Mass Shootings

Do These 21 Mass Shootings That Did Not Happen Show the Benefits of California's 'Red Flag' Law?

Only if you assume they would have happened in the absence of gun confiscation orders.

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A new study of California's "red flag" law describes 21 cases in which fear of a mass shooting prompted police or relatives to seek "gun violence restraining orders" (GVROs) from 2016 (when the law took effect) through 2018. Judging from "print, broadcast, and Internet media searches using Google," the authors say, the respondents in those cases did not subsequently commit any noteworthy violent crimes.

"It is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had GVROs not been issued, and we make no claim of a causal relationship," write University of California, Davis, gun violence researcher Garen Wintemute and his co-authors in the Annals of Internal Medicine. "Nonetheless, the cases suggest that this urgent, individualized intervention can play a role in efforts to prevent mass shootings."

Wintemute et al. say GVROs were sought in 414 cases during the three years covered by their study. The New York Times reports that San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott "has obtained about 300 orders in the past two years,"which implies that one city accounts for something like three-quarters of GVROs.

So far Wintemute et al.  have been able to obtain court records for only 159 GVRO cases, of which 21, or 13 percent, involved attempts to prevent mass shootings. "The cases are not taken from the full population of 414 and may not be  representative of all GVROs involving threatened mass shootings," they note. "The seemingly high proportion of threatened mass shootings among GVRO cases (13% in this study) may also not be representative."

Of the 21 cases identified by Wintemute et al., seven involved threats of violence at work, five involved the targeting of children or schools, four involved "a medical or mental health condition," and five involved a "political, social, or domestic motivation." By and large, the warning signs described in the study seem legitimately alarming, although it is not clear how many of the threats were serious or how determined the respondents were to carry them out.

At one extreme, for example, there is a "31-year-old man who was known in his Muslim community as a supporter of the Islamic State," who was "on the Terrorist Screening Center Watchlist," who "made repeated threats of mass violence," and who had recently purchased an FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol. A GVRO prevented him from picking up the gun after California's 10-day waiting period.

At the other extreme, perhaps, is the 14-year-old high school student "with a history of racist comments at school" who posted "videos on Instagram of himself using firearms, favorable comments about school violence and shootings, racist comments, and suggestions of animal cruelty." After he was taken into custody for a psychiatric screening, he "claimed that he had been joking." Police nevertheless seized his father's guns.

There is also the 62-year-old woman who menaced five kids with "a paper towel roll wrapped in black duct tape," threatening to "blow their heads off." Police confiscated her (real) revolver, which she kept in her living room, and obtained a GVRO barring her from possessing guns for a year.

In between, maybe, are several people with work-related grudges whose threats may or may not have been in earnest. The week before he was fired by a car dealership, for example, a 65-year-old veteran came to work wearing an empty holster "to frighten the manager." When police officers asked whether there was any reason to worry that he might hurt his former co-workers, he replied, "If we were back on the border of Syria and Israel, then hell [yeah]." A judge issued a one-year GVRO against him.

Since none of these people (even the more serious-sounding ones) appear to have obtained guns by indirect means after they were barred from legally buying or possessing them, it seems fair to say they were not highly motivated. Then again, that is the only sort of would-be mass murderer who could be stymied by a red flag law.

As Wintemute et al. note, a fuller picture of what California's red flag law is doing would emerge from an examination of all the GVROs issued so far, rather than a subsample of a subsample. Contrary to the impression left by these 21 cases, the experiences of other states suggests that gun confiscation orders are usually aimed at preventing suicide rather than homicide. And even when a respondent is deemed a threat to others, the evidentiary burden on the government may be pretty light in practice.

Under California's law, an initial, ex parte GVRO lasting up to three weeks can be issued based either on "reasonable cause" to believe the respondent poses an "immediate and present danger" to himself or others, or on a "substantial likelihood" that the respondent poses a "significant danger" in the "near future." After a hearing, a GVRO lasting up to year (unless it's renewed) can be issued based on "clear and convincing evidence" that the respondent poses a "significant danger." The danger need not be imminent, and it's not clear what "significant" means.

