The Texas Supreme Court ruled the families of victims killed during a mass shooting cannot sue the gun store where the suspect purchased the weapon he used.
The lawsuit was brought in 2019, nearly two years after Devin Kelley gunned down 25 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before killing himself after a chase. It was the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
Family members of the victims filed a lawsuit against Academy Sports & Outdoors, a sporting goods chain, where Kelley had purchased the AR-556 semi-automatic rifle, ammunition, and high-capacity magazine used in the shooting. The lawsuit argued the store wrongfully sold him the gun because he presented an ID from Colorado, where it’s illegal to sell high-capacity magazines.
The court also said the sale was legal despite Kelley’s Colorado ID. The US Gun Control Act required the retailer to comply with Colorado laws, but the court said it only applies to firearms, not the magazine.
Families of the victims are also suing the US Air Force. Kelley was convicted of domestic violence in a military court while serving in the Air Force. The Air Force later admitted it failed to divulge the conviction to the proper FBI crime database, which would have prevented Kelley from purchasing the weapon.
The Air Force said at the time it launched a review into how the records were handled.
The third gives local jurisdictions control over gun rights by repealing an existing ban that prevented cities from passing their own gun laws and has renewed interest in Boulder for an assault weapons ban. Almost all states have similar laws, known as preemption laws, that prevent local gun laws, according to the National Rifle Association.
Despite the former ban, Boulder had enacted its own local ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in 2018, though it had not yet been enforced. On March 12, a judge ruled the ban violated Colorado state law, citing the preemption law, and struck it down.
Just 10 days later, a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in the city using an AR-556, an AR-15-style semi-automatic pistol, that he had purchased days prior. The gun would have been covered by the ban, according to The Denver Post, because it included guns that can use external magazines. He purchased the gun in another city, though Boulder’s ban would have made it illegal for him to carry it in the city.
Boulder is again looking at the ban now that the new state bill allows for cities to set their own gun laws. Mayor Sam Weaver told The Wall Street Journal he believes the new bill will negate the legal challenges to the assault weapons ban, effectively putting it into effect. He also said the city will do what it takes to make the ban enforceable.
“In theory, if we didn’t have this law, you could go buy an assault weapon, and then walk across the street and shoot a bunch of students,” Weaver told the Journal. “So we would like to have it in place to prevent rash actions with assault weapons in Boulder.”
The pre-emption laws gained traction in the 1980s after Democrat-led cities passed gun laws in states controlled by lawmakers who were more conservative, The Journal reported. The NRA and other gun-rights advocates have strongly supported pre-emption laws.
Polis had signed two additional gun bills into law earlier this year following the supermarket shooting, including regulations for gun storage and requirements for reporting stolen or missing firearms. Another bill that passed and awaits the governor’s signature seeks to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
Lara Trump urged Americans living on the southern border to “arm up and get guns and be ready” during an appearance on Fox News on Saturday evening.
Former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law was discussing President Joe Biden’s “disgraceful” plans for border security with Judge Jeanine Pirro.
“I don’t know what you tell the people who live at the southern border,” Trump said. “I guess they better arm up and get guns and be ready, and maybe they’re going to have to start taking matters into their hands.”
There has been a significant influx of migrants arriving at the southern US border since the start of the year.
Since Biden became president, record numbers of migrants have tried to enter the US via Mexico. US authorities intercepted 180,034 migrants along the Mexico border in May, The Washington Post reported.
California’s Attorney General appealed a federal judge’s ruling that overturned the state’s ban on assault weapons.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said at a news conference on Thursday that the decision to overturn the ban was “disturbing and troubling and of great concern,” according to NBC News.
“Equating firearms that have been used in many of the deadliest mass shootings in this country with Swiss Army knives has no basis in law or fact,” Bonta separately said in a press release. “The ban on assault weapons will not put an end to all gun violence, but it is one important tool the state has to protect the safety of Californians while also respecting the rights of law-abiding residents who choose to possess firearms. We have appealed the district court’s ruling and will continue our defense of the state’s commonsense gun laws.”
