Brandon Hole, the 19-year-old who the police say fatally shot eight people at a FedEx facility on Thursday night, legally purchased two semiautomatic rifles he used in the attack more than six months earlier, according to the chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
In March of 2020, the police had seized a shotgun from Mr. Hole after his mother raised concerns about his mental state, records show. But, Chief Randal Taylor said, the fact that Mr. Hole was legally able to make the more recent gun purchases indicates that, despite his mother’s warning and the police seizure of a gun, the authorities had not deemed him subject to Indiana’s so-called “red flag” law, which bars people who are found by a judge to present dangerous risk from possessing a firearm.
Under the state’s longstanding red flag law, the authorities have two weeks after taking someone’s weapon to argue before a judge that the person is unstable and should be barred from possessing a gun for a period of time. But Chief Taylor was unsure whether a hearing like that ever took place — even though the police never returned the shotgun they had seized last year.
“I don’t know how we held onto it,” Mr. Taylor said in an interview on Saturday night. “But it’s good that we did.”
However, the chief added, Mr. Hole went on to “legally purchase a much more powerful weapon than a shotgun.” On Saturday night, the police department announced that the two assault-style rifles that Mr. Hole used in Thursday’s attack were bought in July and September of 2020.
Those purchases, the chief suggested, would have been possible only if a red flag determination had never been made.
It remains uncertain whether a judge ruled against a red flag determination in Mr. Hole’s case or whether prosecutors took his case before a judge at all.
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to questions about whether they pursued a red flag ruling against Mr. Hole. A search of online court records did not reveal any such case associated with his name.
Red flag laws, which exist in more than a dozen states, moved to the center of the national conversation about gun regulation after a massacre at a Florida high school in 2018.
Indiana’s version which is named for Timothy “Jake” Laird, a police officer who was shot in the line of duty in 2004, is one of the oldest such statutes in the country.
Under the law, a person is considered dangerous if he “presents an imminent risk” to himself or others, or if he fits certain other criteria, including unmedicated mental illness or a documented propensity for violence.
The seizure of weapons under these laws is often temporary. In Indiana, once a weapon is taken by the police, prosecutors have 14 days to justify the seizure to a judge. If the judge decides the person is so unstable they should not be permitted to have guns, the seizure stands. If the judge rules otherwise, the firearms are returned.
Even if a judge decides that someone should not be allowed to possess firearms, that determination lasts only for a year. After that, prosecutors must either again prove that the person is unfit to possess firearms, or the ruling is lifted.
Officials have said that they seized a shotgun from Mr. Hole last March, after his mother reported that he might try to commit “suicide by cop,” according to Paul Keenan, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Indianapolis office.
At that time, Mr. Hole, was taken to a local hospital for evaluation, according to a police report obtained by the Indianapolis Star. The shotgun seized by officials at that time had been purchased by Mr. Hole just 24 hours earlier, the report indicates. According to Mr. Keenan, the shotgun was never returned.
If that ruling had come down, the ban on gun possession likely would have expired last month, and the authorities would have had to return to court to prove that Mr. Hole was still dangerous. Even if a red-flag law applied in this case, and Mr. Hole were barred from buying a gun from a licensed gun dealer, said Vop Osili, the president of the Indianapolis City Council, he still could have bought a gun from an unlicensed dealer, “no questions asked.”
Mr. Osili said local officials are at the mercy of state and federal lawmakers when it comes to either passing new gun laws or plugging the loopholes in existing ones. “Our hands are tied,” he added. “We are left in a reactive mode rather than a proactive mode.”
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