To get a better idea of how those standards work in practice, it would be helpful to know how often initial orders are issued (almost always, I'd guess, based on the experience in Maryland and Florida) and how often they are followed by final orders (also almost always, judging from the sample described by this study, which may not be representative in that regard). These 21 cases give us a sense of the harm that California's red flag law might prevent, although that benefit is based entirely on counterfactual speculation, as Wintemute et al. concede. For a sense of the harm that the law causes (by unjustly suspending the Second Amendment rights of people who pose no real threat to others), we would need a broader look at the people it affects.

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  1. The data suggest no such thing. Wintemute suggests all sorts of things, most of which have been shown as false.

  2. Congrats Sullum. Finally a well-written article that highlights the uncertainties of knowledge when things are quantified rather than using numbers to confirm a pre-existing ideological bias.

  3. “It is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had GVROs not been issued, and we make no claim of a causal relationship,” write University of California, Davis, gun violence researcher Garen Wintemute and his co-authors in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “Nonetheless, the cases suggest that this urgent, individualized intervention can play a role in efforts to prevent mass shootings.”

    “It is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had we not swung dead cats around our heads at midnight, and we make no claim of a causal relationship. Nonetheless, the cases suggest that this urgent, individualized intervention can play a role in efforts to prevent mass shootings.”

    1. Like walking near a graveyard at night, whistling to keep the zombies away.

      Near a lamp post too, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to see the zombies if they showed up in spite of his whistling.

      Of course, it would be too simple to just stay away from graveyards at night.

    2. Seems like the more obvious lesson here is that the actual act of intervention and engagement with these types is the appropriate means of mitigating potential harm, vs. the idea that simply taking the scary boom-boom sticks away is what prevented the act.

      1. Exactly, the intervention and engagement on with the person, by a person is more likely to have mitigated the issue, not the confiscation. Just the “hey dumb ass, what are you thinking” would stop most.

        1. In nearly all of these mass shooting cases (e.g., the Orlando shooter, James Holmes, Nicholas Cruz, the Dayton shooter) , what stands out the most after the incident is that people were trying to tell authorities, “hey, something’s not right with this person and someone needs to step in before they hurt themselves or someone else,” and they were ignored or lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.

          Red flag laws are completely incidental here.

    3. Yeah, this whole argument reminded me of the old “elephant repellent” joke.

      Kid to his buddy who is spritzing himself: “What are you doing?”
      “I’m putting on elephant repellent.”
      “Dude, you live in suburban New Jersey. There are no elephants here.”
      “See how good it works?”

  4. Wintemute et al. say GVROs were sought in 414 cases during the three years covered by their study. The New York Times reports that San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott “has obtained about 300 orders in the past two years,”which implies that one city accounts for something like three-quarters of GVROs.

    It doesn’t imply that San Diego City accounts for ~3/4 of the GVROs, it explicitly states it.

    Considering that the City of San Diego historically logs a ‘mass shooting’ once or twice a decade, it *implies* that the overwhelming majority of these orders didn’t prevent a ‘mass shooting’. It also implies that the larger 414 didn’t either and that the conclusion that they did is probably bunk.

    1. And it shows that Elliott has a hyper-sensitive CYA reflex. A single city in the most populated state in the country should, statistically speaking, not account for ~3/4 of all the GVROs in the entire state.

      I have a hard time believing there’s just that many more red-flag types of people in San Diego than in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, or any other third-world Cali metropolis, let alone all of them combined.

  5. by unjustly suspending the Second Amendment rights of people who pose no real threat to others

    This is also a fairly narrow reading. Considering, “videos on Instagram … Police nevertheless seized *his father’s* guns.” it’s pretty obvious there are some speech, due process, and search/seizure issues as well.

    1. I wonder what happened to the father’s guns?

      It hardly seems legal to just steal his property and keep it. But somehow I’ll bet that is exactly what happened.

