Questions are mounting in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at the FedEx Ground facility about whether Marion County authorities dropped the ball when it came to enforcing a state law designed to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people.
Local officials say they are looking into the issue.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said Brandon Hole, the man suspected of killing eight people at FedEx Ground facility, bought two “assault” rifles legally in July and September. IMPD was not specific about the type of rifles.
Those purchases came just a few months after police seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s house — in March 2020 — after his mother raised concerns about his mental state. She told police her son might commit “suicide by cop,” IMPD said last week.
The FBI said agents questioned Hole at the time.
The firearm was never returned to Hole. “He asked that it be destroyed,” Indianapolis police spokeswoman Genae Cook told IBJ on Sunday in an email.
But the fact that the gun was not returned raises question about whether authorities believed Hole to be a danger to himself or others and should have been prevented from buying other guns.
The Indiana law that allows such gun seizures, informally known as the “red flag law,” is designed to identify dangerous people and keep them from buying additional weapons.
The Indiana General Assembly initially passed the law in 2005, one year after an Indianapolis policeman, Timothy “Jake” Laird, was fatally shot by a man in August 2004 who was armed with an SKS rifle and two handguns. It was amended in 2019.
Law enforcement wanted a way to keep guns out of the hands of high-risk individuals, so lawmakers crafted the law allowing the removal of weapons from dangerous persons.
That law seems like it might have applied in Hole’s case, but IMPD Chief Randal Taylor told IBJ on Saturday that Hole was not red-flagged. Taylor said he didn’t know why.
Mark Stoops, a former Democratic state senator from Bloomington and gun-control advocate who retired last year, said he was puzzled. “They were concerned enough to take his gun away, but he was free to go out and get a new gun,” Stoops said Sunday.
Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young is also among those questioning whether Indiana’s red flag law — which he has praised — was “actually enforced” to prevent the shooting.
The law allows police to seize and keep guns belonging to anyone who is deemed dangerous, has a propensity for violent or suicidal conduct, or has mental illness and hasn’t demonstrated the ability to consistently take medications.
Police can seize the guns if they get a warrant based on probable cause or without a warrant with later court approval.
If a judge finds the person is dangerous, the judge is required to suspend the person’s license to carry a handgun and prohibit the person from owning or buying or receiving additional firearms. That is meant to raise a red flag in the person’s computer profile if he tries to buy another gun from a dealer.
Cook, the Indianapolis police spokeswoman, said that Hole had been apprehended last year under a provision known as “immediate detention” after his mother called police.
Under Indiana immediate detention law, police officers can apprehend people believed to have mental illness or are dangerous or gravely disabled, and transport them to a hospital for evaluation and treatment.
Cook did not say whether Hole was evaluated by a doctor, or how long he might have remained hospitalized.
When asked if authorities had enough evidence to ask a judge to impose a red-flag order on Hole, she referred the question to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.
When IBJ asked the Prosecutor’s Office if it had filed a red flag case against Hole, a spokesman said the office was “looking into the matter.” An IBJ review of online cases did not turn up any against Hole.
“We are working to have someone available to discuss this and answer any red-flag-law-related questions you may have by no later than [Monday] afternoon,” Michael Leffler, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said in an email.
Mark Bode, a spokesperson for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, said Sunday his office also “continues to monitor closely the findings of the ongoing investigation, and what breakdowns in the red flag law processes may have come into play.”
Indiana is seen as a leader in the red flag law movement, as it passed its legislation more than a decade before the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
That shootout prompted legislatures across the country to enact similar gun policies to prevent mass shootings in their own states. More than a dozen states have now enacted legislation designed to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are “dangerous.”
The 2004 case that prompted the Indiana law involved a gunman, Kenneth Anderson, who was known to be a dangerous person. He had been taken to an Indianapolis hospital in January 2004 under emergency detention. During his detention, officers removed numerous weapons from his house.
But after Anderson was released from the hospital, he demanded the return of his seized firearms, and Indianapolis police say they had no choice but to return them. Anderson later killed two people — his mother and Laird, the Indianapolis police offer, in the August 2004 shootout.
That led to the first draft of the red flag law, which lawmakers revised in 2019 to address concerns that it was overly broad and potentially unconstitutional.
The current law aims to protect due process while ensuring those who are a threat cannot access firearms. The amended law received bipartisan support among Hoosier lawmakers.
Rep. Donna Schaibley, a Carmel Republican, was the author of the 2019 version of law, and said at the time she was concerned that “dangerous” people could obtain firearms even after they are determined to be a threat.
“That was a little bit of a gap in our law,” Schaibley told Indiana Lawyer in 2019. “We don’t want individuals who are dangerous to have access to firearms if they have mental stresses.”
To fill that gap, the law makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a person who is found to be dangerous to knowingly or intentionally possess a firearm. Further, a person who knowingly or intentionally provides a firearm to a statutorily dangerous person commits a Level 5 felony.
Schaibley did not return a phone call to the IBJ on Sunday to discuss whether the Hole case might have slipped through the cracks.
Stoops said the Indiana Legislature should be taking a deep look at gun laws overall.
“We really are doing so little to control easy access to guns in Indiana,” Stoops said. “There’s a lot more we could do.”
Family of shooter sought help
Hole’s family issued a statement Saturday saying they tried to get the 19-year-old “the help he needed.”
“We are devastated at the loss of life caused as a result of Brandon’s actions,” said the statement, issued through public relations specialist Robert Vane. “Our sincerest and most heartfelt apologies go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy. We are so sorry for the pain and hurt being felt by their families and the entire Indianapolis community.”
The Hole statement on Saturday said that “through the love of his family, we tried to get him the help he needed.” It did not elaborate.
The family — through Vane — declined interviews or further comment.
On Friday, police identified the eight victims as Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jasvinder Kaur, 54; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Amarjit Sekhon, 48; Karli Smith, 19, and John Weisert, 74.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.