The family of a man shot and killed by police is suing APD.
Alex Gonzales Jr. was shot by APD officers after pointing a gun at an off-duty officer and then driving away when the officer fired on him. After a brief chase, Gonzales stopped his car, at which point his girlfriend, who had been shot by the off-duty officer, exited the passenger side and began yelling for her baby—who officers later found in the back seat. Gonzales also exited the vehicle and, ignoring police commands to put his hands up and get down, went to the back door of his car, and reached in. At that point, several APD officers fired, killing Gonzales. The child in the back seat was unharmed.
The family’s lawsuit states that Gonzales’ wounds “compromised his physical and mental functions and his comprehension.” It says that APD, in particular the officer who first fired on Gonzales, Gabriel Gutierrez, should have known that Gonzales was no longer a threat.
However, a gun was found in the car after Gonzales was shot.
While I cannot imagine the pain of the loss Gonzales’ family is experiencing, Austin must stand firm against this lawsuit.
I fully support the rights of Texans to carry firearms and use them to defend themselves, however, what we know of the initial incident would mean that Gonzales had unlawfully brandished his weapon. Gutierrez, the off-duty officer, says that he was turning into an intersection when Gonzales sped around his vehicle and cut him off while pointing a gun at him.
In no way would this be a legal, justifiable brandishing of a firearm.
Even if Guitierrez had not seen Gonzales’ car, and had cut into Gonzales’ lane, Gonzales would not have the right to aim his firearm at another motorist.
Again, Gonzales acted in an unjustified manner.
Furthermore, when Gonzales had stopped his car, there was no way that the police could reasonably confirm Gonzales’ intent. They knew he had driven recklessly and pulled a gun. And that’s not even counting his evading pursuit—which could be theoretically dismissed since Gutierrez was off-duty in his personal vehicle, Gonzales may not have known he was being pursued by police until Gutierrez’s backup arrived. What the officers knew at the moment they fired on Gonzales was that he was unpredictable and armed. He had committed a felony by pointing his weapon at another driver.
Police are not hired to be mind readers. They are not expected to understand every nuance of a perpetrator’s behavior. They cannot assume the best intent on the part of every person they encounter. They are heavily trained and the longer they are officers the more experiential knowledge they can apply to the actions they need to take in the moment. While in hindsight, it may sound as though Gonzales had been, in a state of shock, unaware of the police’s commands and was seeking to comfort the child, police knew he had a gun—which again was recovered in the car—and reasonably believed that he was seeking his weapon to fire at police.
It is always a tragedy when a young person dies. This man was the same age as I a.. He, like all of us, was a wellspring of potential. But he committed a crime. He persisted in his crime. He had threatened lives.
In doing so, he put his own life at risk.
Should the City of Austin settle with this family, it will be yet again sending the message, that APD is not to be trusted; that it should receive no benefit of the doubt; that every police shooting should be treated as a murder in which the defendant—the officer who pulled the trigger—is presumed guilty and must prove his or her innocence.
That is an unsustainable process. We will lose more officers. Our remaining officers will hesitate in protecting themselves and others; this will cost lives. Police will continue to pull back, leaving Austin a more dangerous city.
The City of Austin must stand its ground and fight this suit.
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In our last post, we examined the role of guns—specifically semi-automatic rifles—in crime.
Today, we will specifically look at mass shootings, trying to understand what exactly they are. By striving to understand the horrors that rock our headlines all too often, we may gain insight into how to prevent them.
Generally, when we talk about mass shootings, we are referring to events like those in Uvalde, Buffalo, or Parkland. The term immediately conjures a pretty clear picture in our minds; a lone gunman entering a school, place of worship, or store and killing many defenseless people for no clear reason beyond psychiatric disturbances. However, given a bit more time to think, we begin to realize there are other types of mass shootings. There’s workplace violence, once so common in America’s Postal Service, that violently lashing out at your co-workers became colloquially known as “going postal.” There are shootings that occur in larger areas such as the Vegas shooting (the largest mass shooting on record). There are clear incidents of terrorism in which the attacker chooses a firearm rather than a bomb or vehicle, such as the Fort Hood shooting.