Last week US District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego overturned California’s 32-year-old ban on assault weapons in an opinion in which he called the ban “unconstitutional.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigations reported close to 4.7 million background checks for new gun purchases in March, the largest on record since the FBI began tracking them 20 years ago, revealing a record number of firearms sales in the US.
The figure is a 77% increase compared to March 2019. The agency conducted over a million more background checks in March 2021 compared to March 2020, which also saw a record number of gun sales.
The New York Times previously reported in March 2020, a record number of Americans were buying guns due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“We attribute it mainly to the virus scare,” Larry Hyatt, who owns a gun store in North Carolina and saw a record number of sales at the time told the Times.
Hyatt told The Times he’s seen similar influxes of people buying guns in the past.
“People have a little lack of confidence that if something big and bad happens, that 911 might not work. We saw it with Katrina,” Hyatt said. “People haven’t forgotten that a disaster happened, and the government didn’t come.”
Months with the highest number of FBI background checks like March, June, July, and December show months where there was political or social unrest.
CNN reported there’s a record number of first-time gun buyers, like Robin Armstrong who told the outlet the current instability in the country made her want to buy firearms.
“We’ve also seen, in times of civil unrest, that we see people go out and say that they need to protect themselves,” Jack McDevitt, a criminology professor and the director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University told CNN. “So they’re going to buy guns to protect themselves.”
“The question of how the boy was able to pick up and fire the weapon is of great concern and is being investigated,” Merry told reporters. “This situation, while disturbing, could have had an even more tragic ending. We are thankful that the injuries were not more serious.”
In response to the shooting, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition (MGSC) is pushing for a bill that requires gun owners to keep loaded guns out of children’s reach.
The MGCS is supporting Bill LL 759, WMTV reported. If passed, the law would hold gun owners criminally responsible if a child can access and use a loaded firearm that was not properly stored.
“Even toddlers know where guns are kept. So, these guns need to be secured,” Rep. Vickie Doudera, who is sponsoring the bill, told WMTV. “They need to be in a locked safe, or they need a trigger lock, a slide lock, or something that keeps a kid from being able to fire it.”
It was the Pulse nightclub shooting for me. I spent hours glued to the news, shaking with anger and fear. That hate crime sent plenty of people in search of more restrictive gun laws, but it sent me and an awful lot of others in the opposite direction. Over the next few years, I started going to shooting ranges more. I took a two-day concealed carry class. Now, like millions of Americans, I’m a gun owner. Importantly, I’m part of what looks like a demographicshift in gun ownership in the US.
I’m a woman in the rural South, and I’m very visibly trans. I unintentionally find myself in the center of a culture war; the way people treat me, in cities or the countryside, has changed dramatically since Trump’s election in 2016. The stares are longer, the sneers more open. Before gender identity became so politicized in the past few years, I was a curiosity. Now, I’m a walking symbol of everything the far-right hates.
Through my activism and my art, I have found myself in the crosshairs of the local far-right. A local news outlet once ran a satanic-panic style story about one of my music videos, and the more overtly fascist groups have sent me pictures of my family alongside my license plate number and home address.
I have always supposed that my safety is something I need to guarantee for myself – that no one else was going to do it for me. Since the people who hate people like me are famously well-armed, I determined I would be as well.
It wasn’t a simple decision, nor one that I would ever recommend anyone take lightly. The risk-benefit analysis of owning a tool like a firearm must always be ongoing. Yet as I’ve become increasingly comfortable with firearms, I’ve also come to realize just how misguided most efforts at gun control truly are.
Biden’s gun control legislation is misguided
Frankly, I believe that Biden’s executive orders and proposed legislation will disproportionately affect marginalized groups, both in terms of enforcement and in terms of access to the tools of self-defense. Because the legislation does not understand the gun community, I also believe the proposed laws are a gift to the far-right’s recruitment efforts.
