ATF Agent Clarifies Gun Laws Following Shooting
By KENNETH DEAN
It is a weapon that makes one immediately think of the military, but the semi-automatic AR-15 is not considered an assault rifle under current U.S. gun laws.
With the first court appearance of the alleged Batman movie murderer in Colorado Monday the debate for banning the AR-15 type rifle is heating up.
Clay Alexander, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives senior resident agent in charge for Tyler, said the AR-15 and other similar type of weapons can be legally sold and legally owned in the U.S.
Alexander said even the 100 round magazine used by 24-year-old James Holmes is legal to purchase and to own and that would be something typically purchased from an online company. However, he said the magazines are usually not reliable and often jam. Officials have said Holmes' AR-15 did in fact jam during the shooting rampage.
Officials investigating last week's slaughter during the first few minutes of the latest installment in the Batman franchise have said Holmes purchased two handguns, the AR-15 and a shotgun and purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition in the months prior to the shooting.
Alexander said the fact that Holmes bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition online would not raise an eyebrow with federal agencies.
"Ammunition sales are not regulated by the federal government except for persons under the age of 21
are not allowed to purchase handgun ammunition. If I went to one of the local places where guns and ammunition is sold, I could buy every piece of ammo they had if I had the money," he said.
Alexander displayed several AK-47s and two AR-15s Monday in the ATF bureau in Tyler and explained the differences between semi-automatic and fully automatic.
A fully automatic takes one depression of the trigger to fire a burst of gunfire and a semi-automatic would require the operator to squeeze the trigger each time to fire the weapon.
He also explained under current law, a person can purchase and possess a fully automatic machine gun if they are deemed eligible by the federal government.
"There are only slight differences between a semi-automatic and a fully automatic and if someone wanted to make modifications then that information is out there. It's kind of like the information is out there on how to make a bomb and we've seen that right here," he said.
He elaborated on the possible ownership of a machine gun by saying that the person wanting to buy such a weapon would have to get a letter from the highest ranking law enforcement officer in their community and then pass the same background check as other gun purchasers.
However, a person wanting to purchase a machine gun legally first must buy from a Class 3 licensed dealer and pay a large fee to the federal government.
"It's not cheap to buy one legally," he said.
Which led him to say many guns are purchased at gun shows and through advertisements and the seller did not have to require any information from the purchaser.
Alexander agreed that AR15s, which usually fire a .223 caliber bullet, are not typically used in mass killings, but are owned by responsible people who do not break the law.
“Some have them to target shoot; some are using them to hunt and some collect them just like other people collect other items,” he said.
Recent deadly shootings indicate handguns are used more often to kill multiple victims and not an “assault weapon.”
In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others with two handguns at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.
Jared Lee Loughner killed six and injured an Arizona Democratic congresswoman using a 9 mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine in 2011.
Some called for high capacity magazines to be outlawed, but no legislation has been passed.
Alexander said that for those going to a gun store or outlet store to purchase a firearm, they must clear a background check.
The list of prohibited people ineligible to own firearms under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act includes the following.
q Those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors except where state law reinstates rights, or removes disability, fugitives from justice, unlawful users of certain depressant, narcotic, or stimulant drug.
q Those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents.
q Those committed to any mental institution and currently containing a dangerous mental illness.
Gun stores and outlets such as Gander Mountain and Academy would not discuss their gun sales Monday, but Gander Mountain Corporate official David Ewald sent the following statement about the latest mass killing.
“Gander Mountain fully cooperates with law enforcement in criminal investigations like the one regarding the tragic events in Colorado. We operate in strict compliance with all local, state and federal laws regarding firearms ownership and are fully cooperating with this on-going investigation. As long-time business owners in Aurora, this community is our home and the home to many of our associates and customers. We send our thoughts and prayers out to those affected. In respect for the victims of this tragic crime and their families, we will have no further comment in this matter.”