Marcus Pinckney should never have been able to get his hands on a gun.
A licensed firearms dealer’s background check would have flagged him as a felon, court records show. But Pinckney pulled into a Daytona Beach motel parking lot on July 19, 2018, and shot three men, killing one of them, according to a charging affidavit.
His girlfriend told investigators he “bought a gun on the street,” the affidavit states.
Those who purchase guns from a private seller or on the internet are not subject to background checks.
Such off-the-books transactions account for one-fourth of guns sold, said Gay Valimont, Florida chapter leader at Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization that fights for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. “My 6-year-old could buy one on the internet and it’s perfectly legal.”
Enhanced background checks are one of the solutions Valimont and National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor Ed Sparks both believe could help lessen the number of shootings.
All told, 176 people were shot in Volusia and Flagler counties in 2018. News-Journal reporters made extensive requests to 15 law enforcement agencies in an effort to compile records of every case in which a person was shot.
Those reports, in most cases, answered the basic questions: Who were the victims and aggressors? What happened?
But larger questions loom.
Can gun reform legislation reduce the number of lives lost? Can lawful gun owners keep their weapons safe from thieves and children?
Though Valimont and Sparks may seem to be on opposite sides of the gun-reform discussion, their views are remarkably similar.
Background checks are not required on gun purchases that are not made through a licensed dealer. Sparks, of Ormond Beach, calls it the “gun show loophole.”
People who pursue private gun sales often “won’t withstand a background check. They don’t want anyone to know,” he said.
“We could go across the street and I could sell you a .357 Magnum (revolver) and the state of Florida doesn’t even require me to write you a bill of sale,” Sparks said. “To me, there’s no logic to that.”
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year and is now on the Senate's legislative calendar. If voted into law, it would require background checks for all gun purchases, including at gun shows and online.
According to a March 6 Quinnipiac University poll, 86 percent of Americans — including 80 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of gun owners — approve of the measure.
The argument against expanding background checks is that "it’s inconvenient to go to a licensed dealer," Valimont said. "Inconvenience doesn’t fly when it comes to my child or your child or any of these other kids on the street.”
In the wake of the February 2018 Parkland school shooting, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill requiring a three-day waiting period — or the time it takes to complete the required criminal background check — for gun purchases through licensed dealers. The waiting period does not apply to Florida concealed-carry license holders.
Sparks and Valimont both believe the state-mandated waiting period should be longer.
Extending the waiting period could stymie “crimes of passion,” Sparks said, adding that a three-week wait would allow a person time to cool off and reconsider their actions.
It also might prevent people from committing suicide during a moment of despair, he said.
Suicide attempts using firearms are 85 percent effective in the United States, research by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund shows. The organization, under whose umbrella Moms Demand Action operates, seeks to improve understanding of gun violence and the means to reduce it, according to its website.
Other suicide methods, however, are effective in less than 5 percent of attempts nationwide, according to Everytown research, which cites studies from 2001 to 2012.
Locally, the rates are higher.
All 89 people who attempted suicide with a firearm here last year died as a result, according to public records. In contrast, 15 percent of the 419 suicide attempts that did not involve a firearm ended in death, law enforcement records show.
The disparity between local and national percentages still points to a singular truth: A gun supplies a “sure and effective way to kill yourself,” Valimont said. “If (a gun) is available to somebody who is sad and depressed, (a suicide attempt) is most likely going to (be successful).”
The bill passed after the Parkland shooting also empowered law enforcement to request a risk-protection order from a judge that, if granted, allows for confiscation of firearms and ammunition from those posing a threat to themselves or others.
Local law enforcement agencies have seized guns from 108 Volusia residents and six in Flagler since the law was enacted.
Statewide, more than 1,000 orders were issued in 2018, The Associated Press reported in February.
Red-flag laws are “key” to pre-empting violent acts in the event that a gun owner’s mental health deteriorates, Valimont said. “People have to pay attention to what’s happening with their loved ones and report it as soon as they can” if signs of instability arise.
But the order’s effectiveness hinges on the public’s willingness to speak up, Sparks said.
“We’re teaching kids in school if they see something to say something,” he said, noting the instruction should apply to adults as well. He likened it to spotting a drunken driver and dialing 9-1-1 to prevent a potential disaster.
“If you know something and don’t say something, you might as well be a co-conspirator,” Sparks said.
Lie and try
A person who lies on a background check faces no repercussions in Florida.