When people talk about “common sense gun laws,” it sure feels like they mean the opposite. Gun owners are very aware of the labyrinthine laws that surround the ownership and use of guns, how they vary state by state, and what will and won’t bring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) down on their heads. Many attempts to make laws more “common sense” end up making them even more confusing and contradictory – and can easily criminalize people who are trying to follow the law.
Take the arm brace for example. An arm brace on a pistol allows you to shoot more accurately. In 2014, the ATF ruled that you could stabilize the brace against your shoulder, if you wanted, without the gun being considered a short-barreled rifle, which are more heavily regulated and taxed. Then in 2015, they changed their mind. The exact same legal firearm, owned by millions, would be legal if shot normally, but illegal if shot with the arm brace held against the shoulder – unless the gun owner paid a $200 tax and filed the right paperwork. In 2017, they reversed again. All this because of quibbles over the definition of a rifle, which isn’t legally concealable, whereas a pistol often is.
That is to say, Biden is telling millions of law-abiding Americans that they better pony up hundreds of dollars or else become criminals because of arbitrary distinctions in the length of the barrel of a gun they own. If the goal of legislation is to prevent mass shootings, calling a pistol fitted with an arm brace a rifle – and thus illegal to conceal – is the most unhelpful of legal technicalities. Shooters planning to murder a crowd of people are not concerned with the legality of how they carry their gun.
This type of legislation is a gift to far-right recruitment, which, according to leaked Telegram chats, relies on using gun rights advocacy and the fear of gun confiscation to push people further to the right. One recruitment guide listed gun control as a way to “find common ground” before introducing someone to more fringe ideas. Guns should never have become a right versus left issue.
I grew up largely outside of gun culture. My father is a Marine with a medal for marksmanship, and I shot a .22 at Boy Scout camp in middle school, but guns didn’t play any large role in my life.
When you don’t own a gun, it’s really hard to care about gun law. It doesn’t risk criminalizing you or too many people you know. We live in bubbles in the US. If you own a gun, your friends likely do too. If you don’t, your friends probably don’t.
Most advocates for gun control do not understand firearms, firearm law, or firearm culture. When people tell you what to do, while making it clear they don’t have the first idea what they’re talking about, it is always going to rub you the wrong way.
I own a gun and most of my neighbors own guns. Some of them hunt. Some of them are veterans. Some of them are concerned with self-defense. My neighbors in rural North Carolina, just like my neighbors when I’ve lived in major cities, run the full gamut of political affiliations. None of them operate under the illusion that the police would keep them safe in case of an emergency. Safety comes from knowing your neighbors. Safety comes, sometimes, from being armed.
Gun ownership as a symbol
What I didn’t realize, until I was in the environment I’m in now, is the importance of the gun as a symbol for many communities. A rifle in a safe, or a handgun on a bed stand, says, “I’ll never go hungry, because I can hunt.” It also says, “I will not be a passive victim of a violent attack.” It says: “Me and the people I love are the ones who keep ourselves fed and safe.”
Taking that away from someone, or just making it even more legally complex to own a gun, will never go over well. No amount of statistics will ever outweigh the emotional and symbolic importance of that ability for self-determination. The far-right heavily leverages that symbolic weight for recruitment – perhaps more than anything else.
I’m not advocating for universal gun ownership. I don’t believe an armed society is a polite society. I also recognize that for a lot of people – maybe even most people – gun ownership makes them less safe instead of more safe
There’s a slogan, albeit a cynical one, that people involved in mutual aid organizing use that resonates a lot with me: “We keep us safe.”
There are people who want to hurt me for who I am, and I don’t want to let them. My safety is my responsibility. Maybe it shouldn’t be, in some perfect society, but we don’t live in a perfect society. We live in the USA.