      1. Yeah, my thoughts as well. Same with the ISIS guy, I’m no fan of those barbaric bastards, but how it was said in the article makes it sound like the guy paid for a service which then wasn’t provided, and he didn’t get his money back (not to mention he’s been found guilty and had his rights revoked without a trial). The laws are there to protect everyone, no matter how revolting they are.

  6. Why waste money letting a mechanic investigate a “check engine” or “brakes” signal if the Intertubes can demonstrate how to turn off that light yourself?

    Why wear a seat belt? Should we figure there is no benefit unless one assumes a collision is to occur?

    Why conduct background checks with respect to gun purchases? Most people will pass a check, right?

    1. Why have a fire extinguisher at home except to be ready for unplanned, unexpected, surprise emergencies?

      Why have a gun except to be ready for unplanned, unexpected, surprise emergencies?

    2. So you won’t have any problem giving up your name and address to have a red flag order filed against you?

      Certainly, as a member of the enlightened cosmopolitan braintrust you have nothing to hide, right?

    3. Why waste money letting a mechanic investigate a “check engine” or “brakes” signal if the Intertubes can demonstrate how to turn off that light yourself?

      Why wear a seat belt? Should we figure there is no benefit unless one assumes a collision is to occur?

      Again, you assume that things that provide some minimal benefit should be mandated – through the coercive power of state violence.

      1. How infuriated are you by mandatory annual vehicle inspections?

        Or drivers’ licenses?

        1. Where’s the amendment protecting those?

          Riiiiight…..

          1. Also, where are the state subsidized firing ranges?

            Libs love comparing regulations of cars and guns, but always conveniently forget that government subsidizing the ability to use the former makes regulations more necessary. Make a dangerous thing artificially easy to use, idiots will use it.

        2. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
          August.20.2019 at 8:39 pm
          “How infuriated are you by mandatory annual vehicle inspections?”
          Where do you live, fuck-face?

        3. How infuriated are you by mandatory annual vehicle inspections?

          Those aren’t universal nor annual in most cases, you stupid hicklib. In some cases, even the inspection process is an absolute joke.

          Or drivers’ licenses?

          Speaking of jokes–you do realize that the renewal process for that is a simple vision test, right?

        4. Rather much, I admit.

        5. You are boring, and an asshole.

    4. I had a car salesman back in the day try to convince me that I didn’t really want anti-lock brakes.

      You won’t use them very often

      1. I hate the dumb-assed things, at least on a standard transmission, or even an automatic in the snow. If I tell a car to stop, I mean now, not eventually. Antilock brakes are a perfect example of “moral hazard” – gee, the brakes will take care of me, so now I can tailgate even closer.

    5. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland
      August.20.2019 at 6:10 pm
      “Why waste money letting a mechanic investigate a “check engine” or “brakes” signal if the Intertubes can demonstrate how to turn off that light yourself?”

      Why waste time reading the fucking idiotic posts of the bigoted asshole?
      Fuck off, Arty.

    6. Yeah! And my magic tea mug keeps away tigers! (Looking around) Yep, don’t see any tigers. It’s working!

    7. What the fuck is a “brakes” signal? Is that some stupid shit they put on cars in California? Also, most “check engine” lights are benign emissions bullshit, also courtesy of California.

  7. Please note that any and all of the situations specifically mentioned, could have, and would have, been handled, in the past, by using California’s “5150” laws, which have been in force for decades. More than likely, the rest of the situations would also have handled the same way. This “new” law probably, when taken in context of preexisting laws, probably had no effect whatsoever. More about “show” than “go.”

  8. I had two beers with lunch today, and then did not go out driving, thus saving many people from possible death or injury. I should get some sort of medal.

  9. It is good to have this data, so that we are all more well informed. I’m discouraged though that this data inevitably will be used to justify red flag laws.

    1. The people who want the red flag laws will only see the “(T)he cases suggest that this urgent, individualized intervention can play a role in efforts to prevent mass shootings.” They will skip the prior sentence starting with “It is impossible to know…”.