Felons attempting to purchase a gun may state that they’re not banned from buying one, but when their background check fails, no law enforcement agency is notified.
It’s known as the lie-and-try loophole.
“Local authorities don’t know to watch out for those people. (Police) don’t know they’re trying to reoffend — and most often they eventually do,” Valimont said.
A 2008 U.S. Department of Justice study found that a person who is denied a firearm purchase has a 28 percent higher risk of arrest in the five years following the denial than in the five years preceding it.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement declined 12,643 of the more than 990,000 background check inquiries it received in 2017, according to a February 2018 Senate Appropriations Committee report. Nearly a third were disqualified due to felony convictions.
A bill that would require FDLE to notify law enforcement officials when it denies a firearm purchase failed to pass the Florida Senate last year.
Under lock and key
Responsible storage can keep thieves and children from accessing guns, Sparks and Valimont said.
The News-Journal’s analysis of local shootings shows that felons committed nearly half of criminal shootings last year in which police identified a suspect.
Another statistic could be directly connected. Last year, 140 firearms were stolen from unlocked vehicles in Volusia County, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
Gun owners would be more diligent about securing their weapons if they faced consequences when their firearms were stolen, Sparks said.
If a thief broke into a home, accessed a safe and stole the guns stored in it, the gun owner has done his duty, he noted. But a gun left in the glove compartment of an unlocked car is another matter.
“It should be a third-degree felony — five years in prison and a $10,000 fine,” Sparks said.
Might that deter the owner from reporting the theft?
Maybe, he said. But if the stolen gun later was used in the commission of a crime, the penalty should be even steeper.
When it comes to kids and guns, “We say they’re not accidents because they’re totally preventable,” Valimont said.
Moms Demand Action’s Be SMART campaign seeks to reduce suicide and unintentional shootings among children by advocating for safe gun storage.
SMART is an acronym that encourages gun owners to secure all guns in homes and vehicles, model responsible behavior, ask about unsecured guns in other homes, recognize the role of guns in suicide and tell peers to be smart.
“Even if you think your child knows about guns and has never shown any interest, you never know what kids will do,” Valimont said. “If there’s a gun lying around, (kids will) be curious.”
The Be SMART campaign suggests firearms be stored unloaded.
“People think if they’re not loaded, they’re not able to protect themselves, but more times than not that’s when a child gets the gun,” she said.
Q&A: THE MEN WHO DEAL WITH GUNFIRE, AND ITS AFTERMATH
Volusia County top law enforcers share legal ideas for gun problems
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and interim South Daytona police Chief Gerald Monahan, who has spent 46 years in law enforcement and is a retired former chief of the Port Orange Police Department, talked to The Daytona Beach News-Journal about how to get a handle on shootings and gun crimes. Here is what the lawmen had to say.
Q. Do you believe there should be a criminal penalty for someone who leaves a gun in their car and that gun is stolen? If so, what should that penalty be?
Sheriff Mike Chitwood: Yeah, I think there should be a penalty. I’m not saying they should be arrested but there should be some kind of fine because obviously we have thieves that that’s what they do. They are targeting cars and I’m not picking on anybody or making a political statement, but I mean you got a rebel flag flying from your F-150 and you got, "I love the NRA" stickers on your car, there’s a good chance the thieves are going to say that’s a pretty good place to look for a gun. And the same thing when they go into subdivisions that’s what they are looking for cash and guns. I think that’s irresponsible. Everybody makes mistakes, but you’re making a mistake with a firearm that’s turned loose on the streets.
Sheriff Rick Staly: No. I think we criminalize enough stuff already. If you are foolish enough to leave a gun in an unsecured environment and it’s used in a crime, you’re clearly (civilly) liable. I think it goes back to responsible gun ownership and you can’t really legislate for common sense.
Interim Chief Monahan: It is very upsetting and frustrating to law enforcement the number of weapons that are being stolen out of cars. Locking a weapon in a car is one thing and keeping it secured but leaving it in an unsecured car is totally different. I’m not advocating for a penalty, but I don’t think that a penalty or violation would be out of line for that negligence because that could cost people their lives.
Q. Do you think the “gun show loophole” should be closed so that background checks are required if you purchase a gun from a private seller.
Chitwood: The gun show loophole needs to be closed.
