Why was a
man with a troubled history of mental issuesand at least two prior arrests dealing with guns able to purchase a firearm the weekend before he killed 12 people and wounded 14 others in the
Washington Navy Yard massacre?
The answer lies in how Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old alleged shooter, managed to exploit state and federal gun laws.
Alexis bought a shotgun, the main firearm he allegedly used in the massacre, at Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Va. on Saturday, according to a statement from J. Michael Slocum, the attorney for the gun range.
He was able to buy a shotgun in Virginia with out-of-state identification, even though federal laws would have prevented him from buying a handgun under the same circumstances.
The law that made this possible is the 1986 Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, which allowed for the interstate sales of rifles and shotguns.
Here’s the relevant portion of the law’s summary:
Permits the interstate sale of rifles and shotguns, provided: (1) the transferee and transferor meet in person to accomplish the transfer; and (2) such sale complies with the laws of both States. Presumes the licensee to have actual knowledge of the laws of both States.
According to Slocum, Alexis also passed a federal background check. Virginia’s background check laws ask if applicants have ever been convicted of a felony offence (Alexis had not); if anyone had an outstanding restraining order against Alexis (also no); and if the applicant is “mentally incapacitated” or “been involuntarily admitted to an inpatient facility or involuntarily ordered to outpatient mental health treatment.”
Federal background check laws also require that the applicant has been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility or declared mentally ill by a judge.
This is key in the case of Alexis, who family members have said was undergoing treatment for a variety of issues, including hearing voices in his head and having sleep problems. As recently as August, police in Newport, R.I., responded to his claims of three people following him and using “some sort of microwave machine” to send vibrations through his body.”
But he was never declared mentally unfit by the Navy, and he was never declared mentally ill by a judge.
According to the New York Times, Alexis also tried to buy an AR-15 assault-style rifle. In that case, Virginia state law prevented him from buying one because of his out-of-state status.
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