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Friday, December 13, 2019

Explained: What happened in El Paso and Dayton and what it shows about history of gun culture in US

The Second Amendment of the US constitution states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” making gun ownership in the US a constitutional right.

Written by Neha Banka | Published: August 5, 2019 7:29:52 pm
What happened in El Paso and Dayton and what it shows about history of gun culture in US El Paso police said they suspected a 21-year-old white male, Patrick Crusius, a resident of Allen, Texas, of having carried out the shooting.

This past weekend, the US witnessed two mass-shootings related to gun violence in a span of hours. After the first one in the city of El Paso, Texas, there was another in Dayton, Ohio. In the last eight days alone, five mass shootings have occurred across the US, claiming almost 100 lives. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a US-based non-profit organisation that tracks and records gun-violence related incidents in the country, 253 shootings have occurred since January 2019.

What happened in El Paso?

On Saturday morning, local police in El Paso received multiple reports of an active shooter around 10:30 am local time, about a shooting at a local Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall in the city. Soon, images on social media began circulating showing Snapchat videos taken by a woman who appeared to be running through a department store inside a mall. In one of the videos, a man can be heard yelling “hands up” while the woman recording the video runs to get out of the mall complex.

In the second video, the woman recording the video seems to have managed to exit the mall after the shooting started.

Reports said that 20 people had been killed in the shooting, four of whom had been identified by local authorities and 26 others had been injured, three of whom were in critical condition. Later, reports emerged that among the 20 killed in the shooting, seven were Mexican nationals. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard confirmed the news and tweeted the names of the Mexican nationals killed on Saturday morning in El Paso.

Mexican authorities announced that they would be pressing charges against the gunman along with charges filed by US government agencies. The US Attorney for west Texas announced that their office was investigating the shooting as a case of domestic terrorism. Local police in El Paso said they were investigating the case as that of a hate crime after a manifesto surfaced online on 8chan, an unmoderated message board notorious for its popularity with violent extremists in the US.

Who was the gunman?

El Paso police said they suspected a 21-year-old white male, Patrick Crusius, a resident of Allen, Texas, of having carried out the shooting. El Paso’s police chief, Greg Allen said that the gunman had surrendered to police when they approached him inside the Walmart store. Authorities are investigating whether the manifesto was written by the gunman.

How is this shooting being prosecuted?

The El Paso District Attorney’s office said that they will be pursuing capital murder charges and seeking death penalty in the state of Texas. The US Department of Justice called the shooting a case of “domestic terrorism” but added that their investigations were focused on investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime under charges of federal hate crimes and federal firearms charges, not terrorism.

Does the US government consider domestic terrorism to be a crime?

While the USA Patriot Act, Sec. 802, defines domestic terrorism as an “act “dangerous to human life” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States”, it does not consider domestic terrorism to be a new crime. That means that it does not involve a criminal charge of domestic terrorism.

Whom did the gunman target and why?

The manifesto that circulated online, that police attribute to the 21-year-old gunman, expressed hatred for the Hispanic community and laid out a plan for a fatal attack on members of the community in the U.S. In the manifesto, the gunman referred to the attack as a response to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas”. A message posted on 8chan that authorities attribute to the gunman, implied that the Hispanic community in the US engaged in a “cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” The state of Texas has a large Hispanic community and political observers and civil rights watch groups believe that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric from even before he became president, has spurred and encouraged domestic extremists and racist, anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S., very often resulting in violence against immigrants and people of colour.

What happened in Dayton?

Hours after the shooting in El Paso, another shooting occurred in Dayton in the state of Ohio, where a gunman in body armour opened fire with an AR-15, a military-style assault rifle early Sunday morning, in an area that was a nightlife spot in the city, popular with college students. Dayton Police chief Richard Biehl announced that nine people were killed in the incident, including the gunman’s 19-year-old sister. Local police officers on patrol in the area reported that they heard gunfire shortly after 1 am when local bars were beginning to close and saw people running outside. Police then responded to the gunfire and killed Connor Betts, 24, whom they later identified as the gunman.

Who was the gunman?

The gunman, 24-year-old Connor Betts, was a resident of Bellbrook, a suburb in Dayton. According to a CNN report, during searches conducted by local and federal law enforcement agencies in Bett’s home, “writings linked to the shooter that shows he had an interest in killing people” were found but a preliminary assessment of the writings did not indicate any “racial or political motive”.

How did the gunmen in El Paso and Dayton acquire the guns?

In both shootings, police reported that the guns used had been purchased legally. US news reports say in the shooting that occurred in El Paso, police are yet to ascertain the exact model of the gun used but they believe that an AK-47-style assault rifle was possibly used. In Dayton, the gunman used an AR-15, a military-style assault rifle, which according to a CNN report, “was ordered online from Texas but transferred to the suspect at a local firearms dealer.” Dayton police also found a second weapon, a shotgun, in the gunman’s car that had been parked close to the site of the shooting.

How were the gunmen able to legally purchase assault rifles?

The Second Amendment of the US constitution states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” making gun ownership in the US a constitutional right. This provision is one reason why the US has such high levels of gun violence, one of the highest among developed nations.

In the US purchasing guns is easy.

