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Authorities search Indiana mall gunman’s home as motive remains unclear

July 18, 2022 Updated Mon., July 18, 2022 at 9:22 p.m.

By James Bikales Washington Post

Authorities on Monday morning searched the home of a man who killed three people and wounded two others after opening fire in a mall outside Indianapolis on Sunday night. The motive remains unclear after an armed bystander fatally shot the gunman, police say, in a rare instance of a civilian stopping a mass shooting.

FBI spokesperson Chris Bavender said the agency is assisting the Greenwood Police Department at the gunman’s residence less than a mile from the Greenwood Park Mall where the deadly shooting took place. Officials said Sunday that a man carrying several magazines fired a rifle in the food court, but they have released little else about the shooter’s identity or motive.

Advocates for expanding gun access frequently justify their positions by citing the situation of an armed civilian stopping a shooter, which in practice is a relatively rare occurrence, The New York Times reports. This month, Indiana lifted its permit requirement to carry a handgun in public over the objections of police officials, with the bill’s author arguing this year that the move allowed “Mr. and Mrs. Lawful Hoosier” to “defend themselves in public.”

At a news conference Sunday night, Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison said the bystander was “lawfully carrying” a handgun in the mall, describing him as a 22-year-old man from Bartholomew County, about 30 miles south of Greenwood. He “was able to stop this shooter almost as soon as he began,” Ison said.

Ison declined to release many details about the shooting Sunday night - another example of a summer day at an iconic American institution, the suburban mall, shattered by gun violence. It follows recent mass shootings at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Ill., a doctor’s office in Tulsa, Okla., an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.

“This has shaken us to our core,” Ison said. “This isn’t something that we have seen here in Greenwood before.”

Two people - the shooter and one other person - died at the scene. Two victims died at Indianapolis hospitals Sunday night, the Johnson County Coroner’s Office said on Facebook. Two others were in stable condition, including a 12-year-old girl with “a very minor wound” who returned home before her parents called police, according to Ison.

The victims included four women and one man, ranging in age “between 30 and early 20s,” Ison said, though he did not share a breakdown of the dead and wounded.

Calls about a shooter in the food court came in at 6:05 p.m. local time, according to Ison. The gunman was armed with a “long gun” and “several magazines,” he said.

After the bystander shot the man, SWAT teams swept the mall and cleared a backpack Ison initially described as “suspicious” in a bathroom near the food court. A motive was not yet known, Ison said, but police had viewed surveillance tapes of the shooting.

A news conference with local police and FBI officials is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

The shooting took place just weeks after the state dropped its requirement for a permit to purchase and carry a handgun in public, joining 24 other states that allow permitless carry, per PolitiFact. Indiana House Bill 1296, which went into effect July 1, allows anyone over 18 who is not a felon and does not meet one of the other disqualifying factors to openly carry or conceal a handgun without a permit. Anyone can also carry a rifle or shotgun without a permit.

Private businesses can still restrict the carrying of firearms in the state. Simon Property Group, which owns Greenwood Park and other malls around the world, stipulates in its code of conduct that “no weapons” are allowed at its properties, though it notes that “exceptions to this code of conduct will be determined by local center management.” When asked whether the guns were allowed there, the mall directed The Washington Post to its code of conduct.

Greenwood Park Mall said in an email that it was “grateful for the strong response” from authorities, and it praised the bystander who stopped the gunman.

The permitless carry bill sparked divisions even among Republicans in the GOP-held statehouse before Gov. Eric Holcomb, R, signed it into law in March. Police officials, including the state police chief and the Fraternal Order of Police, spoke out against the measure, saying the lack of a permit requirement would put officers at risk and undermine their ability to quickly determine whether someone was legally allowed to possess a gun, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R, said at a hearing in January that the legislation would level the playing the field against criminals because law-abiding residents are the only ones who go through the process to obtain a permit, according to The Star.

“I am here with House Bill 1077 representing Mr. and Mrs. Lawful Hoosier,” Smaltz said. “That’s who I’m trying to help with 1077, to tell that person that they matter, that they don’t need to be delayed, that they’ve done nothing wrong their entire life. They are not a prohibited person, they should be able to defend themselves in public, at home, where they choose.”

Indiana is one of 19 states with a red-flag law, which allows a judge to take away a person’s gun if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., an advocate for tighter gun restrictions, called for more gun control on Twitter after Sunday’s shooting, writing that he has “lots of family” who shop at the Greenwood Park Mall.

“They are safe. But too many families tonight again lost a loved one because we are a country of unrestricted weaponry,” he wrote. “We are failing every person’s right to be free from gun violence.”

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