purchased 33 of the 49 weapons found in his hotel room and at his homes in the year before he opened fire on a country music festival. Paddock passed all background checks. His gradual accumulation of guns went undetected because federal law doesn’t require licensed gun dealers to alert the government about rifle purchases. Paddock killed himself. ___
ORLANDO, FLORIDA: JUNE 12, 2016. 49 DEAD.
Omar Mateen purchased an AR-15-style rifle, a Sig Sauer MCX, and a handgun from a licensed dealer on separate days about a week before the Pulse nightclub attack. He passed a background check and had a security license that allowed him to be armed while on duty. The FBI investigated Mateen in 2013 and 2014 over co-workers’ concerns that he’d spoken about ties to terrorist groups. Neither inquiry led to charges. Even if he’d been placed on a terrorism watch list, Congress in 2015 rejected attempts to prevent people on the list from purchasing guns. Mateen was killed by police.
SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA: DEC. 2, 2015. 14 DEAD.
Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, used weapons the FBI said his neighbor, Enrique Marquez, legally purchased from a licensed dealer in 2011 and 2012. Marquez pleaded guilty to charges he conspired to provide support to terrorists and made false statements to acquire a firearm. He told investigators Farook asked him to buy the weapons because he would draw less attention. Farook and Malik were killed by police.
ROSEBURG, OREGON: OCT. 1, 2015. 10 DEAD.
Christopher Harper-Mercer and his family members legally purchased the handguns and rifle used in the Umpqua Community College shooting from a licensed dealer. Investigators found six guns at the college and eight at an apartment. Neighbors said Harper-Mercer and his mother went target shooting together. Harper-Mercer killed himself after he was wounded by police.
WASHINGTON: SEPT. 16, 2013. 12 DEAD.
Aaron Alexis, a former reservist turned civilian contractor, passed background checks and legally purchased the shotgun used in the Washington Navy Yard shooting despite recent mental health treatment and a history of violent outbursts. He previously fired a gun in anger twice but wasn’t prosecuted in either case. Alexis was killed by police.
NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT: DEC. 14, 2012. 26 DEAD.
Adam Lanza used his mother’s weapons, including a .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle, in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza’s mother, whom he fatally shot before going to the school, also purchased the ammunition. Lanza killed himself. ___
AURORA, COLORADO: JULY 20, 2012. 12 DEAD.
James Holmes was receiving psychiatric treatment when he passed required federal background checks and legally purchased the weapons he used in his movie theater assault. As in the Parkland and Navy Yard cases, treatment alone did not prevent him from buying guns. He was convicted and sentenced to 12 life terms and thousands of years in prison.