The jarring news of a racist attack against African Americans at a Dollar General Store in Jacksonville, Fla., is igniting calls for increased gun control legislation. The despicable attack on innocent lives deserves close examination. The firearm industry mourns this senseless loss of life.
Authorities are releasing some information as to the murderer and his twisted motivation. These initial answers, though, only raise more questions. The twenty-one-year-old murderer killed three people in his attack before taking his own life. Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters told media he legally purchased two firearms in recent months, passing background checks.
Sheriff Waters also told media the murderer had painted Nazi symbols on one of his firearms and authored several manifestos and a suicide note. The manifestos were delivered to the murderer’s parents, federal law enforcement and media shortly before the crimes. The Department of Justice is investigating the incident as a hate crime, as it evidently appears to be.
“Portions of these manifestos detailed the shooter’s disgusting ideology of hate,” Sheriff Waters explained in the press conference. “This shooting was racially motivated, and he hated black people.”
Sheriff Waters also told media that the murderer was subject to a Baker Act mental health evaluation in 2017. That “involuntary commitment” to a hospital under Florida’s Baker Act resulted in the murderer being held for a 72-hour mental examination following a domestic violence incident and threatening to commit suicide.
He was released without involuntary commitment. It is unclear why he was not held for further observation. As a result, he was not considered a “prohibited person” under federal law.
Florida’s Baker Act is a law that allows any individual to petition for an involuntary commitment to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention of those impaired by a mental illness and unable to determine their own treatment needs. The Florida law was enacted in 1972 and those subject to an involuntary commitment are considered likely to inflict harm on themselves or others.
The Baker Act requires law enforcement to seize any firearm or ammunition, along with concealed carry permits, that might be possessed by those subject to the order. The Baker Act has been invoked at least 2,500 times as of 2019 in Florida. The murderer, it appears, didn’t possess any firearms or ammunition at the time he was committed under the Baker Act.
In 2018, Florida enacted a “red flag” law. Had it been in place at the time the murderer was committed for observation under the Baker Act it might have prevented the murderer from obtaining or possessing firearms. By 2022, Florida’s “red flag” law has been used over 9,000 times. That law allows authorities to seize firearms temporarily and bars individuals from purchasing firearms while they’re subject to the emergency risk protection order.
What is clear is that this individual suffered some sort of mental health disorder with violent tendencies. The result is the tragic loss of innocent life. Sheriff Waters said the murderer’s parents did not own firearms. The murderer’s parents called law enforcement immediately after they were alerted by the murderer as to his intentions. There was at least one acquaintance who told media he believed the murderer was on medication but didn’t specify an illness.
NSSF Committed to Real Solutions
This tragedy is exactly why the firearm industry is focused on ensuring that all disqualifying records are submitted to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NSSF has championed the FixNICS campaign since 2013 to ensure the background check system works as intended.
So far, the law has been changed in 16 states and in Congress when the FIX NICS Act, named for NSSF’s program, was passed and signed into law. That provided resources to states to submit all disqualifying data to the FBI’s NICS and compelled federal agencies to do the same.
NSSF further supports additional mental health resources being made available and supported Congressional efforts to do that in recent laws. NSSF partners with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide ranges and retailers the resources they need to recognize the signs of mental distress of suicidal ideations. These aren’t all the answers, but these are Real Solutions that make our communities safer.
More is certain to be learned as investigators examine evidence left behind by the murderer. What is known is that the murderer clearly was filled with hatred and the firearm retailers that sold him the firearms followed all the laws.
Sheriff Waters described the recovered manifestos as “quite frankly, the diary of a madman.”
“He was just completely irrational,” Sheriff Waters said. “But with irrational thoughts, he knew what he was doing. He was 100% lucid.”
Sheriff Waters also rejected the media’s assertion that firearms are specifically to blame for the horrendous crimes.
“The story’s always about guns. It’s the people that [are] bad,” Sheriff Waters said during a press conference. “This guy’s a bad guy. If I could take my gun off right now and lay it on this counter, nothing will happen. It’ll sit there. But as soon as a wicked person grabs ahold of that handgun and starts shooting people with it, there’s the problem. The problem is the individual.”
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.