National News

September 17, 2013

Federal gun laws didn’t block Navy Yard shooter

WASHINGTON — The gunman in the mass shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, Aaron Alexis, had a history of violent outbursts, was at least twice accused of firing guns in anger and was in the early stages of treatment for serious mental problems, according to court records and U.S. law enforcement officials.

But Alexis apparently managed to exploit seams in the nation’s patchwork of complicated gun laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. He was able to buy a shotgun in Virginia with out-of-state identification, even though that would have prevented him from buying a handgun.

It is illegal for gun dealers to sell handguns to such out-of-state buyers, but the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1986, opened up interstate sales for shotguns and rifles. Virginia gun laws require only that an out-of-state buyer show valid identification, pass a background check and otherwise abide by state laws in order to buy a shotgun in the state. Alexis was never prosecuted for the two misdemeanors involving guns.

Alexis bought the shotgun at Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Va. on Sunday, according to a statement from the attorney for the gun range.

Michael Slocum said in an email that Alexis rented a rifle, bought bullets and used the range before buying the shotgun and 24 shells. Slocum said Alexis passed a federal background check.

Law enforcement officials visited the range Monday, reviewing the store’s video and other records.

“What the 1986 Firearms Owners’ Protection Act did was it made it more convenient for gun buyers,” said Kristen Rand, the legislative director at the Violence Policy Center. “That’s the road we’ve been on for a while: The convenience of gun owner always seems to trump the right of victims not to be shot.”

Federal gun laws bar the mentally ill from legally buying guns from licensed dealers. But the law requires that someone be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or declared mentally ill by a judge, and that information must be reported to the FBI in order to appear on a background checks. In the wake of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, state authorities changed state laws to make it tougher for the mentally ill to buy guns there.

But like other recently accused mass shooters, Alexis was never declared mentally ill by a judge or committed to a hospital. He was being treated by the Veterans Administration as recently as August, according to two law enforcement officials, but the Navy had not declared him mentally unfit.

The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung Hi Cho, was declared mentally ill by a judge, but nobody ever reported it to federal authorities to get him included in the database of banned purchasers.

After the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, U.S. lawmakers pushed to overhaul gun laws. Among the proposals was a ban on military-style rifles, including the popular AR-15, and high-capacity ammunition magazines. There was also a plan to expand background checks to make sure anyone who wanted a gun got the approval of the federal government.

No legislation has moved forward in Congress, despite urgent pleas from the president, some lawmakers and victims’ families.

President Barack Obama has made a few narrow administrative changes, but those are not likely to impact the kinds of guns most often found at crime scenes.

Asked Tuesday about whether the shooting would renew consideration of new gun laws, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said the president hasn’t stopped pushing for reform, was making executive changes to federal rules and reiterated his commitment to strengthening gun laws, including expanding background checks to sales online and at gun shows.

“He has not in the least hidden his displeasure and disappointment in Congress for its failure to pass legislation that’s supported by 80 percent to 90 percent of the American people,” Carney told reporters. “You could not define a case of Congress — or a minority in Congress, a minority in the Senate — taking its cues from a narrow special interest, better than this.”

Monday’s shooting prompted a new round of calls for action from lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D.-W.Va., the author of a bill on background checks, both said they would like to see a vote on the background checks bill, but the votes aren’t there for passage at this time.

Still, Reid said he hopes to get another gun control vote this year. “I don’t want any more bad things to happen, you know. Something’s going to have to get the attention of these characters who don’t want any controls.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading advocate for tougher gun control in the Senate, said in a statement that the shooting “is one more event to add to the litany of massacres.”

“Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life,” she said.

Some congressional Democrats and family members of shooting victims planned to gather at the Capitol on Wednesday to renew their push for background check legislation. The trip, organized by the Newtown Action Alliance, was previously planned to mark the nine-month anniversary of the Connecticut school shooting.

For Obama, it was at least the seventh mass shooting of his presidency, and he mourned the victims while speaking at the White House on Monday.

“We are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation’s capital,” Obama said. “It’s a shooting that targeted our military and civilian personnel. These are men and women who were going to work, doing their job protecting all of us. They’re patriots, and they know the dangers of serving abroad, but today they faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn’t have expected here at home.”

1
Text Only
National News
  • Indian film awards arrive in Tampa, Fla., but why?

    The so-called Bollywood Oscars have been held in Macau, Singapore, London — and now, Tampa?

    April 23, 2014

  • Indictment: Prosecutor targeted in kidnapping plot

    A North Carolina prosecutor was the intended target of an elaborate kidnapping plot, but the kidnappers looked up the wrong address on the Internet and abducted the prosecutor’s father instead, according to an indictment released Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Republican activists push party on gay marriage

    As bans against gay marriage crumble and public opinion on the issue shifts rapidly, some Republicans are pushing the party to drop its opposition to same-sex unions, part of a broader campaign to get the GOP to appeal to younger voters by de-emphasizing social issues.

    April 23, 2014

  • Missouri executes inmate for 1993 farm slaying

    Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday only a few miles from the farm where prosecutors say he orchestrated the 1993 killing of a couple whose cows he wanted to steal.

    April 23, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday.

    April 22, 2014

  • A bipolar doctor probes the brain on 'Black Box’

    ABC’s brainy new medical drama “Black Box” does a neat trick: It dares viewers to imagine for themselves the cost-benefit ratio of addiction, and does it without taking a firm stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • Courthouse violence unpredictable despite security

    When Utah’s new federal courthouse opened last week, it came with security improvements that are becoming standard around the country: separate entrances and elevators for judges, defendants and the public; bullet-resistant glass and paneling; and vehicle barricades to keep car bombs at bay.

    April 22, 2014

  • Lucey is tops in Iowa’s ‘Beautiful Bulldog’ event

    Lucey is a slobbering 18-month-old pooch whose human family dreams of making her a therapy dog.

    April 22, 2014

  • Cuban-American leaders helped ’Cuban Twitter’

    Leaders with the largest nonprofit organization for young Cuban-Americans quietly provided strategic support for the federal government’s secret “Cuban Twitter” program, connecting contractors with potential investors and even serving as paid consultants, The Associated Press has learned.

    April 22, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

    April 22, 2014