February 2019 - Mass Shooting News

Pulse nightclub shooting: FBI lab tests of bullets from victims inconclusive, report shows

The FBI’s testing of bullets recovered from victims of the Pulse massacre was unable to conclusively determine who fired the shots that killed them, a report released Thursday by the agency shows.

The release comes two weeks after the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office said it had determined that none of the Pulse victims were wounded by the 14 law enforcement officers who fired their weapons during the police response to the June 12, 2016, mass shooting.

Deborah Barra, chief assistant for State Attorney Aramis Ayala, said Thursday that the FBI’s report “was compared to and analyzed with medical examiner reports, eyewitness statements and video evidence” during the SAO’s probe.

“There is not one singular piece of evidence that by itself tells the full story of the Pulse nightclub shooting,” she said. The ballistic report, she added, “is consistent with all of the other evidence and was helpful in establishing facts.”

The FBI, which had previously denied requests for records from its review of the massacre, posted the report to its website. The agency declined to comment on its findings.

“FBI Tampa Division has nothing further to add to the ballistics report,” spokeswoman Andrea Aprea said, adding that the agency generally “lets the information contained in the files speak for itself.”

The report, released more than 2-1/2 years after 49 people were killed inside the Orlando gay nightclub, consisted primarily of a list of ballistic evidence collected after the massacre and the analysis of the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va.

Among the evidence tested by agents were at least 84 bullets and metal fragments recovered from at least 30 victims. The FBI also had test-fired rounds from rifles fired by law-enforcement officers during the police response.

However, bullets pulled from victims were found to lack identifiable marks that either could definitively match them to one of shooter Omar Mateen’s guns or eliminate the possibility they were fired by a law-enforcement weapon, the report shows.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

A newly released report shows the FBI Laboratory was unable to definitely match bullets pulled from Pulse victims to the guns that fired them.

A newly released report shows the FBI Laboratory was unable to definitely match bullets pulled from Pulse victims to the guns that fired them. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

For example: One set of eight 9 mm fragments tested by the lab “contained no marks of value for comparison purposes,” the report states. They were excluded as having been fired by Mateen’s Sig Sauer rifle and several law enforcement weapons “based on differences in class characteristics.”

But the same rounds “could not be excluded as having been fired from the barrels of” either Mateen’s Glock pistol or one of several guns used by law enforcement officers, though the lab noted they shared similar characteristics to bullets loaded in magazines found inside the nightclub.

Analysis of rifle rounds recovered from victims produced similar results. A batch of 18 .223-caliber bullets and fragments could not be conclusively assigned to Mateen’s gun or a law-enforcement weapon. “Due to a lack of sufficient corresponding microscopic marks of value, no conclusion could be reached,” the report said.

At a Feb. 13 news conference, investigators from the State Attorney’s Office said they had reviewed the FBI’s report in May 2018. A report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was released the same day that Ayala’s office announced its findings, but officials declined to release the FBI’s report at the time.

In a statement Thursday, the Orlando Police Department said it had not yet reviewed the FBI report.

“A ballistics report is not a review of the incident but provides specific information,” the statement said. “We stand by the State Attorney’s Office investigation and the Department of Justice review, which both concluded our officers actions were justified.”

Orange County Sheriff John Mina, who was Orlando’s police chief at the time of the mass shooting, responded to the release of the FBI report Thursday by citing the findings of Ayala’s office.

“All officers and deputies were cleared by the State Attorney’s Office,” Mina said in a statement on Twitter. “They concluded based on evidence that none of the rounds fired by law enforcement killed or injured anyone but the shooter and that their actions were reasonable and justified.”

Mateen opened fire inside the Orange Avenue club just south of downtown shortly after 2 a.m. He was killed in a shootout with Orlando police and Orange County deputies roughly three hours later.

His wife, Noor Salman, was found not guilty last March on charges of aiding a foreign terror organization and lying to investigators.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, said he had called on the FBI to release its report and was pleased the agency finally complied.

Christine Leinonen, whose son, Christopher Drew Leinonen, died at Pulse, said she is still skeptical of the conclusions reached by law enforcement.