Even still, these examples do not account for anywhere near all of the mass shootings that occur.
So, what is a mass shooting?
Believe it or not, there’s no one answer.
Some organizations define a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot and killed.
Some define it as an incident in which four people other than the gunman are shot and killed.
Others define mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people other than the gunman are shot—regardless of how many people died.
The FBI does not even define mass shootings, instead, defining an event in which four or more people are killed—regardless of the weapon used—as a “mass murder.”
To understand any topic, we have to choose a definition, so for the purposes of this article, we will be going with the broadest definition; a mass shooting is an event in which four or more people, other than the shooter, are shot.
It’s important to understand how broad this definition is. This definition combines events like the Uvalde shooting with gang-related gunfights like this one in Providence, Rhode Island, in which two groups of individuals shot at one another.
However, if we were to try and limit the definitions to exclude cases in which victims of a shooting fired back, we would discount any case in which, say, church security shot the gunman or an armed vice-principal stopped a shooting.
Given this, the media and political leaders rely on data of questionable value when discussing waves of violence.
Consider these headlines:
Both of these appeared on major outlets, and both articles specifically call out the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings. However, neither makes any attempt at clarifying, as we have done in this piece, that parsing out gang-related violence is extremely difficult when looking at mass shooting data.
We are left with the impression that marauders are entering our schoolyards and places of worship daily and committing unspeakable acts. The reality is that we are in the midst of a large spike in violent crime in America, which started in 2020.
This distinction is extremely important to understand.
As the headlines above noted, there have been over 250 mass shootings in the United States in 2022. There have been 27 school shootings. That means that if every single school shooting were a mass shooting—and not all are, as in some cases, the number of victims is fewer than four—they would only make up 10% of the total. It should be clear that we cannot hope to prevent a school shooting in the same way that we would prevent gang violence.
The type of person who shoots school children has a different profile than the individual who joins a gang, for example. The difference that’s easiest to identify? School shooters are almost always extremely socially isolated. Gang members, on the other hand, by definition, identify with a group of people and have strong bonds with that group.
While both of the youth in these cases would certainly benefit from healthy socialization, in the case of a gang member, one would have to ensure the safety of the youth that one is trying to break out of the gang; a difficulty simply not present in the profile of a young school shooter.
That’s just one example.
There are numerous profiles of shooters; some are nihilistic, and some are true believers in a twisted ideology. Some are acting alone, and others choose to be the vanguard of a movement.
But all of them cause mass casualties, tearing families apart, and staining communities.
We must find new ways of identifying these crimes, rather than simply relying on the term “mass shooting.” It is so broad that it blurs the nature of the crimes involved.
This may lead many to say, “what they have in common is the gun. Target their guns!”
While at first blush this makes sense, we covered the nature of American gun crime in our previous post. Simply put, most guns used in crime are acquired illegally; if every single legally obtained gun were removed from criminals’ hands, it would account for about 10% of the total.
Instead, we must treat these problems as different as they appear.
We must create a better method for discovering potential school shooters. At the moment, school resources are stretched beyond their limits in attempting to find any potential mass shooter.
We have to better fund anti-gang forces in local law enforcement, while also providing clear alternatives to those already trapped in gang life.
We have to secure potential targets of mass shootings, to ensure that when the systems fail—as they inevitably will—the targets of a shooter are better prepared and safer.
In a later post, we will detail what these solutions might look like.
In the meantime, remember; that America’s mass shootings are not all the same. Treating them as such makes our efforts to save lives less effective.
