Last week the gun violence prevention (GVP) community went into overdrive when the release of a batch of FBI Sandy Hook documents indicated that the Newtown cops were warned about Adam Lanza’s intention to commit mayhem at least four years before the actual event took place. The information appears in interview notes of an unidentified man who claimed he heard Adam Lanza make the threats which the man claims he transmitted to the local police. According to the man’s testimony, the cop who took the call told him that Nancy Lanza was the legal owner of the guns which meant there was nothing the cops could do but the caller could contact the State Police.
Coming on the heels of Las Vegas, where another shooter evidently killed and wounded more than 500 people with a legally-owned AR, the story out of Newtown only adds fuel to the GVP argument that some way has to be found to keep guns like the AR-15 out of civilian hands.
But there’s only one little problem, namely, that the story full of holes. And it cannot be accepted even on face value, never mind the fact that the Newtown police can’t find any record of someone making such a call, because it would have been simply impossible for someone answering the telephone at the police station to have said what was allegedly said.
Please believe me when I say it’s too bad that facts keep getting in the way of opinions, but the fact is that nobody working for any police agency in Connecticut would have been able to know whether: a) Nancy Lanza owned an AR-15; b) whether she had purchased it legally or where it came from; or, c) whether the State Police should have been contacted or not. Why? Because first of all before 2014, when Connecticut passed a new gun-control law in response to Sandy Hook, purchasing a long gun from a dealer did not require anything other than the standard FBI-NICS check, information which the FBI has to destroy within 24 hours after the check is complete. Purchasing a handgun in CT in 2008 required an additional background check conducted by the State Police and this procedure was then extended to long guns but only after the new law was passed in 2014.
It would have been impossible for anyone employed by the Newtown Police Department to tell a caller about the legal status or even the existence of an AR-15 allegedly owned by someone else. On the other hand, if someone contacts a police department in Newtown, CT or Oshkosh, WI or anywhere, reporting a threat that involves potential injury to numerous individuals isn’t brushed off. There isn’t a police department in the United States which doesn’t have a very clear procedure for responding to a report about the possible commission of a serious crime. Maybe the cops don’t respond immediately, maybe the patrol car goes to the wrong address, but don’t tell me that if I called up and said that someone just told me they were going down to the local elementary school to shoot everyone in sight that I would lean back, yawn and tell the caller to contact the State Police.
Remember when Elliot Rodger rampaged through Isla Vista, CA and killed six people on May 23, 2014? Three weeks earlier his parents contacted the Isla Vista PD and said they were concerned because their son had voiced threats and they were worried about his mental state. The cops dispatched no less than three officers who confronted Elliott outside where he lived but unfortunately made the mistake of forgetting to ask him whether he had any guns. But the bottom line is that police don’t dismiss credible reports about violence which has not yet taken place. And if we are going to advocate measures to reduce gun violence, let’s just make sure our strategies align with the facts.