Down-and-out former TV news reporter Bryce Williams — a.k.a. Vester Lee Flanagan — murdered two former colleagues at WDBJ in Roanoke last week with a Glock 9 mm pistol. Eight years earlier, a Glock was one of the handguns of choice for Seung-Hui Cho, who massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, located only 42 miles southwest of Wednesday's carnage.
Mental illness played heavy inside both murderers.
Cho bought his Glock illegally. The 41-year-old Flanagan did not.
He bought his handgun in July from a federally licensed gun dealer. Tom Faison, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, said a background check didn't flag Flanagan for anything that would have prohibited him from making the purchase such, as a protective order, felony conviction, or history of court-ordered psychiatric treatment.
How easy, or not, would it have been for Flanagan to make that purchase in Minnesota?
The quickest way to obtain a handgun here on the up-and-up, says Joseph Olson, a professor at Hamline University School of Law, is to first get a transferee or carry permit.
You must be age 21 or older.
"Essentially you go into your local police department or county sheriff and say, 'I think I might want to buy a pistol within the next year,'" says Olson. "You fill out the paperwork and then they let you know, sometimes within days, sometimes it might be six weeks, whether or not you qualify."
The questions are basic stuff: name, residence, telephone number, driver’s license number, sex, date of birth, height, weight, eye color, and a statement attesting you're a law-abiding person.
In Minnesota, a permit will be denied for various reasons, such as gang affiliations, being a fugitive or violent criminal, or having been committed by a court to a mental treatment facility in Minnesota or elsewhere.
"In the case of the Virginia shooting," says Olson, "he passed the background check. It would have been the same thing in Minnesota. There would have been nothing to stop him."
There is a quicker way to buy a handgun in Minnesota.
Web sites like armslist.com, a craigslist for guns, offers cash and carry deals.
Reads one current listing: "FOR SALE: SMITH & WESSON 629 STEALTH HUNTER $ 1400.00 CASH ONLY..... NO TRADES..... FIRM
leave phone number... WILL NOT answer emails... face to face transaction only.... no shipping."
"Accessibility to guns legally in Minnesota is medium difficult," says Olson. "As a practical matter, there's no system that's perfect. When there's a shooting like we just saw, people come out of the woodwork, screaming for tougher gun laws. More laws won't won't stop what happened [in Roanoke]. I think the biggest issue we have now is we need to make easier for people to obtain [handgun] carrying permits.
"The one thing that's missing in every one of these mass shootings is that there wasn't someone there with a gun to stop it."
Minnesotans are heeding Olson's advice.
Earlier this month, the number of state residents with handgun carrying permits topped 200,000, a record number.
As of August 1, about one in 20 eligible adults, or nearly 201,000 Minnesotans, have permits to carry a pistol in public places, according to the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
"You are your own policeman," Olson says. "Safety is a personal responsibility. It can't be anything otherwise."