The Buffalo shooter should not have been able to buy the gun he used.
Somebody should have stepped in to stop him be it his parents, school administrators, or the police. The signs were there. The flags were bright red. The laws were in place.
Nobody took the steps that would have made it illegal for him to buy or own guns. And he isn’t alone. This story has been repeated over and over again.
The accused Buffalo shooter, who is 18-years-old, told a teacher he wanted to commit suicide and murder when asked what he planned to do after school ended, according to New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D.). The threat was considered serious enough that he was taken by police for a psychological evaluation.
Had he been involuntarily committed over the threats, he would have become prohibited from buying or owning guns under federal law. That didn’t happen.
Had somebody filed a red flag order, he could have been prevented from legally buying or owning guns for up to a year under current New York law. His family, police, or school officials could have done it. That didn’t happen either.
Instead, a few months after being evaluated and released he bought the New York legal AR-15 he would later use to murder ten people and shoot another three.
The Parkland shooter had a similar story. He had a long history of making violent threats, including threats of shooting up a school. He had a history of mental illness and had attempted to kill himself. He also had a history of domestic abuse towards his mother. He could have been involuntarily committed under state law or convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. But he wasn’t.
Instead, he was allowed to legally buy the gun he used to murder 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The same can be said for the Aurora theater shooter. After seeking out help for social anxiety, the Aurora shooter told a social worker he had homicidal thoughts. He was then seen by a University of Colorado psychiatrist where he again expressed a desire to kill people.
However, despite reaching out to the shooter’s family with concerns and reportedly receiving an offer from law enforcement to place him under a mental health hold, the psychiatrist decided there was not a specific enough threat to justify an involuntary commitment.
That doesn’t mean there are easy answers for how to prevent these kinds of attacks. Red flag laws and involuntary commitment aren’t foolproof solutions. They are deeply complex.
There are, of course, significant due process concerns. Some states require a very low level of proof for red-flag orders and seizing firearms implicates a Constitutional right. And involuntary commitment has a dark history that has necessitated restrictions on its use, making the process difficult to use.
Also, the Buffalo shooter illegally modified his AR. He did so knowing what he was doing was illegal. And, obviously, he went on to commit dozens of heinous crimes with that gun.
So, it is possible he would have found a way to illegally obtain a gun had he been prohibited or under a red flag order.
Additionally, it would be impractical and immoral to just commit or red flag everyone who has a mental health episode. Each individual situation is different and the outcome is not always easy to predict except in hindsight.
But it remains deeply concerning how often this fact pattern plays out. So many of these shootings could have and should have been prevented under current law.