News Roundup

For the second time in a month, the leading criminal law news in our country is a staggeringly tragic mass shooting.  The Las Vegas shooting in early October was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, and the shooting this week at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people were killed and 20 others injured, is the deadliest shooting by an individual in Texas history. News reports say that roughly half of the victims were children; one family lost members from three generations.  The Dallas Morning News has profiles of the victims here.  Keep reading for more news.

Background Check.  The perpetrator of the shooting, Devin P. Kelley, had a domestic violence conviction in military court that rendered him ineligible to purchase a gun under federal law, but the conviction was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database.  Thus, despite his legal ineligibility he was able to purchase the guns he used in the shooting from retail dealers, a method of purchase that involves a background check.

Bad Guys, Good Guys, and AR’s.  The circumstances of the Texas shooting have launched the country into familiar debates about gun control.  The fact that Kelley was shot by an armed bystander, Stephen Willeford, has caused some to point to Willeford’s heroic actions as a case in point of the so-called “good guy with a gun” argument – the notion that law-abiding citizens with guns, “good guys,” are an effective means of preventing or mitigating violence by “bad guys” with guns.  Others say that the fact that Kelley murdered 26 people prior to encountering Willeford is evidence that easy access to firearms, for good guys and bad guys alike, is unconscionable.  This piece from the L.A. Times presents both sides of the issue.

It has been reported that both Kelley and Willeford were armed with AR-15 style rifles, weapons that have become popular and controversial in recent years.  Critics of the weapon cite its ease of use, high ammunition capacity, and accuracy as features that make it especially dangerous, while proponents identify the same features as desirable traits that are not categorically different from many other rifles.  The Texas shooting provides fodder for both views.  It has been reported that 15 empty magazines, each with a capacity of 30 rounds, were discovered at the church; Willeford has said that engaging Kelley, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, with anything less than an AR-15 “might have been futile.”

Encryption.  The FBI has possession of Kelley’s iPhone and a warrant authorizing a search of the phone, but the agency has been unable to unlock it according to USA Today.  The tension between individuals’ privacy interest in the contents of their smartphones and the government’s interest in accessing evidence of serious crimes has been a prominent issue in criminal law recently.  As the USA Today piece notes, a locked iPhone frustrated the investigation of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, and the FBI eventually paid a private company $1.3 million to unlock that phone.

NC News.  Though the issues involved in the Texas shooting result in outsize coverage of a national story in this Roundup, there’s still plenty of news from North Carolina:

  • There was a bizarre incident on UNC campus late last week involving a man setting fire to the Davie Poplar and a UNC professor being burned in an explosion while trying to extinguish the blaze. Carrboro was briefly evacuated while law enforcement agencies made certain that the suspect’s car did not contain a bomb.
  • Police officers in Hillsborough bought food for a family in need after a mother resorted to stealing food from a Food Lion store.
  • A prostitution sting in Madison County resulted in 16 arrests and 53 separate charges involving prostitution, drug, and other offenses.
  • A new game from the North Carolina Lottery is being criticized by some for allegedly being similar to the video sweepstakes games that the state spent years shutting down.
  • Charges against three people arising from the destruction of a Confederate monument in Durham earlier this year were dropped this week.
  • It has been discovered that a UNC campus police officer went undercover as an auto mechanic for several days at Silent Sam during the height of the recent protests over that statue.
  • Throughout this month and last, there have been multiple reports of a naked person in the area of Oak Ridge Town Park in Guilford County. Contact the Sheriff if you have any information about this situation.

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