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Buffalo shooting followed tripling of gun sales in 30 years, ATF figures reveal

Vintage Firearms, the gun shop where Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect Payton Gendron legally purchased his weapon, is pictured in Endicott, New York.
Vintage Firearms, the gun shop where Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect Payton Gendron legally purchased his weapon, is pictured in Endicott, New York. Photograph: Angus Mordant/Reuters

Gun sales in the US have soared in recent years as the nation struggles to come to terms with the latest mass shooting, a horrific racist attack in Buffalo.

According to new figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the manufacture of firearms has tripled in two decades, and legal sales have risen sharply as well.

Officials in New York confirmed that Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old accused of the Buffalo mass murder, legally obtained the AR-15 style rifle believed to be the weapon used in the attack from a New York guns store, despite being hospitalized last year for making a murder-suicide threat.

Law enforcement officials have said they are not aware of any “red flags” that would have slowed or prevented the legal sales of the three guns the shooter allegedly brought to Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, including the one used in the attack.

The ATF report comes as many states have loosened “carry” laws that allow for the possession of handguns for personal protection. Since 2009, handgun sales have outstripped rifles, the report found. Total sales rose from 3,040,934 in 1986 to peak in 2016 at 11,497,441.

The report also pointed to a rise in the number of “ghost guns”, or untraceable, homemade weapons, in circulation. Law enforcement recovered 19,344 privately manufactured firearms in 2021, a tenfold increase since 2016.

Officials have said ghost guns are contributing to the surge in gun-related killings. In California, ghost guns make up as many as half of weapons recovered at crime scenes.

On a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, Joe Biden told reporters that he would redouble his efforts “to convince Congress” to enact new gun control measures.

“We’ve done it before,” the president said, referring to the 1994 assault weapons ban that slowed their spread before it lapsed in 2004. Biden said he would have “to convince Congress to go back to what I passed years ago”.

“It’s going to be very difficult. But I’m not going to give up trying,” he said.

The state’s attorney general, Letitia James, said on Wednesday that her office is investigating the social media companies where the alleged gunman planned and promoted the attack.

She tweeted that her office would investigate 4chan, 8chan, Discord, Twitch and any other platforms the shooter used.

Late Wednesday, a 911 dispatcher was placed on leave and may lose her job after allegedly hanging up on a supermarket employee who was hiding during the shooting rampage.

“Termination will be sought” for the dispatcher at a disciplinary hearing later this month, said Peter Anderson, spokesperson for the executive of Erie county, the Associated Press reported.

An assistant office manager at Tops Friendly market, where 10 Black people were killed by a white gunman Saturday, told the Buffalo News that she was whispering during the 911 call because she feared the shooter would hear her.

The store employee alleges the dispatcher shouted at her, asked why she was whispering then hung up. The employee said she had to call her boyfriend and tell him to dial 911 and report the shooting.

Anderson said it’s unclear who hung up on whom.

Gendron had been briefly hospitalized last spring after a teacher reported to school administrators that he’d written about wanting to carry out a shooting. But since he was not involuntarily committed to an institution his name was not added to any gun prohibition, or red flag, list.

“I spent 20 hours in a hospital’s emergency room on 5/28/2021,” Gendron wrote in an online entry late last year. “This was because I answered murder/suicide to the question ‘what do you want to do when you retire?’ on an online assignment in my Economics class.”

Sheriff John Garcia of Erie county, New York, told CNN: “In a case like this the gun dealer was able to sell these weapons to this individual because there was no red flags that came up.”

However, Gendron crossed into Pennsylvania to obtain a 30-round magazine. “What has made this so lethal, and so devastating for this community, was the high-capacity magazine that would have had to have been purchased elsewhere, that’s not legal in the state of New York,” Governor Kathy Hochul of New York said on Sunday. Multiple high-capacity magazines were recovered on Gendron and in his car, Buffalo’s police commissioner, Joseph Gramaglia, said.

Gendron wrote that using a drill he had modified a lock on the weapon designed to prevent the use of an extended magazine. It is believed he fired 50 rounds during the two-minute attack. Ten people, predominantly Black, were killed and the assault was live-streamed on Twitch.

Robert Donald, the owner of Vintage Firearms, told the New York Times he had sold Gendron a Bushmaster rifle. “He didn’t stand out – because if he did, I would’ve never sold him the gun,” Donald said.

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