“I think they’re just totally playing games,” Leinonen said. “They want to say it’s inconclusive – but at the same time they’re sure that nobody was killed [accidentally] by a police officer. They can’t have it both ways. How can they be so definitive and so inconclusive at the same time?

“I feel like they took this long until they thought nobody cared anymore. It’s like, ‘it’s done, it’s over with.’”

Read more: The Orlando Sentinel’s coverage of the massacre at Pulse nightclub »

The last of several ceremonies marking two years since the Pulse nightclub massacre.

One year later, Orlando Sentinel Snapshot remembers the 49 lives lost at Pulse nightclub and talks with those impacted by the night’s tragic events: A mother turned advocate, medical responders sharing lessons learned, survivors recovering physically and emotionally, and a community’s effort to move forward.

One year later, Orlando Sentinel Snapshot remembers the 49 lives lost at Pulse nightclub and talks with those impacted by the night’s tragic events: A mother turned advocate, medical responders sharing lessons learned, survivors recovering physically and emotionally, and a community’s effort to move forward.


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Church shooting victims sue Academy Sports for $56 million

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX (KETK) – Survivors and families of victims of the Sutherland Springs Church shooting have filed one joint lawsuit against Academy Sports + Outdoors and are seeking damages of $56 million. Each victim is asking for $1 million each.

The lawsuit claims that the retailer illegally sold a high-capacity rifle to Devin Kelley, who killed 26 people and injured over 20 others on Nov. 5, 2017.

“The shooter used a gun illegally obtained from Academy,” according to a release about the consolidated lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday. 

[Related]: Texas judge rules Sutherland shooting victims families can sue store that sold gun in mass shooting

Academy filed a motion earlier in February to dismiss the lawsuit, but a Texas judge denied the request.

The lawsuit claims that the sale was illegal because the firearm was prohibited in Kelley’s home state of Colorado.

The rifle purchased, while legal in Texas, is banned in Colorado because it had a magazine of more than 15 rounds.

Kelley presented a Colorado state driver’s license during the sale.

Federal law states that firearm sales that take place across state lines have to abide by respective laws from the two states involved. 

Academy states that the sale does not violate the law because they are protected by The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This protects firearms dealers from being held responsible is a gun they sell is used in a crime.

However the two exceptions to the law are negligence or if the dealer broke federal or state laws during the process of the sale.

Other family members have sued the U.S. Air Force claiming that they failed to report Kelly’s criminal history to the FBI that would have come up during a background check.

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Stossel: Promoting bogus gun research

This month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned President Donald Trump that if he declared an “emergency” to build a wall, “think what a president with different values can present… Why don’t you declare (the epidemic of gun violence in America) an emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would… A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well.”

Her fellow Democrats Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren quickly agreed. Warren tweeted: “Gun violence is an emergency. Climate change is an emergency…”


Not every problem in America should be declared an emergency — or used by a president to justify acting without Congress.

But why are guns on the Democrats’ “emergency” list anyway?

One reason is sloppy reporting by lazy media.

Last year, they claimed that there were school shootings at “hundreds of schools.” It was “an almost daily occurrence” in the U.S., some said.

This was nonsense. NPR reporters looked into the 235 shootings reported by the U.S. Department of Education and were only able to confirm 11 of them.

It turned out that schools were added to the list merely because someone at a school heard there may have been a shooting. Good for NPR for checking out the claim.

Economist John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center (and father of one of my producers), spends much of his time researching gun use and correcting shoddy studies.

A few years ago, much of the media claimed that the U.S. has “the most mass shootings of any country in the world.” President Barack Obama added it’s “a pattern now that has no parallel anywhere else.”

CNN and The L.A. Times wrote about “Why the U.S. Has the Most Mass Shootings.” (“The United States has more guns.”)

But the U.S. doesn’t have the most mass shootings, says Lott. It’s a myth created by University of Alabama associate professor Adam Lankford, a myth repeated by anti-gun media in hundreds of news stories.

“Lankford claimed that since 1966 there were 90 mass public shooters in the United States, more than any other country,” says Lott. “Lankford claimed ‘complete data’ were available from 171 countries.”

