Virginia law prevented purchase of assault rifle, officials say
- Article by: MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT New York Times
- September 17, 2013 - 9:12 PM
WASHINGTON – The gunman who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday test-fired an AR-15 assault rifle at a Virginia gun store last week and tried to buy one but was stopped from doing so because state law there prohibits the sale of such weapons to out-of-state buyers, according to two senior law enforcement officials.
Instead, the gunman, Aaron Alexis of Texas, bought a law-enforcement-style shotgun — an 870 Remington pump — and used it Monday as he rampaged through the Navy Yard, said the officials, who requested anonymity.
“The gun was broken in half, and he had it in a bag,” one official said of the Remington. “He went inside the building and assembled it in a bathroom.”
The gunman then perched above an atrium where he fired down on people who had been eating breakfast, officials said, adding that he used shotgun shells that had roughly a dozen large ball-bearing-like shots in them, increasing their lethal nature. “When he discharged, the pieces of lead would spread the farther they went,” the official said. “It is similar to weapons used in bird shooting but on a more serious scale. These were not bullets but many small pieces of lead flying through the air.”
The gunman then began to search for more people to shoot, and as he searched, he was confronted by a security guard near an exit, the officials said. The gunman shot the security guard and took his semiautomatic handgun, then headed back to the atrium.
“He runs back upstairs and cranks off more rounds with the handgun and then heads to another stairwell where he confronts a worker there and shoots him,” the official said.
The gunman is believed to have shot the Navy employee, who worked in maintenance, with the pistol near another exit.
On Saturday, Alexis bought the Remington shotgun and ammunition at the gun store and range in Lorton, Va., Sharpshooters Small Arms Range, where he also rented a rifle and practiced with it, said a lawyer for the store. The lawyer, J. Michael Slocum, said in an e-mail that Alexis bought a Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun and about two boxes of ammunition, or about 24 shells. The purchases were approved after the store owner conducted the required federal background check, Slocum said.
“After the terrible and tragic events at the Navy Yard, the Sharpshooters was visited by federal law enforcement authorities, who reviewed the Range’s records, including video and other materials,” Slocum wrote. “So far as is known, Mr. Alexis visited the Range only once.”
The Virginia State Police said Tuesday that Alexis had passed all state and local background checks to buy the shotgun.
Despite statements Monday from senior law enforcement officials — which were widely reported in the media, including in the New York Times — that an AR-15 had been found at the scene, no such gun has been found. The authorities say they do not believe the gunman used one. Federal officials said that there was some initial confusion about which firearms had been used and that it was hours before investigators were able to analyze video from the scene.
It is unclear if Alexis’ psychiatric issues ever progressed to the point that he was involuntarily committed to a mental health institution or legally determined to be mentally ill or incompetent, either of which would have barred him from buying a gun. Mental health experts point out that the vast majority of people with mental illness are never violent.
© 2013 Star Tribune