Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
When Robert Aaron Long walked into the Big Woods Goods gun shop on Tuesday, he walked out with a 9mm handgun—and just hours later, allegedly used it to kill eight people at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The 21-year-old was able to purchase his weapon the same day as the alleged crime, as police said Wednesday, because Georgia has no waiting period for purchasing a gun. The state also doesn’t require weapons sellers to do a background check for licensed gun owners; a state-issued photo ID is all that’s required.
“Gun policy is at the top of the state’s agenda perennially,” said Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University and author of the case study “Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts.” “When there is gun legislation pending, it’s usually legislation that liberalizes both gun purchases and the right to carry in various venues.”
“Waiting periods” delay the time between a prospective gun buyer’s decision to purchase and the moment they receive their firearm from anywhere between three to 14 days. That time is meant to prevent potentially violent gun buyers from acting impulsively on rage and other often short-lived but intense emotions.
While the Atlanta gunman’s motive isn’t known yet, experts say waiting periods save lives. Just a few days can reduce gun homicides by 17%, according to a 2017 study highlighted by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“A person purchasing a weapon might do so with a particular misuse in mind. The idea is that some of those impulses may subside over the course of a waiting period,” Lytton said. “This is very often associated with suicides as suicide is very often an impulsive use of a weapon. But it may often be associated with the types of crimes that we saw in Atlanta.”
A state-mandated wait period can also give law enforcement time to do more thorough background checks on prospective gun owners, according to Daniel Webster, the director of the John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.
“It also gives time, for example, if a family or friend catches wind of what this guy is up to, maybe they can intervene before the firearm is acquired,” he said. “A lot of people who commit these kinds of acts do definitely give signals, whether it’s online or through their social interactions.”
Only Washington, D.C., and 13 states—including California, Rhode Island, and Hawaii—have some variation of a waiting period in place, according to Giffords. Slowing down the process might also deter people from making the purchase altogether.
“If I decide I want to go buy a handgun, I can’t act on that impulse right now,” Webster said of his home state of Maryland. “I have to first go online and look at all the relevant hoops I have to jump through. I have to take a safety course, I have to go and be fingerprinted. It’s a bigger process than ‘I want to purchase a handgun.’ It’s another way to restrict firearms that might be misused.”
The Atlanta shooting suspect targeted three massage parlors in the area, beginning at 5 p.m. local time on Tuesday, each about an hour apart. He allegedly kill eight people, seven women between the ages of 33 and 49, and one man, and authorities say he may have been headed toward Florida. Only one of his victims survived the shooting and is in stable condition. Six of those who died were Asian women.
Police said they believed he had plans to carry out similar targeted attacks in the neighboring state.
With the help of the suspect’s family, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office was able to identify and track down the wanted shooter Tuesday night. After a brief chase, state troopers knocked him off the road and apprehended him. Police found the handgun in his vehicle and are conducting tests to determine if it matches the weapon used in the shootings.
Prosecutors charged the alleged shooter Wednesday afternoon with four counts of murder and one count of assault. The police chief also said it was too early to determine if the shootings were a hate crime, and when speaking to police, the alleged gunman denied that race had played any role.
Instead, the suspect admitted to having a sex addiction and said he targeted the massage parlors because he associated them with “temptation.” It’s not yet clear whether he had visited the businesses before or whether any of the victims were sex workers. But massage parlors, particularly ones that employ Asian and migrant women, are often considered spots where clients can find “happy endings.”
Still, hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, there have been more than 3,795 incidents of hate and discrimination targeting Asian-Americans, according to Stop AAPI.
Cities like New York and Oakland have seen a rash of recent attacks on the Asian community. Addressing ongoing discrimination was one of President Joe Biden’s first priorities when he took office earlier this year, ordering the Department of Justice to monitor the attacks and work toward preventing them.