But how could that be? Many governments don’t collect such data and even fewer have information from before the days of the internet.

A shooting in say, India, would likely be reported only in local newspapers, in a local dialect. How would Lankford ever find out about it? How did he collect his information? What languages did he search in?

He won’t say.

“That’s academic malpractice,” says Lott in my video about the controversy.

I’m not surprised that Lankford didn’t reply to Lott’s emails. Lott is known as pro-gun. (He wrote the book “More Guns, Less Crime.”) But Lankford also won’t explain his data to me, The Washington Post, or even his fellow gun-control advocates.

When Lott’s research center checked the data, using Lankford’s own definition of a mass shooting, “four or more people killed,” the center found 3,000 shootings around the world. Lankford claimed there were only 202.

Lankford said he excludes “sponsored terrorism” but does not define what he means by that. To be safe, Lott removed terrorism cases from his data. He still found 709 shootings — more than triple the number Lankford reported.

It turns out that not only did the U.S. not have the most frequent mass shootings, it was number 62 on the list, lower than places like Norway, Finland and Switzerland.

There was also no relationship between the rate of gun ownership in different countries and the rate of mass shootings.

If journalists had just demanded Lankford explain his study methods before touting his results, his “more mass shootings” myth would never have spread.

So if Pelosi, Harris and Warren ever follow through on their threat to declare gun violence a “national emergency,” be sure to check their math.

Or just remember the wisdom of the Second Amendment.

Government’s desire to control us — and to lie to make its case — is the real emergency.

John Stossel (on Twitter @JohnStossel) is a columnist for the Reason magazine and Creators Syndicate.

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Boulder County 4-H newsletter thanks Friends of NRA, promotes gun raffle despite recent controversy

Youth group’s relationship with gun rights advocate more publicly displayed than in neighboring counties

This ad that appeared in a Boulder County 4-H newsletter in February 2018 generated controversy in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. This month’s newsletter publicizes similar St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA events but does not contain images of firearms. (Courtesy Photo)

A page in the Boulder County 4-H February newsletter is devoted to thanking a local National Rifle Association affiliate for its donations to the chapter and to encouraging members to attend the gun rights group’s firearms raffle fundraisers.

Leaders of the county’s 4-H program ran the free thank you note and flyer in the monthly Clover Gazette — which appears on Boulder County 4-H’s webpage and in print in Boulder County offices — despite controversy last year over a similar ad.

Last year’s ad was submitted by the NRA affiliate and also was included in the newsletter for no cost. The ad featured images of a semi-automatic rifle, among several other guns and gifts, being awarded in a winner-take-all raffle. It was removed by state 4-H leaders — issues not containing the ad replaced those already distributed — following outcry from 4-H parents and a now-former volunteer Boulder County 4-H leader. The retraction came in the wake of a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school in which a gunman wielding a semi-automatic rifle killed 17 people.

Nearly identical ads for St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA raffles featuring similar images ran without controversy in the March 2017 Clover Gazette — before last year’s attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.

State 4-H office unconcerned

This month’s Clover Gazette publicizing similar St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA events — namely its Feb. 9 “Gun Blowout,” and an April 13 banquet, at which semi-automatic rifles are among the numerous firearms to be raffled — does not contain images of firearms.

“The (Clover Gazette content) … is a thank you for the grant provided to our county 4-H shooting sports program,” Boulder County 4-H Extension Agent Brenda Kwang said. “This is not an advertisement. We make decisions to thank our donors, community members or groups on a case-by-case basis and what is appropriate for our 4-H program.”

According to the thank you in this month’s Clover Gazette, the St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA grant made it possible for the youth program — which allows children as young as 8 to participate in shooting sports activities — to purchase 18 archery backers, supplies to make 18 target stands, silhouette targets, three timers, six kneeling rolls and .22-caliber shells and .177-caliber Crosman pellets.

The lack of guns appearing in the Clover Gazette appears to have abated worries from state 4-H officials about last year’s ad.