The shooting – the state’s 14th so far this year – left one dead and five injured and came at a particularly inopportune moment. Abbott is in the midst of a campaign to turn Texas into a Second Amendment sanctuary state – a state where federal gun restrictions would be ignored in favor of local laws more favorable to gun rights.
The legislation to make Texas a sanctuary state was introduced in February by Texas State Rep. Justin Holland. If passed, Texas will join Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, and Arizona, along with around 400 counties in 20 states, that have also designated themselves as gun rights sanctuaries.
The push to make Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary comes amid several executive orders from President Joe Biden calling for increased gun control measures, including a push for “red flag” legislation modeling, an investment in evidence-based community interventions, and measures to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns” – guns made out of purchased parts that are untraceable by authorities.
“Basically, we’re freezing Texas state law and federal laws in place that have to do with guns,” Holland told The El Paso Times. “And (we’re) not recognizing, at the state level, any federal changes.”
What are Second Amendment sanctuaries?
Second Amendment sanctuaries are meant to combat the perceived infringement of gun rights in a variety of forms. Cities, counties, and states alike can and have declared themselves second amendment sanctuaries in the US.
Those infringements might include laws requiring universal background checks prior to gun purchase, or bans on particular weaponry, including assault and automatic weapons, or red flag laws that allow law enforcement or family members to “flag” that a person with a gun may be a danger to themselves or others.
The trend of Second Amendment sanctuary cities and states began in earnest in 2018, when Effingham County, Illinois, passed a series of resolutions opposing bump stock bans and a mandatory 72-hour waiting period on gun purchases, along with a litany of other gun control measures.
Since then, more than 70 counties in Illinois have passed some kind of Second Amendment sanctuary legislation, The Trace reported.
Last week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that bans local and state governments and agencies from enforcing federal gun laws that are “inconsistent with or more restrictive than state law.”
Ducey told reporters the law was meant to be “a proactive law for what is possible to come out of the Biden administration.”
‘Renegade’ sheriffs opt out of enforcing federal law
Second Amendment sanctuaries often emerge from a refusal to enforce existing federal law.
Often, that decision comes from so-called “renegade” sheriffs and police who simply choose not to recognize laws they feel step on gun owners’ rights.
They consider themselves “constitutional sheriffs” and believe, according to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, that “the vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.”
In Culpeper, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins went so far as to write on Facebook that “if necessary,” he would “properly screen and deputize thousands of our law-abiding citizens to protect their constitutional right to own firearms.”
Voters in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Virginia, and Illinois, among others, have all passed resolutions in support of local sheriffs who believe federal gun laws are unconstitutional.
Even where Second Amendment sanctuary isn’t officially declared, some sheriffs have taken it upon themselves to buck federal gun laws.
Bob Norris, the sheriff of Kootenai County, Idaho, told reporters last month he wouldn’t enforce federal gun laws, regardless of whether the county voted to become a Second Amendment sanctuary or not.
“I would just like to tell you that regardless of what you decide here today, and regardless of what they decide in Washington, DC, there will be no gun confiscation here in Kootenai County,” Norris said at a local press conference. “Period.”
Three days after Norris’ press conference, the proposal to establish the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary fell flat after the Board of County Commissioners declined to support it by a vote of two to one.
Second Amendment sanctuary declarations are largely symbolic
But can these sanctuary declarations be enforced?
“A state, like Texas, declaring itself a “sanctuary” doesn’t invalidate federal law from operating in Texas,” Darrell Miller, co-faculty director of the Center for Firearms Law and a faculty member at Duke Law School, told Insider. If local law enforcement opts not to enforce gun laws, then “the FBI, ATF, and Department of Justice can still enforce federal law there.”
Miller cited the Supremacy Clause, which says that the Constitution “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
Second Amendment sanctuary declarations “don’t have force of law,” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told USA Today after local jurisdictions began passing gun sanctuary bills in the state. “They are policy statements. They don’t empower localities to turn a blind eye to what is state law.”
