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On Thursday evening, 70-year-old Robert Findlay Smith walked into a pot luck dinner being hosted for senior citizens at St. Stephen’s Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, pulled out a handgun, and killed three of the parishioners. All three of the victims were in their 70s or 80s. Smith was prevented from killing anyone else by another elderly participant who hit him with a chair and pinned him down until the police arrived. Yesterday he was charged with capital murder. As of today, there still hasn’t been much of anything revealed about the motive for the attack, but some interesting details have emerged about the shooter. For one thing, he was also a congregant at the church. For another, he was a holder of a federal firearms license and ran a firearms business out of his home.

Robert F. Smith, a 70-year-old man prosecutors claim shot and killed three people inside an Alabama church Thursday, was a licensed gun dealer, according to government records. Federal inspection reports show that Smith had received a warning letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in 2018 related to missing gun inventory…

Smith’s home in Vestavia Hills is registered with the ATF as the primary address for Original Magazines 2, a business with a federal firearms license. The license is valid until 2025, according to ATF records.

But federal inspection reports compiled by The Trace show that Smith had received a warning letter from the ATF in 2018 involving missing inventory and incomplete record-keeping.

This attack doesn’t technically qualify as a “mass shooting” by current media standards because there weren’t four people shot. But this incident is drawing plenty more media attention because the shooter is, from all appearances, a white Christian male. Compare that to an actual mass shooting on the North Side of Chicago recently where two died and seven were hospitalized, but you have to root around through the local CBS News outlet’s feed to find anything about it. I’ll leave you to guess what the difference is.

The Alabama church shooting will no doubt be fed into the endless media demands for more gun control laws. But before taking any such “evidence” seriously, we should try to understand what actually happened in Vestavia Hills. First of all, this doesn’t look like a “random” attack. Smith was a congregant who had attended services there in the past so he clearly had some connections. There doesn’t seem to be any racial motivation to make it a “hate crime,” and it probably wasn’t religiously motivated if it was one parishioner shooting other parishioners. Unless and until Smith explains himself we’re left without any real answers. Perhaps he just had a beef with some of the other people in the church.

So where did Smith get his handgun and would any proposed laws have prevented this from happening? The guy runs a gun shop. He has an FFL. He has already passed every conceivable background check in the world. He wasn’t using an “assault rifle” (though he allegedly has some for sale in his shop). By all accounts thus far he was using a very ordinary handgun.

Aside from the advanced ages of both the shooter and the victims, this shooting actually falls into the same general category as most of the shootings that regularly happen around the country. Those are the ones you almost never hear about because the majority of them involve gang violence and we’re not supposed to talk about that because of racism or whatever. But if you seriously want to “do something” about gun violence in this country, let me turn your attention back to the coverage of that Chicago shooting I linked above.

One of the three shooters involved is 21-year-old Jaylun Sanders. As I pointed out on social media just this morning, Sanders already had a warrant out for his arrest from previous gun crimes dating back to January. But he was released without bail and failed to show up for his court date. (You’re shocked, I know.) And then he showed up on the North Side and started blowing people away. So do you really want to do something useful to reduce shootings in America?


This ends today’s public service announcement.