“As for the Boulder County 4-H newsletter, we have no concerns to address,” said Sam Lowry, a 4-H Extension shooting sports and animal science youth development specialist with the Colorado State University Extension Office, which oversees 4-H programs statewide.


NRA gives less in neighboring counties

Boulder County 4-H’s placing the ad in this month’s newsletter suggests the chapter’s relationship with the NRA affiliate is stronger, or at least more publicly displayed, than the connections between other 4-H groups and their respective Friends of NRA funding partners.

Boulder County 4-H received $35,758 in NRA grant awards between 2017 and 2018, Larimer County 4-H received $12,475 over the two years and Jefferson County 4-H records show no contributions from the gun rights group or its affiliates in that time, according to figures shared by Lowry. The state 4-H shooting sports program has not applied for grants from the Friends of NRA or other entities for several years, Lowry said.

The total budgets for each county’s 4-H shooting sports program are not known, however, because 4-H officials said funds are not allocated specifically to individual disciplines among the dozens offered by the youth program, and officials could not provide total annual funds budgeted for groups of disciplines that included shooting sports.

California’s flagship university system last year announced it would no longer accept grants to its 4-H program from the NRA Foundation, which is the “non-political” branch of the NRA, while the Friends of NRA is the foundation’s fundraising arm.

More visible in Boulder County 4-H

By again publishing the St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA events details, Boulder County’s 4-H leaders deviated from moves by Larimer County and the state 4-H office, both of which since last year have removed links between 4-H and the NRA from their respective webpages, according to interviews with 4-H officials and notes compiled by Arvada resident Karen Tonso, a Wayne State University associate professor emeritus who has researched gun violence.

“From our conversations last year (sparked by the St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA ad), we engaged in a good discussion around these issues with our county offices,” Lowry said. “Now county directors are taking into account those discussions in making content decisions, but there was no intentional rollback regarding the NRA.”

A Friends of NRA logo displayed last year on a state CSU 4-H Extension Office shooting sports webpage no longer appears, according to Tonso, and Larimer County’s main 4-H website no longer includes links to NRA-affiliated webpages as it did last year. Jefferson County’s website also does not include any links to NRA-affiliated webpages.

“I think Boulder County 4-H is being defiant,” Tonso said, recommending 4-H organizations adopt a policy of not seeking or accepting donations from NRA-affiliated groups.

She opposes the inclusion of NRA content in 4-H newsletters and websites, as well as funding 4-H shooting sports programs through the sale of semi-automatic weapons.

“The 4-H is viewed as a youth program,” Tonso said. “That the NRA was advertising events that (raffled) automatic weapons was just very upsetting. … Because this is a newsletter for a 4-H that is promoting attendance at an event that is not related to shooting sports. It’s related to guns. And I think the two are very different.”

Managers of archery ranges in Broomfield and Longmont where Boulder County 4-H members practice — archery is included in the 4-H shooting sports program — have not heard of any youth members nor their families seeking a shooting sports opportunity that is not funded by the NRA group.

“All of them that I’ve seen here love their 4-H,” said Glenn Shultz, owner of Broomfield’s Empty Quiver Archery.

St. Vrain Valley Friends of NRA members whose contact information is listed on a flyer for the upcoming banquet and gun raffle either declined to comment or did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

But Samantha Sweeney — who last year quit volunteering for Boulder County’s 4-H program because she believed leaders adopted a more anti-gun rights rhetoric — explained that a child participating in shooting sports can be very expensive, and the money the Friends of NRA gun raffles generate for 4-H open opportunities to youth who might not have them otherwise.

“In my opinion, if you’re going to take money from Friends of NRA, then you ought to be out about supporting them. This Clover Gazette (content) did just that,” said Sweeney, who pulled her son out of the of the 4-H shooting sports program and now pays up to $100 per practice for him to compete through a non-4-H shooting sports organization.

“I’m lucky I can afford to do that,” she said.

Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire, an advocacy group for stricter gun laws, was surprised to learn of Boulder County 4-H’s providing free newsletter space for the local Friends of NRA.