While US citizens have to be 21 years of age to legally purchase alcohol, in most states in the country, they can buy military-style AR-15 rifles when they turn 18. According to US federal law, gun dealers cannot sell or deliver long guns like rifles and shotguns and their ammunition to people below 18 years of age. For handguns, the permitted age for purchasing the weapon is 21 years. That means that it is easier for people to purchase military-style assault rifles more easily than the smaller handgun and they can buy it even before they can purchase alcohol in the country.

In the US, to buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer in most states, an individual needs to go through a single step to buy a gun—pass a background check that involves prior criminal convictions, domestic violence convictions and a check of immigration status. According to data by The Trace, a non-profit online publication that tracks gun-related news, while many states have a lengthier process of approval, approximately a third of all Americans citizens who buy guns do so through private sellers who, according to federal laws, don’t require background checks.

Gun culture is a part of modern US history and its origins can be traced to the European settlers who began westward expansion of their settlements on land in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, by driving out Native Americans who were the original inhabitants of the land. The use of weapons by European settlers was used to wage war against Native Americans, and to establish settlements of their own by usurping Native American land and to engage in hunting for food and recreation. Prior to the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), European settlements were defended by civilian militia who later became more structurally organised during the start of the war. These concepts of “self-protection” using guns and the use of weapons for hunting later evolved and were enshrined as constitutional rights, which have been interpreted by gun rights advocates to push for more freedoms to use firearms in the US, despite increasing cases of mass-shootings and gun violence in recent history.

How easy is it to buy guns in other developed nations?

In comparison, other developed nations have more stringent checks in place. In Australia, following the Port Arthur mass-shooting in 1996 when 35 people were killed and 23 were wounded, the nation enforced tightened controls over the kinds of guns recreational gun owners could use and restricted legal ownership. According to a report by The New York Times, in Britain, gun owners need to be members of shooting clubs or have hunting plans documented, followed by submitting character references and arrange for safe firearm storage. A background check and police interviews follow at the applicant’s residence, where police check the firearm storage system. Only then can a gun be purchased. In Austria, a gun or semiautomatic weapon is provided only if applicants can prove that they are in serious danger. It is followed by a review of criminal history and a mental health survey, a physical and a psychological test. Austria also requires applicants to undertake a course on safe gun management and storage and then install a safe firearm storage system. Only then can a gun be purchased. The procedure in Austria varies depending on the type of gun.

The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that in Japan, the process is even longer and more rigorous and takes approximately four months. They have to submit a mental health professional’s note attesting their competency. This is followed by an application for a permit to undertake firearms training that takes 30 days to procure, after which police interviews take place where the client needs to explain the reason why they need a firearm. A thorough background check follows, investigating criminal history, potential association with criminal gangs and interpersonal relationships, including questions on the history of potential mental health issues of the applicant & their family members. The applicant then needs to take a class on how to fire the weapon and pass a test. Licenses for guns vary depending on the type of firearm, a description of which is required to be provided to a licensed firearm dealer and the National Police Agency. The firearm dealer holds on to the weapon till a final police verification comes through and only then can applicants pick up their purchased gun from the dealer in Japan.

In New Zealand, following the attacks on the two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, new guns laws were announced. Prior to attacks and the subsequent amendment of the Arms Act, individual firearms were not licensed and there was little monitoring of the guns themselves in New Zealand. After the attack, the New Zealand government moved ahead with its plans to tighten gun controls and proposals for a national firearms registry and a more elaborate vetting process for gun ownership.

In an interview with NPR (National Public Radio), Mark Bryant, director of the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit, independent online archive of gun violence-related incidents in the US, explained why the AR-15 gun was used by the gunman in Dayton. “AR-15s is a gun that a lot of hobbyists use and they build up like you build up a Jeep or you build up a hot-rod car or other hobbies. And one of the things that you do is as you build larger magazines into the system,” said Bryant in the NPR interview.

Who is against gun-control in the US?

Each time a shooting occurs in the US, calls for gun control become even more amplified. The National Rifles Association of America is an approximately 150 years old, powerful pro-gun rights advocacy group based in the US that lobbies for fewer curbs and regulations on gun ownership, arguing that that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right. In 2008, in a case between District of Columbia vs. Heller, the US Supreme Court affirmed that the right to bear arms and keep arms was a fundamental right. Each time mass-shootings have occurred in the US, the NRA and pro-gun advocates have been quick to defend gun ownership, implying that the only way to keep Americans safe from guns, is to buy more guns for self defence.

The NRA openly spends large amount of money lobbying to get pro-gun lawmakers into the government and in 2016, the organisation was confident that the Trump campaign and presidency would help the NRA enforce it’s pro-gun agenda.

What has the political response in the US been to shootings in El Paso and Dayton?

While some politicians and anti-gun violence advocates called for stricter gun controls, others like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, in an interview with Fox News, said that it was not firearms or white supremacy that caused the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, but because children don’t “pray” in schools. Pete Buttigieg, a candidate in the 2020 US presidential elections, tweeted: “Will the President of the United States leave his golf resort, go back to Washington, address the nation, condemn—in no uncertain terms—white nationalism, and call for the Senate to convene tomorrow to enact at least the most basic gun safety reforms that most Americans want?”

Bernie Sanders tweeted, “There are more than 5 million assault weapons out on the streets of America, which is more than the US military has. That is insane. We must ban the sale, distribution and transfer of assault weapons in the United States.”

Trump, on the other tweeted: Today, I authorized the lowering of the flags to half-staff at all Federal Government buildings in honor of the victims of the tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio….”

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