      The University of California, Davis study was, IMHO, only done to give the statists ammunition to pass the bullshit red flag laws nationally.

    2. It’s like prostate cancer screening — it saved your life! But if you hadn’t been screened, you probably would have lived too, and not gone through any invasive treatments.

      1. A better analogy would be colon cancer screening, and the actual risks from sedation, infection and even damage if everything is done just right.

        Guns can save lives too, as we all here know (even Tony, and the Rev.!), but negative data are really hard to quantify, especially to morons and politicians.

  10. Do These 21 Mass Shootings That Did Not Happen Show the Benefits of California’s ‘Red Flag’ Law?

    Oh absolutely. I, myself, was prevented from committing a mass shooting just this very morning by virtue of being asleep. I believe mandatory sleep periods would do much to combat the epidemic of gun violence this country is facing.

  11. “we make no claim of a causal relationship”

    “Nonetheless, the cases suggest…”

    The second statement is a lie, based on the first.

  12. This isn’t proof. It’s evidence that 21 times people have used this law. All it is a proof of is that people thought it was needed, not that it was needed. That’s circular logic at its finest

  13. If I recall correctly, police were warned about the Thousand Oaks shooter but declined to take any action.

    1. police were warned about the Thousand Oaks shooter but declined to take any action.”

      Same for the parkland shooter or the pre school shooter or etc… Seems like a willful pattern of neglegence by authoriyies in order to bring about a certain type of solution, gun control and red flags for everyone

  14. A possible compromise (Disclaimer: I’d rather not have these Red Flag laws at all, but if we’re going to be stuck with them anyway…):

    Treat these “emergency” seizures in a manner similar to the seizure of private property for the purpose of a public good. Mandate that, for every day that a government agency prevents you from exercising your constitutional right, that agency must provide you with monetary compensation. Say… $200.00 per day. Let’s see how often it will be necessary to restrict somebody’s rights when the people pushing for that restriction have to pay for it out of their own budgets.

  15. a “31-year-old man who was known in his Muslim community as a supporter of the Islamic State,” who was “on the Terrorist Screening Center Watchlist,” who “made repeated threats of mass violence,”

    the 14-year-old high school student “with a history of racist comments at school” who posted “videos on Instagram of himself using firearms, favorable comments about school violence and shootings, racist comments, and suggestions of animal cruelty.”

    the 62-year-old woman who menaced five kids with “a paper towel roll wrapped in black duct tape,” threatening to “blow their heads off.”

    a 65-year-old veteran came to work wearing an empty holster “to frighten the manager.”

    Seems like they gathered up some low hanging fruit[cakes} who then lacked sufficient motivation to try to get around the GVRO.

  16. How many of these so called mass shooters were egged on by police and FBI. Much like 90% of so called stopped Muslim terrorist in America after 9/11 yhey were egged on and enabled and supplied by the FBI and if the FBI hadn’t helped they would of amounted to nothing but big talk since they were all useless at doing anything with out government help

  17. So clearly, the more GVROs issued, the more crime prevented, and the better the policy works. Case closed.

  18. Here’s my idea that I do believe would have prevented many of these incidents.

    #1 Anybody who as EVER had psychotropic drugs prescribed would have an automatic lifetime ban on purchasing or possessing firearms. You could just as well add swords and long-blade knives too to that list or any item that could be used as a “weapon”.
    #2 A doctor could clear one of the aforementioned people to purchase/possess without any liability. No judges needed.

    Almost all the people that have done these shootings are mentally unstable and I know that many were on such drugs as kids or adults.

  19. Unless they are actually taking guns from the people’s hands that are just about to pull the trigger and start a mass shooting you cannot make the claim that red flag laws stopped any shootings.

    someone can plan, talk about, threaten, etc. but until they actually take action then it is a non-event.

    Now, if someone pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot or starts shooting at people and someone else that is armed then pulls out a gun and either threatens and scares the perp off or actually ends up shooting the perp, then that counts as a potential mass shooting stopped by someone else with a gun.

  20. That title is a mouthful.

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