“If the NRA were a gun-safety organization, I wouldn’t have concern,” McCarron said. “But the NRA is an organization that promotes looser gun laws, it promotes gun manufacturers who produce firearms that have no business in the hands of civilians. (Linking it to 4-H) is a tool to reach into the hearts and minds of young people who just want to pick up a sport. And for pulling them into advocacy for a free-for-all belief in firearms in our country.”

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz.


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Advocates, opponents testify on bill that would regulate long guns in Maryland

Rachael Pacella doesn’t know if proposed legislation requiring rifles and shotguns to be regulated like handguns would prevent another mass shooting, like the one she survived in June.

But Pacella, who lived through the June massacre at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, told a state Senate committee Wednesday that it if stricter gun laws stop even one death, that would be enough.

“Anything that will prevent one shooting of any size would be worth your vote,” she said, “and this bill will do that.”

The reporter — an employee of The Baltimore Sun Media Group — was one of dozens of people who showed up to testify about Senate Bill 737 before the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The legislation would require a licensed firearms dealer to facilitate any private sales of such guns, and that background checks be conducted.

The bill also would create a licensing mechanism for rifles and shotguns, similar to what’s required for handguns, under the authority of the Maryland State Police.

The man charged in the Capital Gazette shooting used a legally purchased shotgun, according to police. He has pleaded not guilty.

State Sen. Susan Lee, the Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the bill “attempts to close a huge loophole in our public safety code.”

Opponents believe it would infringe on the rights of legal gun owners, who they describe as people who use long guns to hunt or who collect firearms. The number of people killed using a long gun is relatively small, they said, and they said they doubt the regulations proposed by Lee would prevent would-be shooters from getting their hands on guns.

Instead, they argued, the bill represents an undue, expensive burden for law-abiding people.

Those in opposition — including the sheriffs of Frederick and Wicomico counties — decried the licensing fees that would be imposed under the legislation, as well as a proposed restriction limiting a person to buying one rifle or shotgun within a 30-day period.

“It could turn into an absolute nightmare,” John Josselyn, representing a group called 2A Maryland, told senators.

Some senators raised the question of whether long guns were a problem during their questioning of witnesses.

Harford County Republican Sen. Robert Cassily said handguns inflict hundreds of deaths in Maryland each year. Just “one to five” deaths, he said, could be attributed to long guns.

Pacella thrust up her hand, spreading her fingers wide.

“There were five deaths,” she said.

Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen and John McNamara were killed in the June 28 shooting at The Capital’s former office, a few miles from where Pacella testified. The Capital is part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which also owns The Baltimore Sun.

Pacella, along with McNamara’s widow, Andrea Chamblee, sat beside Lee as she advocated for the legislation.

Pacella said she doesn’t want anyone else to face the post-traumatic stress she’s dealt with since she hid from the shooter between two filing cabinets. Chamblee said she doesn’t want anyone else to have to choose a photo of their loved one to be displayed on a memorial wall somewhere.

“We can’t just throw up our hands,” Chamblee testified. “We know what to do to fix this. We know.”

Dozens of others signed up to speak about the legislation, and waited hours for a chance to give two minutes of testimony before the committee.

In addition to Lee’s legislation, the committee heard testimony about a proposed ban on 3D printed guns and guns assembled from kits, known as “ghost guns.” Democratic leaders in Annapolis have made banning these types of weapons a priority for the General Assembly session.

The speakers divided into clear camps inside the hearing room. The crowd in red T-shirts — Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — came to support stronger protections.

On the other side was a throng of people dressed in white, with shirts reading: “We will not comply.” They opposed what they saw as attempts to limit their constitutional right to bear arms.

During the hearing, senators referenced Maryland’s already strict gun laws. The state has banned assault weapons and bump stocks, along with creating a “red flag” law to remove guns in some emergency situations.

Gun rights activists questioned how far Maryland needs to go.

“You cannot legislate evil or criminal intent,” Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins told senators. “We’ve proven that.”

Lee said the state must keep strengthening protections. She pointed to her bill’s long list of exceptions, saying it is not a “mechanism to take guns away from people who lawfully own and use them.”

“One death,” she said, “is too many deaths.”