America’s Mass Shootings: A Few Problems Confused with One Name
Image: FOX7 As Texas deaths caused by opioid use have risen, Austin has installed its first Narcan vending machine. This machine was deployed by the N.I.C.E. Project (More Narcan In Case of Emergency) in conjunction with Sunrise Homeless Navigation. What is Narcan? It is a nasal spray drug that prevents death from overdosing on opioids…
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An anti-gun violence rally on the steps of New York City Hall in 2019. (William Alatriste/NYC Council)
In the wake of mass shootings, Americans are regularly told that these atrocities do not happen in other developed countries. This, we are to believe, is the damnable result of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Americans are told again and again that the key to solving this problem is to drastically reduce the number of firearms in circulation; specifically, the number of semi-automatic rifles.
Of course, America isn’t entirely unique. As we’ll examine later, many other developed countries experience mass violence, including France, Norway, and New Zealand.
Despite the hyperbole, though, there is an element of truth in the idea that America’s violence is unique in the developed world. As a country, we are much more violent, both in mass settings that capture our imaginations and headlines and in individual cases that tend to be accepted as somehow normal.
For example, when we compare US cities to those of comparable nations—Western Europe, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia—we find that American murder rates are startlingly high in comparison. Murder rates may not be a perfect indicator of overall violence but work very well as a way of identifying serious violent tendencies.
Glasgow, Scotland ranks as perhaps the most dangerous major city in America’s peer nations with a murder rate of around 5.1/per 100,000 residents in 2020.
That murder rate would make Glasgow, Europe’s deadliest city, the 62nd most deadly city in America in 2020, landing between San Francisco and Anaheim.
So, does that prove it? Is it true that because Americans have access to so many guns, we are much more likely to murder each other?
As it turns out, Americans do not rely on a single tool to commit murders.
Indeed, according to the FBI in 2019, the most common murder weapon was the handgun, used in 45.7% of murders. Firearms of unknown type were used in 23.9%. Knives were the second most common identifiable weapon at 10.6%.
It is worth mentioning that murders with hands and feet (600) outstrip murders with rifles and shotguns combined (564).
Now, there’s no doubt looking at those numbers, that the number of firearms almost certainly increases the number of murders—it’s just a lot easier to kill someone with a gun than with your hands.
But when we have gun control debates, lawmakers focus almost exclusively on one type of firearm: the semi-automatic rifle. A weapon so rarely used in murders the FBI does not distinguish its use from that of other rifles. I’ll say that again; rifles are so seldom used that the FBI does not count semi-automatic rifles separately from other, slower-firing rifles.
To further put this in perspective, in 2019, there were estimated to be 16,425 murders. 10,255 of these were committed with firearms. 364 were committed with rifles—that we can prove. We have to assume some of the unidentified firearms are rifles.
Even so, this is a tiny fraction of the overall number of murders; about 2.2%.
To put this further in perspective, there were 36,096 vehicular homicides in 2019.
There are 271,000,000 cars in the US.
There are believed to be more than 400,000,000 guns.
Despite this, a regular point of argument is that if we had the same kind of regulations around cars as we did guns, there would be fewer deaths. The belief is that by requiring training, licensing, registration, and other qualifications, deaths caused by firearms would be reduced. But as we have seen, the numbers don’t really bear this out, as cars—which have numerous, onerous regulations to own and operate, are involved in far more yearly deaths than guns, despite there being far more firearms.
But even if we were to impose greater regulations on gun ownership, we wouldn’t expect it to have much impact on their use in crimes. Simply put, weapons that are acquired through legal means are very rarely used in crimes.
In 2019, just about 10% of guns used in crimes were obtained in retail environments according to the Department of Justice. Retail environments include gun stores, sporting goods shops, gun shows, pawn shops, and flea markets. While it is often difficult to prove the provenance of firearms otherwise acquired, very few purchased in this verifiably legal way are ever used in crime.
About 20% of guns used in crimes fall into a legal gray zone, in which the criminal claims to have acquired the firearm from someone else, either through purchase or as a gift.
