With 16 weeks remaining until we can celebrate the coming of 2020, the stage has unfortunately been set for an extremely bloody year in terms of mass shootings.
According to the Associated Press, last Saturday’s shooting in Odessa, Texas, which claimed seven lives and left another two dozen wounded, brought the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018.
Based on the AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database, the number of people killed this year has reached 142, surpassing the 140 who were killed all of last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.
Even more concerning than the numbers contained in the data base is the fact that the Odessa shooting – had it occurred in a state with a red-flag law that allows judges to order removal of weapons from individuals who are seen as a threat – might have been prevented. Texas is one of 27 states that have no such law on the books.
A neighbor told The Associated Press that the shooter, 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator, was “a violent, aggressive person” who would shoot at animals — mostly rabbits — at all hours of the night. “We were afraid of him because you could tell what kind of person he was just by looking at him,” the neighbor said. “He was not nice, he was not friendly, he was not polite.”
If Texas had a red-flag law and had neighbors expressed their concerns to authorities, the courts might have been able to intervene.
According to ABC news and the Wall Street Journal, multiple law enforcement sources have stated Ator obtain the assault-style rifle used in the shooting spree in a private sale not governed by background checks.
John Wester, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Ator had previously failed a federal background check for a firearm.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs said Ator called the agency’s tip line as well as local police dispatch on the day of the shooting shortly after being fired from his job, making “rambling statements about some of the atrocities that he felt that he had gone through.”
“He was on a long spiral of going down,” Combs said. “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and walk into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble.”
Fifteen minutes after the call to the FBI, Combs said, a Texas state trooper, unaware of the calls to authorities, tried stopping Ator for failing to signal a lane change. That was when Ator pointed an assault-style rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired on the trooper.
What followed was a police chase during which Ator sprayed bullets into passing cars and shopping plazas and killed a U.S. Postal Service employee while hijacking her mail truck. The 10-mile pursuit ended outside a busy Odessa movie theater where officers shot and killed Ator.
Red flag laws and universal background checks are among the possible “cures” for mass shootings that have been discussed in Congress but not adopted. The shooting that occurred in Odessa raises questions about the effectiveness of those recommendations.