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Change of venue granted for trial of Santa Fe shooting suspect

SANTA FE, Texas — A Galveston County judge granted the change of venue request Wednesday in the case of accused Santa Fe High School shooter Dimitrious Pagourtzis.

Both the prosecution and defense have been made aware of the decision, and they will back in court May 10 to determine where the trial will be moved.

Pagourtzis is accused of killing eight classmates and two teachers at Santa Fe High School last May.

RELATED: Emotions run high as Santa Fe mass shooting suspect appears in court

Some victims’ family members broke down when Pagourtzis walked into the courtroom.

“I was looking at him to see if I could see some remorse,” said Sonia Lopez, the mother of a shooting survivor. “And I didn’t get it.”

The suspect’s parents also wept when they saw him.

Pagourtzis’ attorney asked the judge for a change of venue because he said his client can’t get a fair trial in Galveston County.

Defense attorney Nicholas Poehl said there’s a smaller jury pool available in Galveston County, so it would be tougher to find jurors who haven’t already made up their minds about the case.

They blame bias, in part, on social media comments and even those made by political leaders following the incident.

“This case is the very type of case that is the reason we have a change of venue process in Texas,” said attorney Nicholas Poehl. “Because sometimes you just need to move the case.”

Prosecutors maintained the judge can adequately evaluate potential prejudice when it comes time to pick a jury. They cited other highly publicized cases where trials took place in the jurisdictions in which crimes were committed.

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Yorkville Officers Who Responded Inside Henry Pratt During Aurora Mass Shooting Honored

At Tuesday’s Yorkville City Council meeting, aldermen and city officials honored the three Yorkville Police officers who responded to the Aurora mass shooting earlier this month.

Yorkville Police Chief Rich Hart spoke about officers Christopher Hayes, Behr Pfizenmaier and Chris Kuehlem.

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The city held a moment of silence for victims and first responders at the shooting.

Ahead of a standing ovation for the officers, Chief Hart said all three certainly had the training to respond, being that they are trainers within the Yorkville Police Department.

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Law enforcement from the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office, Montgomery, Oswego and Plano Police Departments also helped respond on February 15th. Chiefs and city officials in those communities have all praised those who were called to the scene where five people were killed and five Aurora Police officers were shot.

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Virginia House blocks bill to allow guns in church

Christian Robinson, VCU Capital News Service
Published 6:08 a.m. ET Feb. 27, 2019


What can churches do to prevent shootings?
Most of church security work is more routine, vandalism and theft, and the big problem that is most common is who is authorized to take children home.
But lurking in the back of pastors’ minds is always the unthinkable. It happened in Charleston at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 and it happened Sunday at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.
Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride was the director of security for NewSpring Church immediately before running for sheriff (at the department where he had been a deputy).
Here are some tips he has for churches to prepare and be aware of security.
Mike Ellis/Independent Mail

While most people go to church to worship, security expert Chernoh Wurie goes to worship and protect. He leads security at Hill City Church in the Richmond area.

A bill to allow weapons, including firearms, within places of  worship died in the Virginia House last week.

Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, passed the Senate along party lines, 21-19, but died in the House Rules Committee. The bill sought to repeal a law on the books since the 1950s.

“It’s chaos waiting to happen if you ask me,” Wurie said. “It gets a lot more problematic when you put guns in churches.” 

Hill City Church, a non-denominational Christian church off Staples Mill Road near the Richmond city line, has a strict no-firearms policy, with signs up throughout the building. The only people allowed to carry a weapon are Wurie and his security team, picked he said because of their police training.

Wurie said places of worship without an organized security team might be more likely to allow congregation members to carry because “there is no other form of protection.”

Gun violence has occurred at places of worship in the recent past. 

In October, 11 were killed and seven injured in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In November 2017, 26 people were killed and about 20 injured in a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

A man wears a firearm in a Kentucky church. Church security has become a hot topic after deadly shootings at houses of worship. (Photo: Ed Reinke, AP)

In January 2017, a mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City left six dead and 17 injured. 