Sanford V. Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas Law School, told Insider sanctuary declarations don’t nullify existing federal laws, but they can make it difficult to enforce them – which is the point.
“The laws are not invalid; it’s simply that the national government will be left on its own re the mechanisms of enforcement,” he said – which, given limited resources and budgets, means the federal government will often turn a blind eye.
“It simply comes down to whether the federal government wants to make it a case. But if the national government is willing to pay the price, then it will prevail,” he continued.
“It’s one thing for the sheriffs to say, ‘We’re not going to lift a finger to help you take guns away from our people,'” Tung Yin, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, told Oregon Live. “That’s OK. It’s another thing for the sheriffs to say, ‘Not only are we not going to lift a finger to help you, we’re going to do everything we can to stop you.'”
But that’s exactly what’s happened in Newton County, Missouri, where local lawmakers passed a Second Amendment Act that allows local law enforcement to arrest any federal agents attempting to enforce federal gun laws – though Miller says the statute isn’t actually enforceable.
“The general proposition is that federal officers cannot be prosecuted by state or local authorities for acts done in furtherance of their official duties,” Miller told Insider, citing In re: Neagle, an 1890 Supreme Court case ruling that said federal agents are immune from local prosecution if operating in the furtherance of federal law.
Newton County, Missouri, Sheriff Chris Jennings did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Texas governor says shooting victim’s family wants Second Amendment sanctuary
The passage of ag Second Amendment sanctuary resolution is all but a foregone conclusion in Texas, a state where nearly half of all adult residents – 45.7% – live with a gun in the house, according to a 2020 Rand research project.
Gun control advocates say they’re gearing up for a court battle either way.
“The outcome for a bill like this would almost inevitably be a challenge in court,” Jim Henson, the executive director of The Texas Politics Project, told KXAN. “It’s hard not to see this as part of an effort to test the boundaries at how much states can push back against federal and constitutional provisions.”
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Gov. Abbott told host Chris Wallace he spoke with the family of the victims of the Bryan, Texas, shooting, who told him they supported the sanctuary state plan.
“I went to the hospital where the victims’ families were on the night of the shooting. And we hugged, and we cried, and we talked to them about it. As I was talking to family members of one of the victims, they said: ‘Governor, please, do not allow this shooting to strip us of our Second Amendment rights,'” he said.
While Second Amendment sanctuary status may be largely symbolic, it speaks to a growing divide in the US over gun violence and how to quell it, especially after a year in which firearm-related incidents took the lives of more than 19,000 people – the highest number of gun-related deaths in 20 years, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“The nation has experienced a historic increase in violent crime in the past year. People want and need to protect themselves,” Joyce Malcolm, the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law, told Insider. “The number of FBI background checks for gun purchases continues to hit new records. January and March 2021 are the only time in the history of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System gun checks have broken four million.”
According to the Washington Post, more than two million guns were sold in the US in January alone – an 80% increase over the same month in 2020.
“Americans are buying guns at a blistering pace,” Malcolm added. “They will NOT give them up.”
Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – Almost 50 years after Mexico’s first law to restrict the use of firearms was implemented in an attempt to keep the country at peace, Mexico finds itself flooded with foreign weapons.
Mexico’s prohibitive laws against firearms have not stopped thousands of weapons from being used in its streets, directly threatening its own security forces.
The weapons sent illegally from the US to Mexico and used by criminal groups are now overwhelming security forces in most Mexican states, and it is “almost impossible” to fight back, a state police officer in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas told Insider.
Heavily armed military personnel have been deployed throughout Mexico to fight crime, but state and local police forces, many of which are riven by corruption, are outgunned by criminals and face other challenges, such as low pay.
Criminal groups “are using military tactics and equipment like tanks, landmines, rocket-launchers. It is getting to a point where we are not equipped enough to fight back, and most of the time we rather leave than stay to fight,” the officer said, speaking anonymously to avoid retaliation.
