Is It Really 'Unclear' Whether a Background Check Would Have Stopped a Killer Who Passed One?

The New York Times thinks so.


Office of the Governor

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has latched onto Wednesday's televised shooting in Roanoke as a reason to renew his push for "common-sense gun restrictions," by which he means laws limiting handgun purchases to one per month and requiring background checks for private gun sales. According to The New York Times, "It was unclear Thursday if the measures Mr. McAuliffe advocates would have kept the Roanoke suspect, Vester Lee Flanagan, from purchasing the Glock handgun he used to kill [Alison] Parker and [Adam] Ward." That is simply not true: McAulliffe's proposals plainly have nothing to do with the details of Flanagan's crime, so it it is quite clear they would not have prevented it.

As the Times notes, Flanagan bought his gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer in the Roanoke area. That means he underwent a background check. As news outlets were reporting Thursday morning, he passed because he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record. So we know for a fact that a background check would not have stopped Flanagan, because it didn't. And since he used only the one pistol, the relevance of a one-gun-a-month limit on purchases is equally mysterious.

As is usually the case after highly publicized shootings, there is no logical connection between the crime and the policy proposals that are presented as a response to it. The reasoning seems to be that any crime involving guns justifies any legislation dealing with guns. The vacuity of that argument may help explain why such bills have failed more often than not in recent years. Disarming all "crazy people," as Parker's father proposes, may be impractical and unconstitutional, but at least it's not a non sequitur.

NEXT: Wacky British Idea: Why Not Tell the Truth About E-Cigarettes?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. What are you suggesting that a politician would try to play politics with the death of someone…or two?

    1. Standing on bodies gives them a higher stage.

    2. Kate’s Law anyone?

      1. Where’s sharpton, jackson? It’s whitey’s fault this guy got a gun. Probably was background checked by a white guy, bought a gun from a white guy who worked in a gun shop owned by a white guy.

  2. Whenever the background check fails, and it will, that becomes a new “loophole” to be closed in the name of “common sense gun control ” until eventually the long term goal of criminalizing all gun ownership is reached. This is why there can be no negotiation or compromise with the gun control fanatics. Today’s common sense compromise is always tomorrow’s loophole that must be closed.

    1. But FEELZ John FEELZ!!

    2. I used to think some compromise might be worthwhile in the long run. I’ve been thoroughly disabused of that notion by seeing

      1) How callously the NSA and other agencies will flout the need for warrants to access supposedly protected information.
      2) How relentless progressives are in stamping out other things they don’t like.

      I’ve come to agree with you on this one. There really is no room for compromise.

      1. Anytime you compromise with evil you lose. Nothing good can be gained by giving in to the gun grabbers.

      2. I used to think some compromise might be worthwhile in the long run. I’ve been thoroughly disabused of that notion

        Same here. I used to think that registration, and even something like licensing with a psych eval would be OK to guard against this kind of evil.

        Then I realized that it wouldn’t stop most of these psychos, only create a higher barrier to legal gun ownership for people who had done nothing wrong and would hurt no-one.

        And that it might even be abused by that same kind of evil down the road, or at least become red tape for the sake of red tape. There is a special kind of bureaucrat who gets intense, personal satisfaction from understanding and enforcing the minutia of rules, even if the rule itself makes little sense.

    3. Now a judge says that the 2d amendment applies also to illegals. I wonder how that background check is going to work.

  3. Terry didn’t even wait for the bodies to be in ground before he set his soapbox on top of their graves.

    1. That’s the kind of class I expect of him.

    2. IN the ground? He barely waited for them to HIT the ground.

      1. Coincidentally, he was doing a live segment on WTOP radio as this was breaking and was already on the case.

    3. I’m sure he’ll rummage through the caskets for loose change first.

  4. The reasoning seems to be that any crime involving guns justifies any legislation dealing with guns.

    No, the reasoning is that any high-profile crime involving guns might just provide political cover for the legislation certain people want to enact for their own reasons, that have little to do with crime. There’s no point pretending there might be some idealistic motivation to it. We’ve hashed this issue out in public to such an extent now that anyone who’s still confused is being confused on purpose.

