Uvalde (US): The suspects in the shootings at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school and a Buffalo, New York, supermarket were both just 18, authorities say, when they bought the weapons used in the attacks — too young to legally purchase alcohol or cigarettes, but old enough to arm themselves with assault weapons.
The Buffalo suspect was taken to a hospital last year for a mental health evaluation, but the incident didn’t trigger New York’s “red flag” law and he was still able to purchase a gun.
The Texas suspect’s mother told ABC he gave her an “uneasy feeling” at times and could “be aggressive … If he really got mad.” But authorities say he had no known criminal or mental health history. The state has no such red flag law.
They are just the latest suspected US mass shooters whose ability to obtain guns has raised concerns. In some cases shooters got guns legally under current firearms laws, or because of background check lapses or law enforcement’s failure to heed warnings of concerning behavior.
After the shootings, which together left 31 people dead, President Joe Biden renewed calls for stronger gun laws and questioned whether people as young as 18 should be allowed to purchase firearms. In the past, Biden has called for banning assault weapons and expanding background checks. Many Republicans oppose the measures.
A look at how suspects in recent mass shootings obtained guns, based on police accounts, court documents and contemporaneous reporting:
UVALDE, TEXAS: MAY 24, 2022. 21 DEAD.
Salvador Ramos legally purchased two guns in the days before the attack that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School — an AR-style rifle from a federally licensed gun dealer in the Uvalde area on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20.
Ramos made the purchases just days after turning 18, the minimum age under federal law for buying a rifle. He also purchased several hundred rounds of ammunition.
At least one of the rifles was a DDM4, made by Daniel Defense and modeled after the U.S. Military’s M4 carbine rifle, though without the M4’s ability to switch to fully automatic or fire a three-round burst.
“The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong,” Biden said hours after the shooting Tuesday. “What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?” Ramos was killed at the school by a Border Patrol team.
BUFFALO, NEW YORK: MAY 14, 2022. 10 DEAD.
Payton Gendron legally purchased the Bushmaster XM-15 E2S used in the attack on Tops Friendly Market from a federally licensed gun dealer near his home in Conklin, New York, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Buffalo.
In a personal, online diary that surfaced after the attack, Gendron said he bought the AR-15-style weapon in January, bought a shotgun in December and received a rifle as a Christmas present from his dad when he was 16.
Last year, Gendron was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation under a state mental health law after writing “murder-suicide” in response to a teacher’s question.
New York is one of 19 states with red flag laws that allow courts to take guns from people posing immediate danger, but that didn’t happen with Gendron, who was 17 at the time. State police described his threat as “general in nature” and said it didn’t “specifically mention shooting or firearms.”
After the shooting, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order underscoring the need for red flag interventions and said she would seek to bar people under 21 from buying some semi-automatic weapons in the state. A similar law in California was ruled unconstitutional. Gendron is charged with murder.
BOULDER, COLORADO: MARCH 22, 2021. 10 DEAD.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol, a semi-automatic weapon with a capacity of up to 30 rounds, six days before the shooting at King Soopers grocery store, police said.
Alissa was prone to sudden rage and was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to probation for attacking a high school classmate. Colorado has a universal background check law covering almost all gun sales, but that misdemeanor would not have prevented him from buying a weapon, experts said.
Had it been a felony, federal law would’ve barred his purchase. Days before the shooting, a judge struck down city ordinances banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines in Boulder, citing a state law prohibiting local gun bans. The NRA backed the lawsuit challenging the ordinances. A judge ruled last month that Alissa is mentally incompetent to stand trial.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA: MAY 26, 2021. 9 DEAD.
Samuel James Cassidy legally purchased the three 9 mm handguns he used to kill co-workers and then himself at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard.
He also stockpiled a dozen guns and 25,000 rounds of ammunition at his home, which he set ablaze before the shooting, and had high-capacity magazines that may have been illegal under California law, depending on when they were purchased.
Santa Clara’s district attorney said authorities would’ve sought to take Cassidy’s weapons away under the state’s red flag law had U.S. Customs and Border Protection informed them of a “Significant Encounter” with Cassidy upon his return to California from a trip to the Philippines in 2016.
Customs agents said in a report that Cassidy harbored “dark thoughts about harming” two specific people and had a memo book in which he expressed his hatred of the transit agency.
ATLANTA: MARCH 16, 2021. 8 DEAD.
Robert Aaron Long purchased a 9 mm handgun just hours before going on a shooting rampage at three massage businesses in the Atlanta area, police said. A lawyer for the gun shop said it complies with federal background check laws. Georgia, like the majority of states, has no waiting period to obtain a gun.
Long claimed to have a “sex addiction,” police said, and he spent time at an addiction recovery facility last year.
Federal law bans guns for people who are “unlawful users of or addicted to a controlled substance” or who’ve been court-ordered to a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility, but doesn’t mention treatment for other compulsions as a barrier to ownership. Long is serving a sentence life without parole.
MIDLAND, TEXAS, AUG. 31, 2019. 7 DEAD.
Seth Aaron Ator purchased an AR-style rifle through a private sale, allowing him to evade a federal background check, and fired it indiscriminately from his car into passing vehicles and shopping plazas.
He also hijacked a mail truck, killing the driver. Ator had been blocked from getting a gun in 2014 after his background check was flagged because a court determined he was mentally ill, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter.
Private sales, which account for up to 40% of all gun sales according to some estimates, are not subject to a federal background check and private sellers aren’t required to determine if a buyer is eligible to own a gun. Ator was killed by police.
DAYTON, OHIO: AUG. 4, 2019. 9 DEAD.
Connor Betts’ classmates said he was suspended in high school for compiling a “hit list” and a “rape list,” but authorities said nothing in his background prevented him from purchasing the AR-15-style pistol used in the shooting at Ned Peppers Bar.
Ohio law requires that sealed records of any juvenile crimes be expunged either after five years or once the offender turns 23. Betts, who was 24 at the time of the shooting, bought the gun online from a Texas dealer. It was then shipped to a Dayton-area firearms dealer, in accordance with federal law. Betts was killed by police.
EL PASO, TEXAS, AUG. 3, 2019. 23 DEAD.
Patrick Crusius bought an AK-47-style rifle and 1,000 rounds of hollow-point ammunition online 45 days before he walked into a Walmart store and opened fire, killing 23 people and injuring two dozen others, before confessing that he had been targeting Mexicans, according to prosecutors.
A Crusius family lawyer said his mother raised concerns about the purchase in a call to police on June 27. Police said she asked if Crusius, who was 21 at the time, was old enough to buy a gun.
Police said she was assured he was and that he’d qualify if he passed a background check. Police said she expressed concern only about his safety and said she’d seen no recent change in his behavior.
Crusius posted a racist screed online just before the attack and appeared to target Mexicans. He’s charged with capital murder in Texas and federal hate crimes and firearms offenses.