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As I noted yesterday, the victims of the Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard had hardly hit the floor before the gun control lobby had started using the tragedy as a clarion call for new, better gun control laws.
The tool they attempted to use was the AR-15 which is an “assault weapon.” Dozens of news organizations reported that this was the weapon used in the massacre, but it turned out to be a false report. The shooter actually used a modified 12-gauge shotgun (the stock had reportedly been sawn off at the handgrip to shorten it) and 00 (double aught) sized buckshot.
When video surfaced of the gunman test firing an AR-15 at a Northern Virginia gun store, a narrative had to be developed as to why the gunman did not but the AR-15. As to be expected, the New York Times was in the forefront:
The suspect in the killing of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday test-fired an AR-15 assault rifle at a Virginia gun store last week but was stopped from buying one because state law there prohibits the sale of such weapons to out-of-state buyers, according to two senior law enforcement officials.
So if you can’t have an assault weapon used in a killing, you can at least go for the moral high ground in demonstrating that “common sense” gun control can mitigate loss of life.
Only one problem. This just isn’t true.
Apparently neither the reporter nor his editors took the time to fact check their vague “law enforcement officials” sources.
“Virginia law does not prohibit the sale of assault rifles to out-of-state citizens who have proper identification,” Dan Peterson, a Virginia firearms attorney, told me Tuesday night. The required identification is proof of residency in another state and of U.S. citizenship, which can be items like a passport, birth certificate or voter identification card.
The Commonwealth defines “assault firearm” as any semiautomatic centerfire rifle or pistol with a magazine which will hold more than 20 rounds or can accommodate a silencer or is equipped with a folding stock.
John Frazer, also a firearms attorney in the Commonwealth, told me that, “State law in Virginia — like most states — allows purchase of rifles or shotguns by residents of other states. Virginia simply requires some additional forms of identification.”
Federal law is clear on this residency issue. A quick glance at the ATF website would have informed the New York Times journalists that a person may buy a rifle or shotgun, in person, at a federal firearms licensee’s premises in any state, provided the sale complies with state laws, which it would in this case.
The sad fact is that we will never know why Alexis decided to buy a shotgun and not a semiautomatic rifle. It could be cost. It could be he knew that at close quarters a shotgun would be a better casualty producer than a rifle. To the families of the victims it is pretty much an academic question.
An equally sad fact is that so long as we allow private citizens to own firearms we have to accept that there are crazy and evil people who will buy firearms and kill innocent people. This is not a cavalier statement. The system for purchasing firearms worked as advertised on when Alexis bought his shotgun. He used a valid ID. He bought it from a reputable dealer. He passed a background check. The only way he could have not purchased his weapon was if it was illegal to own one. I, for one, will pass on that option.
We can either accept the fact that living in a relatively free society comes with some risk or we can curl up in a fetal position under our bed and wait for it all to end.