Mark Follman

Mark Follman

Senior Editor

Mark Follman is a senior 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 Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, 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 other issues of gun violence have been honored with multiple journalism awards.

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Santa Monica Killer John Zawahri: A Familiar Profile

| Tue Jun. 11, 2013 6:57 PM EDT
A surveillance photo of Zawahri entering the Santa Monica College library.

Update, June 12, 9:25 p.m. PDT: Citing unnamed law enforcement officials, the Los Angeles Times reported late Wednesday that the semiautomatic rifle used in the Santa Monica rampage appears to have been assembled from various parts, possibly to circumvent California's laws prohibiting such weapons. Whether the killer built the weapon himself or obtained it whole is unclear. The rifle "appeared to be modified so that it could fire more rounds," according to the LA Times. In fact, it's relatively easy to make your own assault rifle, as reporter Bryan Schatz demonstrated recently while investigating a "build party"—in southern California—for this Mother Jones story.


More details have emerged about John Zawahri, who murdered five people and wounded several others in a gun rampage on Friday before police shot him dead on the campus of Santa Monica College. He is the kind of mass killer we've come to see all too often in recent years, from his gender and age to the type of weapons he used to his mental-health history. With our in-depth investigation of 62 mass shootings over the last 30 years we identified strong patterns among the killers, and Zawahri fits several of them:

Shooter's identity: Zawahri, an American-born son of Lebanese immigrants, was an adult male, age 23. All but one of the killers in the cases we analyzed were male, most of them young adult to middle-age.

Weapons used: Zawahri committed the killings using an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and high-capacity magazines. According to the LA Times, investigators say he carried nearly 40 magazines capable of holding 30 bullets each. Some were in a duffel bag along with a handgun; he also wore ammunition strapped to his chest and thighs. Zawahri fired about 100 rounds during an approximately 15-minute rampage and was carrying more than 1,000 rounds with him, according to law enforcement officials. As our study showed, more than half of all mass shooters had assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and many were armed with multiple guns:

The data we gathered also shows that most mass shooters—nearly 80 percent of them—obtained their weapons legally. We don't yet know how Zawahri got his guns; law enforcement officials say they're in the process of tracing them. But it's possible he obtained them using the internet: As early as 2006, according to the LA Times, word had spread among Zawahri's high school classmates and teachers that he'd spent time surfing for assault weapons online. It remains very easy to buy guns on the internet, a key issue addressed by the legislation mandating broader background checks that died in the Senate in April.

Mental-health problems: Zawahri had shown troubling signs years ago, according to the LA Times. In 2006, a teacher learned of Zawahri's interest in assault weapons—as well as violent threats he'd voiced about specific classmates—and reported Zawahri to school authorities, who informed the police. Soon after, Zawahri was admitted to UCLA's psychiatric ward for a brief period. In the 62 cases we studied, a majority of the killers had mental health problems, with many showing signs of it prior to their attacks.

There's another pattern that Zawahri fits: Like the young male killers in Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine before him, he was apparently into video games. According to the LA Times, his school transcripts show that he was "sporadically" enrolled in an entertainment technology program in 2009 and 2010, taking courses in animation and video game development. But as Erik Kain cautions in an in-depth explainer on violent video games published on our site today, that fact may ultimately tell us nothing about what caused Zawahri to bring horror to Santa Monica late last week.

This post has been updated. Also see our full award-winning special report on mass shootings in America.

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Here's How the Rifle That Just Killed a 2-Year-Old Girl Is Marketed for Kids

| Wed May 1, 2013 5:10 PM EDT

On Tuesday, inside a rural Kentucky home, a five-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his two-year-old sister. The boy had been playing with a .22 caliber single-shot Crickett rifle made and marketed for kids. The children's mother was reportedly outside the house when the shooting took place, and apparently didn't know that the gun contained a shell.

"Just one of those crazy accidents," said the Cumberland County coroner, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Clearly the issue of parental responsibility is at the center of this tragedy. But against the backdrop of the Newtown massacre and ongoing national debate over regulating firearms, it also points back to the big business of guns—including how the industry profits from products aimed at children.

The Pennsylvania-based maker of Crickett rifles, Keystone Sporting Arms, markets its guns with the slogan "My First Rifle." They are available with different barrel and stock designs, including some made in hot pink to appeal to young girls.

Business has boomed since the company's inception in 1996, according to its website*. In its first year, it had four employees and produced 4,000 rifles for kids; by 2008 it had greatly expanded its operations, with 70 employees and an output of 60,000 rifles a year. KSA's site states that its goal is "to instill gun safety in the minds of youth shooters and encourage them to gain the knowledge and respect that hunting and shooting activities require and deserve."

But a visit to the "kids corner" page reveals a gallery of photos that some people might find unsettling:

Crickett rifles
Crickett rifles

Then again, KSA's approach to arming America's tykes may be no more disturbing than the post-Newtown boom in bulletproof backpacks and school clothes.

Update, May 3, 10:30amPT: Shortly after we published this story, the Crickett Firearms website was shut down, and it remains unavailable. This morning I called Keystone Sporting Arms and was referred to attorney John Renzulli, who spoke on behalf of the company: He said that the Crickett Firearms site had been "inundated and corrupted" by a surge of visitors and had been shut down by the hosting service. "We're working hard with the host to get the site up again," he said, though he declined to specify when it would be restored. (It's an intriguing explanation given that Crickett's accounts on Facebook and Twitter have also since disappeared.)

Renzulli acknowledged that the accidental death of the two-year-old girl in Kentucky has stirred strong emotions, but said that it was not an appropriate time to continue the debate about gun control. "This is not about Crickett Firearms," he said. "We need to respect the privacy of these people, this family is going through a lot. We're not going to analyze and evaluate what happened here until a full investigation has been conducted by law enforcement. At that point we'll comment."

Here are some additional screen shots I captured from the "kids corner" page of Crickett.com: 

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