Staly: I support the background checks that are currently ongoing. The problems that you are going to have if you close the gun show loophole, as it’s known, is that you still do not solve the problem of background checks on individual sales. Unless you can solve it all I don’t think that you need a bunch more laws. If you buy it on the internet from a licensed gun dealer, even if it’s out of state, it has to be transferred to a licensed gun dealer in your state and that’s where you have to get the gun and then there is a background check. What I support is enforcing the laws that we have. The criminals are still going to get their guns. So what have you accomplished? The only thing you have accomplished is potentially taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. I believe that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Monahan: Yes, I think it should be. If you have to have a background check to purchase a gun from a gun shop dealer, then why shouldn’t you have to have a background check purchasing a gun otherwise from an informal transaction?
Q. Do you have any other suggestions on how to prevent criminals from getting guns?
Chitwood: I think that’s the million dollar question. (The deputy grazed by a bullet fired by a fleeing felon shot to death in an exchange last week) is a classic example. We haven’t got the (federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) trace back on the gun, but that’s a guy that’s been locked up for 27 felonies and has been convicted I think 15 times just of felonies. I believe that any convicted felon that gets caught using a firearm before we go anywhere else it’s automatic five years. If you get caught using a firearm before you get charged with any other crime, it’s automatic five years day for day.
Staly: We work with our federal partners. They generally have a faster resolution of the case with very significant penalties and they will generally serve close to 100 percent of the federal time unlike the state system. There’s not a perfect system that will prevent criminals from getting guns.
Monahan: The important thing is that the background checks are done and that people that have criminal histories that preclude them from getting guns shouldn’t get guns. Unfortunately, criminals who are out carrying guns to a large extent aren’t buying those guns at dealers or even at trade shows. They are stealing them or they are buying them on the street. And all that we can do with that is deal with them when we contact them through the criminal justice system.
One year of Volusia-Flagler shootings - how we did it
To report this project, The Daytona Beach News-Journal for the first time ever compiled records on every shooting over the course of a year in which a person was killed or wounded in Volusia and Flagler counties.
Our reporting sought to include every shooting victim from 2018, including those shot by others or themselves, intentionally or by accident.
Police and other government agencies don’t list or track every shooting injury — many are non-criminal — so reporters Suzanne Hirt, Frank Fernandez, Patricio G. Balona and Matt Bruce made dozens of public records requests to all 15 local police agencies to obtain incident reports on the 176 people shot in 2018. The aggregated data and details — provided with analysis and visualization help from Data Editor Dinah Voyles Pulver — became the basis for this project.
We found that shootings that are investigated as crimes are well documented by law enforcement. But other incidents involving people being shot — especially suicides — were sometimes coded differently, and some records officials missed some shootings on the first request for a report. In early January, we believed we had reports of all the shootings only to find through a records request to the Volusia County Medical Examiners Office that there were 36 more self-inflicted gunshot deaths.
READ MORE IN THE SERIES:
We found that shootings that were investigated as crimes were well documented by law enforcement. But other incidents involving people being shot — especially suicides — were sometimes coded differently, and records officials missed some shootings on the first request for a report. In early January, we believed we had reports of all the shootings, only to find through a records request to the Volusia County Medical Examiners Office that there were 36 more self-inflicted gunshot deaths.
The News-Journal, except in rare instances, doesn’t write stories about suicides that are committed in private, so without even a news report, public documents were much harder to obtain weeks or months later.
"The cold fact that the vast majority of fatal shootings turned out to be suicides is something that deserves further reporting," said News-Journal Editor Pat Rice. "Whatever one's thoughts are about guns, it's important that as a community we work harder to prevent people from harming themselves. That's an issue The News-Journal will continue to pursue."
As the data collecting continued, reporters attempted to contact all 64 people who survived a shooting last year. Most were hard to reach or find, but Hirt interviewed several of them and their loved ones, including: a woman whose partner shot her at close range; two children wounded in accidental shootings; two men who shot themselves unintentionally; and the roommate of a man who committed suicide. Other survivors reached declined to discuss their ordeals.
Fernandez looked at gun suicides, which accounted for the majority of local and national shooting deaths last year. Fernandez spoke to a mother whose adult son shot himself to death in their Volusia County home four years after the son witnessed an undercover sheriff’s deputy shoot and kill his father.
Reporters also mined federal government agencies’ databases and reports to bring context to the local data The News-Journal collected. Sources used outside of local law enforcement include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide-prevention and firearms injuries studies and, for fatalities, medical examiners.
John Gallas is The News-Journal's deputy managing editor for digital and editor for crime, courts and breaking news in Volusia County.