In total, 70% of firearms are acquired in an explicitly illegal fashion.
What this points to is that criminals generally seek out non-verifiable means to obtain firearms, meaning that adding further regulation to the acquisition of guns would have, if not negligible, very minor effects.
But again, given Americans’ highly violent nature, even if we were to ban all guns, and remove all firearms immediately, Americans would still attack one another by other means more commonly than our peer societies.
America, however, is not merely more violent than our peer nations.
We are much more criminal overall, with 715 per 100,000 people being held as prisoners. Some might say this is because of over-incarceration, with nearly 45% of those in federal prison being held for drug offenses. However, the statistic is still meaningful, as it demonstrates that Americans incur the risk of incarnation at a higher rate than our peer societies.
This tendency also appears when we look at traffic fatalities. We have nearly three times as many traffic deaths per capita as the European Union—11.7 vs 4.2, suggesting more reckless driving in the US.
Indeed, social science regularly demonstrates that Americans perceive less risk than those of other developed nations.
Lack of risk aversion is highly correlated with crime, and those who commit even low-level offenses are much more likely to also commit violent crimes.
All of this suggests that guns are not the root cause of violence in America.
American people are.
A murder committed with a firearm is just as evil and tragic as it would be with a knife.
Let us turn our attention now to mass shootings, the crimes that most often grab headlines and shake our nation.
Even looking exclusively at these horrifying crimes, the handgun is the weapon of choice for offenders, not the semiautomatic rifle. Handguns were used in 98 mass shootings since 1982 compared to 52 in which rifles were used.
Now rifles are disproportionately favored in mass shootings as compared to the more common individual murder—making up about 30% of the weapons chosen in mass murder, but only 2% in individual cases. They are, however, not universally, nor even particularly often used, making up—of the three categories (rifles, shotguns, and handguns)—about one-third of the weapons.
To sum all of this data up, targeting semi-automatic rifles would have a negligible impact on the overall American murder rate, and would not even prevent the majority of mass shootings. It is worth noting, that once a person has come to the point of deciding to murder a classroom of eleven-year-olds, the choice of which type of firearm is probably not extremely important to the outcome. In the cases of Uvalde, Parkland, and Sandy Hook, it would be foolish to suggest that had the shooters chosen handguns, rather than AR-15 style rifles, there would have been less carnage. The AR-15, firing once every time the trigger is pulled would not kill any more efficiently than a handgun operating in the same manner.
This makes the proposed ban on semi-automatic rifles—often erroneously called an “assault rifle ban”—window dressing, intended to allow lawmakers to claim to have “done something,” with little regard for the actual results of this policy.
This might lead one to ask, “why not ban all guns?” This is a topic we will turn to shortly in another post.
There is basically no support in the US for a handgun ban, despite this being the most commonly used murder weapon. American support for such an idea is actually shrinking, reaching an all-time low in 2019 according to the latest available data from Gallup. This is likely because Americans understand that the handgun is also an essential self-defense weapon.
In conclusion, we are a more violent people and a less risk-averse people than our peers. We kill each other at much higher rates than our peers, but rarely with rifles—semi-automatic or otherwise. Simply calling out our differences in gun laws and gun violence is not a strong enough reason to ban an entire class of firearms.
As we continue, we will examine what such a ban might look like, and what laws would need to be altered to implement it. However, our next piece will examine mass shootings specifically. How are they defined, who commits them, and where do they occur?
Austin City Council voted to increase their pay by 40% last week by an overwhelming margin. Out of the eleven members, only three opposed this egregious hike in pay; Paige Ellis (D8), Vanessa Fuentes (D2), and the redoubtable Mackenzie Kelly (D6).
In 2020, the city council removed $150 million from the Austin Police budget. While this author has given special attention in the past to the obscenity of losing our sex crimes unit, there is another element that was eliminated causing all too tragic consequences.