The lone-gunman scenario often appears in the aftermath of highly reported shooters, but in at least three recent high-profile shootings, a friend assisted by providing the guns.
Sarah Hopkins of Newton, Kansas, was arrested Friday and charged with knowingly providing a convicted felon with firearms, for which she could face up to 10 years in prison or $250,000 in fines under Kansas law, according to a court document. Investigators say she gave a Zastava Serbia AK-47-type semi-automatic rifle and a Glock Model 22 .40-caliber handgun to Cedric Ford.
Police say Ford killed three people and injured 14 others Thursday at Excel Factories, a lawn-equipment company where he worked. Ford was in turn fatally shot by police Thursday.
Ms. Hopkins bought both guns from a pawn shop in Newton, Kansas, in 2014, reported the Wichita Eagle.
Ms. Hopkins, the mother of two of Ford's children, had been living with him the previous year, but she had left and, accompanied by police, retrieved her guns from his home after she moved out, according to USA Today. She told investigators she had returned the guns to Ford in August because he had threatened her.
From a law enforcement perspective, the shooting in Kansas shows some similarities the Dec. 2 shooting in San Bernardino, in which 14 were killed and 24 injured. In both cases, the actual shooters died at the hands of police, but the firearms they used to kill a total of 17 people came from friends.
In the San Bernadino case, Enrique Marquez told investigators he had collaborated with shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, even purchasing the two rifles they used in the shooting. Such gun sharing, as in the Kansas case, need not be directly related to the crime to be illegal. "Straw purchases" occur when someone intentionally buys a gun for a friend or family member who could not legally purchase it otherwise, Jay Wachtel, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent, told PBS Frontline. This is one of the most common ways criminals obtain guns, The Christian Science Monitor reported:
Marquez's illegal gun transfer to the couple also highlights so-called straw purchases, when a gun is bought by someone who intends to give it to someone else. According to a PBS "Frontline" report, such gun sales are often easy to spot, with both individuals visiting a gun dealer together to make the purchase, and account for a significant percentage of guns used in crimes, versus only 10-15 percent that are stolen.
There are differences between the role of friends in the Kansas and San Bernardino shootings. Ms. Hopkins told investigators she was threatened by Ford, and there is no evidence at this point that she participated in the planning of the shooting. Since she knew about Ford's criminal background, however, Hopkins faces charges for giving Ford her guns.
In December, Stephen Silva, was sentenced to time served because he loaned a gun to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev used the gun to kill a police officer shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing. Mr. Silva said in court that he had loaned the gun to Tsarnaev so he could rob University of Rhode Island students two months before the bombings, and he had made a series of excuses for not returning the gun.