Mark Follman

Mark Follman

National Affairs Editor

Mark Follman is national affairs editor at Mother Jones. He is a former editor of Salon and a cofounder of the MediaBugs project. His reporting and commentary have also appeared in the New York Times, The AtlanticRolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and on Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR's All Things Considered. Since 2012, his in-depth investigations into mass shootings, child gun deaths, and the financial costs of gun violence have been honored with multiple journalism awards.

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Did Colorado's Open Carry Law Delay Police Response to a Mass Shooter?

| Mon Nov. 2, 2015 9:46 PM EST
A crime scene in Colorado Springs on October 31.

Details are continuing to emerge about a gun rampage that took place in the streets of Colorado Springs on Saturday morning, in which 33-year-old Noah Harpham shot three people to death before police killed him in a shootout. On Monday, a troubling detail came to light in a Denver Post report suggesting that police may have had a chance to intervene before the slaughter began—but that a police dispatcher may have reacted without urgency to a 911 call about Harpham because of Colorado's open carry law:

Witnesses watched in horror as Harpham picked his victims off. One of them, the bicyclist, pleaded for his life before being killed.

"I heard the (young man) say, 'Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!' " Naomi Bettis, a neighbor who witnessed the killing, said Monday.

Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor—whom she didn't know by name—and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle. She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.

"He did have a distraught look on his face," Bettis said. "It looked like he had a rough couple days or so."

It's unclear how much time lapsed between Bettis' 911 call and when the rampage began, but according to The Gazette the initial police response didn't come until after the carnage was in progress:

The first reports of a shooting came about 8:45 a.m. as Colorado Springs police were called to the 200 block of Prospect Street after multiple calls about gunshots, El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby and Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley said. Authorities said the shooter was killed after opening fire on police officers.

By then, Harpham had killed the bicyclist, 35-year-old Andrew Alan Myers, and two women at a nearby location, 42-year-old Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, and 34-year-old Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela. (Similarly, the Denver Post reported: "Officers were first called on reports of a 'possible shooting' at 230 North Prospect Street—a townhouse-like building—where they found the bicyclist dead and a fire burning, the dispatch archives show.") [Update: A Colorado Springs PD official responds to Mother Jones here about Bettis' 911 call.]

Proponents of open carry laws argue that the ability for citizens to take firearms with them in public isn't just a right but makes communities safer. We don't yet know, but the law allowing guns to be carried on display in Colorado may have just done the opposite.

No, Mental Illness Is Not the Main Cause of Mass Shootings in America

| Tue Oct. 27, 2015 4:44 PM EDT

A Washington Post-ABC News poll on gun violence published Monday included a stark finding: "By a more than 2-to-1 margin, more people say mass shootings reflect problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems rather than inadequate gun control laws." Sixty-three percent of respondents blamed a deficient mental health care system as the prime reason for America's incessant gun massacres, while 23 percent pointed to weak gun regulations.

What's most troubling about these results and the question that prompted them is that they perpetuate a dangerous stigmatization. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. I wrote about this in my recent Mother Jones cover story on threat assessment, a growing strategy for stopping mass shooters that relies on collaboration between mental health and law enforcement experts:

We know that many mass shooters are young white men with acute mental health issues. The problem is, such broad traits do little to help threat assessment teams identify who will actually attack. Legions of young men love violent movies or first-person shooter games, get angry about school, jobs, or relationships, and suffer from mental health afflictions. The number who seek to commit mass murder is tiny. Decades of research have shown that the link between mental disorders and violent behavior is small and not useful for predicting violent acts. (People with severe mental disorders are in fact far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.)

Then there is the role of guns. As a top forensic psychologist described it to me at a recent summit of more than 700 threat assessment professionals in Southern California, "One of the first things you focus on with this process is access to weapons." Guns obviously are no more a sole cause of mass shootings than schizophrenia or suicidal depression are. But their role in such crimes is self-evident:

Possession of a firearm, of course, is not a meaningful predictor of targeted violence. But at the conference in Disneyland, virtually everyone I spoke with agreed that guns make these crimes a lot easier to commit—and a lot more lethal. "There are so many firearms out there, you just assume everybody has one," Scalora says. "It's safer to assume that than the opposite." The presence of more than 300 million guns in the United States—and the lack of political will to regulate their sale or use more effectively—is a stark reality with which threat assessment experts must contend, and why many believe their approach may be the best hope for combating what has become a painfully normal American problem.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll furthered a misleading stereotype about a broad population of Americans by presenting a false choice between mental health and gun policy. The chart above shows that only 10 percent of respondents recognized that solving mass shootings is more complicated than checking one box or the other. Any solution deeply involves both, and a whole lot more.

Reddit's Former CEO Is Fed Up With the Site's Vindictive Trolls, But Not Its Anonymous Gun Dealers

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 5:00 AM EDT
Custom AR-15s were produced for Redditors with the company's permission.

As turmoil continues at Reddit, former CEO Yishan Wong has been defending ousted leader Ellen Pao, in part with a schadenfreude-tinged post on Tuesday in which he informed the trolls populating the site's controversial hate-speech forums that their days are likely numbered. But when I questioned Wong on Tuesday night on Twitter about another controversial corner of Reddit—a de facto national market for assault weapons called r/GunsForSale that we exposed in a Mother Jones investigation last year—he was of a different mindset. As Wong had put it earlier on Tuesday, the new CEO now had "the moral authority to move ahead with the purge" of Reddit's darkest reaches. I wondered whether that might now also apply to a forum where anonymous gun dealers revel in the prospect of profiting from the mass murder of first graders and boast about selling firearms with zero regulatory scrutiny.

Reddit wasn't just allowing this gun market to thrive on its platform when we broke the story, it had also put its stamp on it—literally. The company had licensed its official alien logo for use on a bunch of custom AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, produced for and purchased by the site's users. Turns out Wong, who was CEO at the time, was himself a fan. In his response to me on Tuesday night he wrote in a series of tweets:

Ironically the sensationalist, leading questions you sent us when "researching" this muckraking piece sparked my interest in guns, which later led me to buy an AR-15. Wish I could get one of those reddit-stamped lower receivers though. Seriously, the hi-res pictures you included made those rifles look amazing. It was almost an advertisement for them.

A fresh look at r/GunsForSale this week revealed plenty of Bushmaster AR-15s and Glocks with high-capacity magazines—the weapons of choice for mass shooters in Charleston, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and so many other places—continue to be available from unidentifiable sellers eager to do deals in person. As in: Meet me in the parking lot, show me the money, no questions asked.

"I'd prefer to sell this face to face. I am in North Florida." From a July 14 gun listing on Reddit

There is now hot debate about a regulatory process that let the Charleston killer purchase his Glock after three days from a gun store, despite his disqualifying criminal record. But forget about how licensed retailers should operate: With sites like r/GunsForSale brimming with product, including in South Carolina, that whole conversation may really just be moot.

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