Frank James, the accused subway shooter, had a long criminal history.
Despite nearly a dozen arrests — including on a threat of terror — he legally bought his gun.
An attorney who drafts state gun control policy told Insider she's not surprised.
The gun used in the mass shooting that injured over two dozen people on the N train Tuesday was legally purchased by a man with a long history of arrests on menacing charges.
Frank James, who has been charged in the shooting, was arrested nine times in New York City between 1992 and 1998, on charges that included a criminal sex act and possession of burglary tools, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said this week.
He was also arrested in New Jersey 27 years ago for making terroristic threats, the Essex County prosecutor's office confirmed.
Despite this rap sheet, James was able to walk into an Ohio pawn shop a decade ago and purchase the 9mm Glock handgun that he used to fire 33 shots at subway passengers this week.
"The timeline of this gun spans 15 years and five states." New York Special Agent in Charge John DeVito said this week. "Frank James purchased that firearm from a federal firearms licensee in Ohio in 2011."
Of the 29 people who were injured in the attack, 10 were hit with bullets, though none fatally.
For many New Yorkers, the terror that ripped through the Sunset Park subway station this week was a fear that lingered in the back of their minds every time they boarded a subway car.
What's stopping someone with criminal intent from carrying out an attack on vulnerable passengers who have nowhere to run?
It's certainly not American gun laws, Allison Anderman, Senior Counsel at Giffords Law Center told Insider.
"Many, if not most, of the highest profile mass shootings in the last decade have involved legal gun purchases," Anderman told Insider, citing the attacks at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and the Las Vegas music festival in 2017.
Anderman is the director of local policy at the organization and works with states and local governments around the country to draft and enact a wide variety of gun safety legislation.
Anderman isn't surprised that James, who had a criminal history and made over 400 videos jam-packed with racism and threats of violence – and publicly spoke at length about his struggles with mental illness — wasn't stopped from being able to buy a gun in the US.
There is a misconception that background checks required by licensed gun dealers prevent guns from getting into the hands of criminals, but really these checks only prohibit those convicted of felonies, she said.
Additionally, unlicensed dealers — like those at gun shows or who sell online — don't have to complete these background checks at all.
"You can't have a felony conviction to purchase a gun," Essig said at a press conference following James' arrest. "So he had no felony convictions."
Anderman told Insider that in order to prevent tragedies like the subway attack from happening again, there needs to be comprehensive reform to gun laws that apply in every state, as well as a "a shift in our national culture of believing guns are necessary for safety."
"When there are so many guns in circulation, it's just going to be very easy for someone who wants to do harm to get one," Anderman said. "And until that changes, and that's really gonna require a massive cultural shift, it it's going to be that way."
In the end though, random gun violence and mass shootings are still exceedingly rare when taking a look at gun crime in the US.
Most gun violence happens in urban communities "that are already underserved" and in the form of gun suicide by gun owners.
"Gun extremists always love to point to these shootings that happen in states with strong gun laws to say that they don't work," Anderman said. "But if you look not at the anecdote, but at the evidence, you would not be surprised to know that New York has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation — and that is correlated with strong laws."
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