English journalist Ioan Grillo, who has covered crime in Mexico for more than 20 years, says most of the automatic weapons sold legally in the US end up in the wrong hands in Mexico, driving armed conflict there.
“At least 200,000 guns cross illegally from the US into Mexico every year,” Grillo told Insider.
Drug cartels use high-powered firearms, such as .50-caliber rifles, that can rip through armored vehicles, as well as weapons capable of shooting down government helicopters, as happened in Michoacan in 2016.
Grillo’s new book, “Blood, Gun, Money,” examines how Mexico’s biggest challenge has its origins in the US.
“Mexico is now dealing with a hybrid armed conflict fueled by the ‘iron river’ flowing south of the border,” Grillo said. “This needs to be addressed and stopped by both countries.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a press release that firearms trafficking to Mexico is “out of control” and urged Congress to “move quickly to crack down” on it.
“Neither Mexico nor the United States can solve these challenges alone and I look forward to continue working on these issues with [Sen. Dick] Durbin and our partners in Mexico,” Meeks said. (Meeks and Durbin requested the updated GAO update.)
This armed conflict has its deepest roots in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, where the vast majority of those more than 200,000 guns come across from Texas, which has a strong gun culture.
“Ciudad Juarez has become the number-one for illegal guns trafficking into Mexico,” Grillo said.
During four years of research for his book, Grillo interviewed an illegal arms trafficker at a local prison in Ciudad Juarez, who described how Mexican cartels benefit from the US’s permissive gun laws.
“This trafficker thought gun shows in Texas were illegal because of how easy it was to get a hold of powerful firearms,” Grillo said. “They enter gun shows in places like El Paso and buy firearms from alleged collectors who are selling all kinds of guns without asking for any documentation.”
A hitman, or sicario, for the Juarez Cartel interviewed by Insider confirmed the use of gun shows to supply his organization and described how they traffic arms into Mexico.
“There are some people [with clean records] we send to El Paso or to Tucson to legally buy guns or ammo in small quantities … and then we traffic them little by little,” he said.
“But the real firepower, we get it from dealers who have the permits to sell military-grade weaponry,” the man said.
The sicario also said they buy “heavy weaponry” from “private security agencies” or even from members of the US military.
“If [the guns] are trafficked through Juarez, we disassemble them and put them inside old fridges or a bunch of scrap [metal], and we pay Mexican customs to let all the scrap into Mexico. When it is through Arizona, we bring them all the way from Vegas in containers and smuggle them through the desert,” he said.
But while he points to gun shows and gun stores in the US, some gun owners point further up the chain.
Former Las Vegas gun dealer Wesley Felix accuses the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) of framing him and his family during Operation Fast and Furious, a federal investigation between 2009 and 2011 that allowed illegal gun sales so authorities could track their buyers and sellers.
“In my family’s case, the ATF knowingly worked with known criminals and used a confidential informant to illegally purchase many firearms without our consent or knowledge,” Felix said, adding that he believes his store was targeted because it sold class-three weapons, which includes machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and silencers.
Felix recently sent a letter with more than 30 pages of documents to the Mexican government addressing this issue. Insider obtained a copy of the letter and documents and confirmed their receipt through a Mexican diplomatic source.
In March 2016, the US Justice Department said it and the ATF “deeply regret[ed]” that firearms related to Operation Fast and Furious were used in violent crimes, “particularly crimes resulting in the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officials.”
Felix believes the problem facing Mexico as it grapples with drug-related violence is not cartels or even gun shops like his but “the biggest cartel, which is the US Department of Justice.”
But Grillo said a solution will rely on actions by the US and Mexico and that one country alone will never end illegal arms trafficking.
“Gun culture is rooted inside the US. It is very different from what happens in Mexico. But this issue has to be addressed by both countries. Both of them need to stop the iron river,” said Grillo.