    1. ^ THIS

      What was the quote from the Brady campaign dolts, “The only time people will listen to us is right after a mass shooting,” or something like that.

  5. It makes me uncomfortable to look at this as anything more than a terrible tragedy perpetrated by a psychotic and deranged individual. That said, is it possible all of the perceived racial slights and wrongs that are publicized by our politicians and members of the media regardless of their actual merit are having an adverse effect on some people?…

    1. No. The guy was paranoid and delusional. I don’t blame the confederate flag for roof, I won’t blame SJWs for this clown. Crazy is crazy.

      1. He was paranoid and crazy. But we have also seen too many examples of SJWs insisting in universities and elsewhere that all white people are racist, that failing to acknowledge it proves they’re racist, and that everyday figures of speech are racist, and that black folks are harmed and held back by this allegedly pervasive racism. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that this toxic soup of grievance may have helped to exacerbate his issues and help push him over the edge?

        1. And what about those violent video games? Sorry, individuals are responsible for themselves. If this psycho didn’t have the SC shooting to blame it would have been something else.

          1. I’m with Florida Man on this. It should give those people pause, but ultimately individuals are responsible for their own actions.

          2. Sorry, individuals are responsible for themselves.

            Completely agree with you on that. But people are also influenced by their environment. And the video game analogy fails because everyone knows that video games are make-believe fantasy, while the SJW “you are a perpetual victim of white privilege/racism” is indoctrinated throughout American culture as a very real and very harmful phenomenon. And even questioning whether that is truly the case gets someone labeled as a racist.

        2. “…that failing to acknowledge it proves they’re racist…”

          Good point. My friend used to determine who was a communist. He ask them, “are you a communist?” If they said no, that proves they were because all commies lie. Of course he was joking, sadly, those you mention think that aren’t.

      2. Yes crazy is crazy but to assume that every reference or use of the word ‘field’ or ‘swinging’ is racist can be attributed to all the SJW trigger-word bullshit.

      3. The guy was paranoid and delusional, yeah, maybe. But he had an entire subculture of narcissistic dorks, constantly reassuring him that his paranoia and delusions were entirely justified. I’m surprised that more of his ilk haven’t popped off and killed some people.

    2. Wow, this guy was a couple eggs short of a dozen. How did he manage to get hired in the first place with this kind of behavior?

      1. Maybe they didn’t have a black reporter and needed one for affirmative action?

        1. He was black and gay – they got to check off two victim class boxes on hiring him.

      2. The better question is how did he keep getting rehired? There’s an answer.

        1. Restoras|8.28.15 @ 9:02AM|#

          Maybe they didn’t have a black reporter and needed one for affirmative action?

        2. On the news today the manager at the station said that they did check his references, and that they were all positive or at least not negative.

          He said it is almost impossible to get a negative reference these days. Apparently some companies forbid their employees from handing out references. I guess the ones that do give references are reluctant to say something negative.

          1. Our company has a policy of only confirming that candidate did in fact work here from X date to Y date.

          2. That’s standard practice and has been for a long time. Companies will confirm past employment, position, length of employment….basically name, rank and serial number. But nothing either positive or negative. Litigious society, doncha know.

    3. Psychotic and deranged is a blurry, confusing way of saying the killer was an evil asshole.

    4. “It makes me uncomfortable to look at this as anything more than a terrible tragedy perpetrated by a psychotic and deranged individual.”

      Yeah, and the shooting was sad, too.

  6. As news outlets were reporting Thursday morning, he passed because he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.

    But he clearly had mental issues! He should have been disqualified! TOP MEN CAN READ MINDS!!!

    1. I fear this is not far from the truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start wanting to know your prescription history – ever had a temporary anti-depressant prescription? Disqualified.

