It is beyond unfortunate when a military veteran commits such a heinous crime and it only adds insult to injury when the methods and equipment used in the attack prove some gun control laws utterly worthless. Just such a set of events occurred on November 7, 2018 when Ian David Long entered the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California armed with a Glock Model 21 and several “smoke bombs.” Before being neutralized, Long killed twelve, firing approximately sixty rounds in total.
It is reported that at about 11:20 pm, Long shot the doorman for the bar before going inside to continue his attack, shooting bouncers, staff and patrons inside. The bar was a very popular place with the local college crowd and was hosting a college audience targeted event when Long committed his attack. Students from at least four different colleges were reportedly attending the event and at least one report states more than 200 patrons were inside the bar at the time of the attack.
The police response time was reportedly three minutes as determined by the time between the first 9-1-1 calls and the first officer calling out on the scene. That first responding officer was Sergeant Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s office and he was accompanied by two officers from the California Highway Patrol. (NOTE: while performing research on this event, at least one person asked this author what highway patrol officers were doing responding to an active shooter at a bar. This demonstrates a very narrow minded outlook and a failure to understand the response mandate of such an event. Every law enforcement professional, no matter the source of their authority or jurisdiction, should and will likely respond to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible. In the midst of that priority, no other officer, deputy, trooper, etc. will care what the badge says on the person responding beside them. In that moment they are united in a common cause and bound by a common oath.)
Immediately upon arrival and hearing shots still being fired, Sgt. Helus and one of the highway patrol officers ran inside. Helus was engaged by the shooter (Long) and received five gunshot wounds from Long’s .45ACP pistol. The report specifies that the room they were in was large, dark and smoke filled. The highway patrolman behind Helus was armed with a rifle and in what has to be the most unfortunate event that can occur during an active shooter response, one shot fired from that officer’s rifle struck Helus, piercing his heart and proving fatal.
More officers responded and when the scene was secured Long was found in the kitchen area dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Many mainstream media outlets listed the total “victim” count as thirteen because they include the attacker in that count. It adds one more to their total and makes the report all that much more sensational. There were twelve shooting victims. The attacker is never a victim in his own attack. All twelve victims died from numerous gunshot wounds and at least one was also stabbed in the neck (no further information on how that happened has been found by this author). While all reports list another ten to twelve injured during the attack, only one was by gunfire. That means that all the others were injured in an attempt to escape. (This was also seen at the Virginia Tech attack when students dropped from second story windows to escape the killer and injured themselves in the fall, etc.)
After the attack, during the investigative process, as happens all too often, it was discovered that Long had a history of violence dating back to his high school years and had also previously been evaluated by a mental health crisis team but without being committed for treatment. Long was an honorably discharged Marine who had served an eight-month deployment in Afghanistan. He had attended college but hadn’t earned his degree and was reportedly a semi-regular patron of the Borderline Bar and Grill prior to the attack.
One of the victims in this attack was a Navy veteran who had been at and survived the Harvest Festival attack in Las Vegas in 2017. That victim’s mother called for more gun control laws after her son died in this attack. Partly due to that call and partly due to the nature of political response after any shooting attack, a general call for more gun control laws erupted. Much was made of the fact that Long’s handgun was equipped with a light/laser unit with some blatantly stating how such an attachment made the handgun more deadly. Long was also equipped with a number of “high-capacity” (full capacity) magazines and the call to ban such was a primary push. Unfortunately for the gun control proponents, the magazines were already banned in California and the futility of such laws was readily demonstrated by Long having and using them during his attack. As has been repeatedly said by the opponents of new gun laws, if a person has decided to commit multiple murders, s/he hardly cares about the criminality of using a prohibited weapon or accessory for it.
Perhaps one of the most useful things that could be done was done by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors when they formed a Task Force on Mental Health & Safety after the attack. Their stated goal was to look for gaps in the system that provide mental health care and to make recommendations on how to prevent or lessen the damage from mass shootings. Without a doubt, one of the most effective ways we could limit the damage and loss from mass shootings is to prevent them in the first place and in far too many of them, there are significant indicators of the attacker’s propensity for violence and/or mental instability. Bridging the gap between mental health records and criminal background investigations prior to weapons being sold would potentially prevent a significant number of these attacks.