As details in the California shooting spree emerge, one detail has been made clear: the state’s highly restrictive gun laws did not stop Kevin Janson Neal from illegally obtaining the guns he never should have had.
According to a story by MercuryNews.com, Neal’s violent history and recent arrest made it impossible for him to obtain guns legally. Authorities are not sure how he got his guns. Neal reportedly had a number of guns in his possession, and at least one was semi-automatic. Police are unsure of he illegally modified a gun to make it semi-automatic. We also know that Neal had magazines that held more than ten bullets, which are illegal in the state. And yet, he managed to get them.
On a related note, we do know that one change spurred by the Sandy Hook shooting did save lives in the shooting rampage that left five dead and ten injured in Northern California. As soon as word spread of an active shooter in the area, a lockdown at a nearby school kept Neal out, after he attempted to enter and continue his spree.
Unfortunately, for those left unprotected by the school lockdown, there was no gun ban or law that could stop a man with documented mental problems and the intent to kill.
California has a program, the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (or APPS), that allows violent or mentally disturbed individuals to have their guns taken away from them. Neal should have been on the list, and it is not yet clear if any guns had been taken away from him. We do know authorities were aware that he owned guns, and his neighbors made numerous attempts to warn authorities of his violent behavior and his gun ownership. He was often seen firing a gun on his property.
From Mercury News:
The AP reported that the gunman was out on bail for a charge of stabbing a neighbor, had been the object of complaints from neighbors who said he had been firing off hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and had been the subject of a domestic violence call the day before the attack.
Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said the shooter was facing charges of assaulting one of the feuding neighbors in January and that she had a restraining order against him. And the Sacramento Bee reported that Neal had been accused twice this year of assaulting his neighbors.
With his violent history, why hadn’t anyone done anything to get this guy off the streets?
Johnston did not comment immediately on the shooter’s access to firearms, but he did tell the Sacramento Bee that one of the fatalities was a woman who lived near Neal and had been the victim of the assault in late January that ended with the suspect in jail. Johnston added that he “believed the suspect was slapped with a restraining order following the January arrest that would have prevented him from owning firearms for at least a period of time,” the Bee reported, “although he had no details on that.”
Neal’s neighbors, though, certainly are expecting some answers and soon. Cristal Caravez and her father live across a ravine from the roadway where the gunman and his first victims lived. She said they and others heard constant gunfire from the area of the gunman’s house, but couldn’t say for sure it was him firing.
“You could hear the yelling. He’d go off the hinges,” she told the AP. The shooting, “it would be during the day, during the night, I mean, it didn’t matter.”
Caravez and her father, who is president of the homeowners association, said neighbors would complain to the sheriff’s department, which referred the complaints back to the homeowners association. “The sheriff,” said Juan Caravez, “wouldn’t do anything about it.”
The gunman’s sister, Sheridan Orr, said her brother had struggled with mental illness throughout his life and at times had a violent temper. She also said Neal had “no business” owning firearms.
Neal, 43, was arrested Jan. 31 and booked into Tehama County Jail on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, according to police logs published in the Red Bluff Daily News, which is owned by the parent company of this newspaper. Documents reveal that Neal was due to stand trial Jan. 11, 2018, on charges of second-degree burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of false imprisonment by violence, discharge of a firearm with gross negligence, possession of an assault weapon and misdemeanor battery, according to the News.
Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen told the News that Neal had a long-running dispute with his neighbors and during the January incident allegedly shot through a wooden fence at two female neighbors as they walked along the fence. Neal then jumped the fence, confronted the women, stabbed one and took a cellphone from the other, Cohen told the newspaper.
At the time of the shootings, Neal was out of jail on $300,000 bail and had been since shortly after the January incident. His trial was scheduled for January following a preliminary hearing set for Dec. 15. Neal sometimes used the last name Smith, Cohen told the News. The January incident was the first contact his office had had with Neal.
According to a report in the Redding Record Searchlight, prosecutors alleged Neal attacked one woman and robbed another in the Jan. 31 incident, according to court documents. “A Tehama County judged signed a protective order against Neal for both women and a felony criminal trial against Neal was set to begin next year,” said the report, adding that Neal had held both women against their will using violence. Court records show he also fired a gun during the attack — possibly an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle. “The rifle was specifically called out as an illegal assault rifle in the criminal complaint against Neal, though it’s unknown whether the same weapon was used during Tuesday’s deadly shooting.” Neal is reported to have used some sort of assault-style weapon in the shooting; many types of assault weapons are illegal in California. Large ammunition magazines (holding 10 or more bullets) are also illegal in the state; one neighbor said Neal clearly had such magazines, judging from the number of bullets he was firing around his place in the weeks before his allegedly murderous rampage.