      Which of course will only serve to stigmatize mental illness more than it already is, and dissuade those that suffer from it to seek help.

      1. Ordered to go to anger management classes? Get a Xanax prescription when your parent died?

        1. Clearly, these are signs of mental instability. Disqualified.

      2. I can see a series of expensive (for the public) lawsuits in the future. The argument that you surrender your civil rights if you are depressed is one I would hope got short shrift in the courts, but you never know these days.

      3. ^This.

        I genuinely fear such a proposal will become a state, if not federal law within the next decade. That’s why, despite my borderline bi-polar issues, I refuse to seek professional help. A daily dose of GABA and 5-HTP as an alternative seems to keep me on a fairly even keel.

        Any and all pretense that can be used to violate my 2nd amendment rights I avoid like the plague. Sure, I’m not the most emotionally stable person on the planet but, I’m not violent. There should be no justification for denying me the right to defend myself in the most efficient manner possible when I’ve displayed no empirical evidence of being a danger to society.

        The fact that this idea even has to be addressed is a sad commentary on the relentless pursuit of the left to erode our liberties when given even the slightest chance to do so.

    2. Watching CNN, I see that the boyfriend and father of the slain reporter are calling for “sensible gun control.”

      How much you wanna bet gun-grabber groups contacted them within ten minutes after the murders?

      1. There were parents after the sandy hook shooting that supported gun rights, you sure didn’t hear much from them.

  7. Well, at least this thread will be Tony-free today.

    1. He’ll probably pop in when the thread is dead and drop a non-sequitur about penis size or something.

      1. I really just don’t understand the irrational fear of an inanimate object and the equally irrational conclusion that banning/confiscation would solve anything. Aside form his love of the state and all things related to it – it just makes no sense.

        1. It isn’t an irrational fear. It is the well founded fear that the completely fascist State he so obviously loves would never be permitted to come into existence by an armed populace.

      2. Tony is a noted corpse-fucker.

        1. He was famous for it, true – I’m sure he thought it was a terribly clever way to get the last word in. Does Tony still do that?

  8. The obvious solution, as mentioned here yesterday, is to expand the criteria under which a person can be denied. Divorce, job loss, foreclosure, health problems, deaths of loved ones . . . all these would be fed into a federal database, and all would be automatic disqualifiers to purchasing or owning a firearm.

    1. Jeez Karl do you have to spell it out for them so completely?

    2. Clearly, only someone with mental issues would want to own a gun, so wanting to own a gun is proof of mental issues, which therefore disqualify you from owning a gun.

      1. I know some lefties that think this way.

      2. Unfortunately, you don’t have to dig very deep into the HuffPo threads to see pretty much this exact line of reasoning.

    3. Also, state fusion centers should be on the lookout for people amassing large collections of sex toys and gay porn.

  9. Is this going to fly in Virginia? Even with the cancerous DC infection of northeast VA, I thought the state was pretty pro-gun.

    Is McAuliffe angling for a spot in a Clinton or Biden Administration instead of re-election?

    1. The influx of federal workers from DC is overwhelming the rest of the state. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t fly. Now, I’m not so sure.

    2. There are some weird restrictions on FFL sales — such as you can’t buy a gun as a VA resident until you’ve been a resident 30 days, and you have to show proof of citizenship to buy an “assault rifle”. Oddly these don’t apply to private sales. But on the whole, VA is pro-gun. For all his mouthing off, McAuliffe hasn’t been able to do squat with gun control.

      1. “McAuliffe hasn’t been able to do squat with gun control.”

        Because of the logical progression premise. Gun control is at an impasse currently. Aside from minor shit that reveals itself as inconveniences to the average gun owner the only organic outflow from here is to enter the arena of outright dictatorial policy in terms of actual gun ‘control’. I’m not a believer in tipping points per se’ because the term seems more poetic than realistic but if there ever was a tipping point that could be hanging in the balance it surely lies within the next step to the ultimate control of guns.

