Pair of firearms reports inspires despair more than hope

November 18, 2019 12:01 am

Members of the State Crime Commission heard presentations in August detailing the current landscape of gun laws and regulation, ownership, injuries and death in Virginia. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Two reports involving guns were released in the past week – one on possible firearms legislation in Richmond, the other studying the horror of the massacre at the Virginia Beach municipal complex this spring.

After reading both, call me bewildered. 

The lack of recommendations from the former, and the absence of “warning signs or prohibited behaviors” by the gunman in the latter, give no solace. 

(And as I began writing this, another mass shooting occurred at a high school north of Los Angeles. Authorities said a 16-year-old student fired on several other classmates before turning the gun on himself.) 

Back to Virginia: 

Where is the commitment by state legislators to lower gun deaths – especially homicides and suicides – in the commonwealth? It shouldn’t have taken victories by Democrats in General Assembly elections this month to chart a different course. 

Come January, Democrats will control both chambers for the first time in a generation. Party lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, pledge to change gun laws here

Meanwhile, are there precious few ways to spot a troubled employee among us? That seemed to be one of the key findings in the study by the firm the city of Virginia Beach hired. A worker’s rampage there left 13 people dead – including the gunman – and several others wounded on May 31. 

Chicago-based Hillard Heintze, a security risk management firm, noted the city didn’t have a way to alert enough employees as the attack by the longtime public utilities engineer unfolded. The 262-page report provided several key takeaways and issued dozens of recommendations.

Still, among the unsettling details was the fact that gunman DeWayne Craddock didn’t reveal signs “associated with a pathway to violence that could have provided the City of Virginia Beach or expert threat assessors with an opportunity to intervene ahead of the violence,” the report said.

“We found no evidence that the subject communicated his violent intentions to others before the attack,” it continued. “This communication of intent is sometimes referred to as ‘leakage warning behaviors.’”

Also, Craddock had no known history of mental health care and treatment. “None of the coworkers interviewed,” the report said, “thought the subject posed a threat or would commit such a violent act.” 

In retrospect, Craddock seemed troubled, but the report suggests it was difficult to know to what extent. A timeline in the executive summary says he had separated from his wife in September 2016; in the same month, images of weapons appeared on his phone. He bought a Glock pistol that month, too. 

He had workplace problems. A management letter in early 2017 documented his mishandling of a contractor’s checks. He later complained to a supervisor that he was assigned a project above his expertise and pay grade. In July 2018, he got a written reprimand for poor performance. 

I can understand, though, that it’s tough to distinguish an underachieving employee from one who wants to murder his colleagues. 

On the morning of the shooting, the timeline indicates, Craddock did Internet searches at work of Building 2 maps – where the carnage occurred – and other Municipal Center sites. Shortly afterward, around 10:30 a.m., Craddock emailed his resignation, referring to personal reasons. The shootings began around 4 p.m.

A photograph of the victims of the mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building is surrounded by 12 candles during a memorial service at Piney Grove Baptist Church June 2, 2019, in Virginia Beach. Eleven city employees and one private contractor were shot to death May 31 the Municipal Center Operations building by engineer DeWayne Craddock who had worked for the city for 15 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

At least the Virginia Beach report was a sober, reasoned presentation. 

Not so the study from the State Crime Commission. 

The panel, composed of nine legislators, three citizens and a state official, was targeted for the unenviable task of studying gun legislation after the Republican-controlled General Assembly quickly adjourned a special session in July. Northam had ordered the session after the Virginia Beach shooting. 

The commission’s three-page report was a joke. It made no recommendations and was sparse on specifics. It then said the lack of recommendations “should not be interpreted as meaning that no changes to Virginia’s laws are necessary, but rather that any changes are policy decisions which can only be made by the General Assembly.”

Sure, the panel was caught in the politics of the issue. Members felt the incoming Assembly session would tackle the subject of firearms – regardless of the panel’s findings – if Democrats controlled the chambers.

Was the commission unmoved by suggestions from speakers to the panel in August? For example, a Boston University researcher said passing three new gun laws in Virginia could lead to 124 fewer homicides a year. One of the laws would start universal background checks.

Did panel members agree? If not, why not?

Everybody should want to reduce gun deaths in Virginia, from mass shootings to crimes of opportunities to far-too-many suicides. Last week’s reports, though, provided more distress than comfort.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]