Some said the number of casualties in Texas would have been higher if a civilian hadn’t fired at the shooter. But other groups feel uncomfortable with firearms in a place of worship.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is a coalition of more than 700 faith groups. The organization opposed SB 1024 and urged members to contact legislators, saying that worship spaces should “be holy, safe and a refuge” and “free of violence.”

Wurie said he thinks some places would allow their congregation to carry firearms, and it is ultimately the institution’s decision. 

He said if the bill had passed, he would have anticipated institutions potentially hiring congregation members with security experience.  

“It can be a distraction, to a point, for both security and the congregation,” Wurie said. “If everyone is allowed to carry arms during worship, it could be a distraction for the people.”

People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Oct. 27, 2018. (Photo: Matt Rourke, AP)

If the bill had passed the House, Imad Damaj, faculty adviser for the Muslim Student Association at Virginia Commonwealth University, said they planned to lobby the governor to veto it and that the organization did not think the bill would make anyone safer.

“We spoke against it; a lot of people in the Muslim community spoke against it,” Damaj said. “Accidents can happen. You come to a place of worship for peace, prayer and inspiration.”

Damaj worships at the Islamic Center of Virginia. He also said weapons would be a distraction to the congregation.

“People don’t feel comfortable praying next to people who carry arms,” he said.

More: Whispering Pines Motel: ‘Most talked-about eyesore’ to be torn down

More: Virginia lawmakers approve sweeping redistricting overhaul

He questioned if Sen. Black spoke with faith leaders before introducing the bill. 

“I can tell you from the Muslim community perspective … we don’t want that [the bill],” Damaj said.

Just  before the Senate approved the bill on Jan. 24, Black said that congregation members are “vulnerable” and “the ultimate target” of someone who intends to inflict “mayhem on the congregation.”

He pointed to church shootings in recent years, including a 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist who killed nine black churchgoers during a Bible study service. 

“You cower in place or you fight back,” Black said.

Black did not respond to requests for a comment on the legislation.

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House Republicans denounce Democratic move to tighten gun laws

A group of House Republicans gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill to express their anger over two bills proposed by their Democratic colleagues that, if passed, would drastically tighten federal gun laws.

The Republican lawmakers, who were joined by a group of Second Amendment supporters, lambasted the two bills – HR 8 and HR 1112 – as “ineffective” and far overreaching measures that would ultimately lead to guns being confiscated from lawful owners.

“This bill turns law abiding citizens into criminals and it’s one more step towards federalized gun registration and ultimately gun confiscation,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Ga., the House Minority Whip, said. “That’s been the intention of many of the people bringing this bill for a long time. They want true gun control and this is the first step and surely not the last.”


Scalise became a victim of gun violence when he was severely wounded by a gunman who opened fire while lawmakers were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in June 2017.

HR 8, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month in a 23-15 vote along party lines, would expand the scope of federal background checks and require nearly all purchasers of firearms to undergo a background check – even if they were bought it at a gun show, online or in a private transaction. HR 1112, which passed the committee 21-14, would require gun dealers to wait 10 days to receive answers about a background check.

The bills were introduced a day before the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“Although we know the issue of gun violence won’t be fixed overnight, there are steps Congress can and must take to address it,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Closing loopholes in the current background check system are long-overdue legislative measures that will help address this national crisis.”

While a handful of House Republicans have signed up in support of HR 8 – including Rep. Peter King of New York – the vast majority of GOP lawmakers opposed the legislation.


“Frankly HR-8 is taking the fears and concerns of a nation over gun violence and perpetrating a fraud upon them,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said on Tuesday. “They are preying upon the very victims they are supposedly trying to help by putting a bill out there that will not help them. By constantly bringing up the mass violence instances such as schools and theaters and others. They are saying this will help.The reality is nothing in this bill would have stopped Parkland and nothing in this bill would have stopped the violence we have seen.”

The bills are part of the Democrats’ efforts since retaking control of the House to move quickly to combat gun violence and they appear set to pass through the lower house of Congress. The legislation, however, is likely to meet a quick end once it lands in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Fox News College Associate Benno Kass contributed reporting to this piece.

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