        1. It’s very strange to read you when your not on a trip.

          1. Bit of post-recovery going on currently before the next delirium tremens.

      2. Gun controllers have gotten a well-deserved reputation as a pack of prissy scolds. Meanwhile, the indoor ranges in NoVA get more and more crowded, and the crowds get younger and more ethnic. It’s great.

    3. Fun fact: Virginia doesn’t let sitting Governors run for re-election. You have to take a term off first. So, yeah, McAuliffe wants to make it to the national stage.

    4. There is no re-election for Virginia governors. Limited to one term.

  10. The loophole they talk about is a private person selling his propperty to another,usally cash on the table.Years ago ,I bought a .357 out of the bulletin board..Went to this guy house,looked at the gun,gave him cash.All of my guns I have bought this way ,excpet my Chuchill o\u 12 gauge 3 inch mag.Many ducks,geese and upland birds have fallen to it.

  11. I live in the belly of NoVa and I don’t see him getting much traction within the state. Angling for a place in a democratic administration is probably more likely.

  12. Ted Cruz’ legacy lives on. Thanks for the federal shutdown and accompanying federal employee and contractor forced vacation right before the VA gubernatorial election, dumbass attention whore! You and Trump make an excellent pair.

  13. Rare bullets have senseless vectors that will always hit targets regardless of government efforts to thwart them. This is a tragedy that must be accepted as merely one of many horrors that haunt the endings of our existences.

  14. He was on the news this morning say that we clearly need better mental health screening. A few things

    1) Is there any evidence this guy had actual mental issues, as opposed to just being very angry, very hateful, and very evil?
    2) What does improved mental health screening actually mean, governor? That everyone who buys a gun has to undergo a psychiatric evaluation?

    Ignoring any issues of Constitutionality or basic morality, is there any evidence that psychiatric evaluations are actually rigorous and accurate enough to identify potentially violent people with anything approaching high probability?

    1. Is there any evidence this guy had actual mental issues, as opposed to just being very angry, very hateful, and very evil?

      No but a lot of delicate flowers take comfort in a pop psuedo scientific explanation for evil because they feel evil itself is some sort of scary sky-daddy concept.

    2. I’m convinced that progressives are not really interested in answering your questions. Instead, they want only to progress. And they progress by pinning a solution to every problem that pops up–whether it is an effective solution or not, matters not. They’re only concerned with ticking off check boxes and progressing

    3. Is there any evidence this guy had actual mental issues, as opposed to just being very angry, very hateful, and very evil?

      Since progressives think everything can be solved by passing a law, they can’t acknowledge that there are some very evil people in this world. If it can be chocked up to mental illness, then there’s more public motivation to spend other people’s money on facilities, psychiatrists, etc., etc.

      Fundamentally, progressives refuse to acknowledge tradeoffs and why some people may disagree with the tradeoffs progressives want everyone else to make.

  15. What we are seeing here is the Gun Control faction in panic. They are losing. More Americans own more guns than ever. The minorities that the Democrats depend on for election are getting wise to the disarmament shuck-and-jive. Most Democrat politicians have learned not to touch the issue with a barge pole, and the ones still willing to are getting fought on it, even in supposedly Liberal strongholds. National level politicians who want to get elected and run their mouths on the subject are finding they have to be seen shooting a gun – like Obama and the infamous shotgun picture, which looked as natural and comfortable as a dog in a dress. Their tactic of proposing legislation in the wake of a tragedy has proven flawed; if they wait a reasonable time, the public recovers from the shock and begins to ask embarrassing questions about the logic. If they rush in, as this pillock did, they are quite reasonably accused of being ghouls.

    If they weren’t so entrenched in the clerisy, they’d be funny.

    1. The Left wing is losing nothing, bro. They’ve simply reached the end of their canoe trip at the top of that huge-ass waterfall. Only one of two things can happen: stasis or the big ban.

      1. Nope. Absent a big change in political climate, they’re losing on this one. I’ve been paying attention to politics since shortly after Nixon resigned. When I started, it was simply accepted wisdom that most States would ban ownership of handguns in a decade or two. Oh, the William F. Buckleys of the world thought it was a lousy idea, and some crass rednecks said they would resist, but it was the simply fact of the matter.

        Didn’t happen.

        Instead, state after state has loosened up on gun laws, and – Shock! – none of the somewhat hysterical predictions of blood in the streets made by the gun banners have come true. They are reduced to fighting a rear-guard action in coastal, very liberal states like Washington and New Jersey. Oh, they get the occasional “common sense” law passed, usually by political fancy-dancing. And then find that enforcing the new law is a non-starter, and that their political fortunes have taken a hit.

        It isn’t going all freedom’s way. It never does. But on this issue, the fascists have lost, for now. And until they radically shift how they do things, I don’t see that changing soon.

    2. shuck and jive ? RACIST !

      1. No, no. Merely a cultural appropriator.


        Somebody needs to take the people crying “Cultural Appropriation!” aside and explain to them that there is a word for cultures that do not appropriate from other cultures.


    3. I think the average politician can be sanguine on the topic of guns is that they know, if the shit really hits the fan, since the vast majority of guns are registered and are pretty much known where they are located, they can confiscate them. The personal sale “loophole” is what is on the table so as to track the loose ends. The NRA really doesn’t put up much of fight on this anymore and I am convinced the NRA’s job is to keep the spigots open for the manufacturers and whatever wing clipping that goes on at the individual level can be conceded away. I am convinced that if REAL civil unrest (i.e. not a Ferguson) were to happen, there would systematic, door to door confiscation.

      1. The registration is run by the government, which means it is likely seriously flawed. It also doesn’t account for guns handed down, service guns “Lost”, and a variety of other gaps. A politician who thinks that, even aside from the issue of getting people to obey such a law, that confiscation of guns would go smoothly and get guns out of private hands to any serious degree is living in a fools’ paradise.

        Which, come to think of it, does describe almost all Democrats and most Republicans in national office.

        1. Confiscation would lead to guerilla warfare.

          Guerillas can never lose as long as they have people in the field.

          1. Guerillas can never lose as long as they have people in the field.

            Counterexample: Tamil Tigers

  16. They won’t stop until we’re all wards of the state. That’s the goal. Total control.

    1. And the only satisfaction we will have is the chance to watch them get liquidated, when the inevitable Stalin takes over.

  17. One or two data points does not indicate the total CLIMATE of gun ownership/usage.

  18. Is It Really ‘Unclear’ Whether a Background Check Would Have Stopped a Killer Who Passed One?

    DANG! I was really hoping it would be Soave (as a proxy for the ivory tower “et al.” that he’s interviewed lately) that would ask this question so that we could have another discussion about how we need to observe due process, protect the rights of victims, and treat campus rape accused and accusers equally.

    Nothing beats moving from the overt oppression of “every victim has a right to convict someone of rape” to the modestly less overt oppression of “every victim has a right to convict someone of something” based on premises that everyone acknowledges are riddled with falsehoods.

  19. In security terms, the current system is a gun blacklist. What the gun-grabbers want is a whitelist, like all the civilized totalitarian nightmares in Europe have. You know, where you don’t get a gun license until you show good cause, and the cops come and interview all your friends and neighbors and determine that you’re a good citizen and not crazy. Which A) is obviously not prone to any sort of corruption or racial bias or anything of the sort, B) is obviously going to prevent anyone not on the whitelist from obtaining weapons, C) is obviously going to prevent any crazy person from getting on the whitelist. QED, Teathuglicans.

    1. I wonder if the same people who decry institutionalized racism in law enforcement trust law enforcement to run this whitelist.

  20. Clearly ASSAULT WEAPONS are to blame here.

    /common sense solution

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.