Assault Weapon and Ammo Used in Aurora Massacre Were Legal
The accused murderer sat for a brief hearing yesterday, displaying bright orange hair and an enigmatic, distant expression. The judge ruled that James Holmes, a 24-year-old former graduate student in neuroscience, will be held for charges in Friday’s movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 dead and 58 injured.
According to witnesses, Holmes burst into the theater during a midnight showing of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises,” threw a tear gas grenade and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two handguns. Police arrested Holmes in the parking lot and later managed to defuse a series of bobby traps and explosives in his apartment, which a reporter described as “like a mad scientist lair.“
All four weapons used in the killings were purchased legally in Colorado stores since May. Holmes also bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition legally over the Internet in the last four months, as well as a high-capacity magazine that held 100 rounds and could fire 50 to 60 shots per minute. With the exception of turning his apartment into a giant bomb, it appears that nearly everything Holmes did was legal up until the point where he walked into the theater and started shooting, and the vendors who sold him the guns and ammo were also acting lawfully.
Few Gun Restrictions
Holmes had no criminal background or other factors that would have disqualified him from buying weapons, and there is no Colorado or federal law governing the reporting of sales or requiring background checks for ammunition purchases. Tear gas grenades are also legal in the state.
There are few restrictions on gun ownership in general on Colorado. It’s legal to carry a loaded weapon in a vehicle, but individuals must have a permit to carry a concealed weapon on their person. Colorado is also an open-carry state with the exception of Denver, meaning it’s legal to appear and circulate in public with a non-concealed weapon. Gun registration is prohibited.
To the extent that it has loose gun laws, Colorado isn’t very different from a number of other gun-friendly states, points out Scott Robinson, an attorney who practices criminal defense and personal injury law in Denver.
“I don’t think it’s anything in our water or anything in our air,” Robinson says. “There’s nothing unique about Colorado law that in any way contributes or fails to contribute to this tragic incident.”
“Any weapon legal under the federal Firearms Act is legal here in Colorado,” the attorney notes. Holmes’ rifle would have been illegal under the Clinton-era ban on assault weapons, but the law expired in 2004 and was not renewed by Congress.
Reactions to the shooting have varied in regard to firearms restrictions. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper demurred from calling for tougher gun laws in the wake of the shooting, saying on CNN’s “The State of the Union, “If there were no assault weapons available and no this or no that, this guy is going find something, right?”
New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg promised to reintroduce legislation to ban high capacity magazines that let people shoot dozens of rounds without reloading. The same law failed to pass Congress last year.
On the other side of the debate, pro-gun activists have seized the moment to argue that if the Aurora theater didn’t ban guns on its premises, an alert and armed citizen might have shot Holmes before the shooter could kill and wound quite so many people.
However, a Slate story pointed out that Holmes was wearing a comprehensive set of body armor that would have put him at an extreme advantage against any would-be vigilante in the crowd.
Neither President Obama nor candidate Mitt Romney has made a statement regarding gun laws in the aftermath of the shootings.
Nation of Massacres
Mother Jones mapped out the 36 mass shooting murders (defined as four or more people killed in a single incident) that have taken place across the United States in the last 30 years. The massacres have taken place in 20 states plus Washington D.C., a grim portrait of our propensity for slaughtering each other across all regions of the country.
The most high-profile mass murders in recent years have been
- The 1999 Columbine killings, also in Colorado, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stalked the halls of their high school, shooting students and teachers, killing 13 and injuring 24 before killing themselves
- Seung-Hui Cho’s rampage through Virginia Tech University in 2007, during which he killed 32 people plus himself and injured another 23
- The attack by Nidal Malik Hasan on Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, in which the Army psychiatrist killed 13 people and injured another 30
- Jared Lee Loughner killed six people in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011 and wounded 14, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
According to a recent Gallup pole, nearly half of all Americans own firearms. The spread of open carry laws and the ease with which weapons and ammunition can be obtained don’t offer much hope that the massacres will stop. Could your state be next?
Should there be more restrictions on the purchase of guns and ammunition? Would more oversight of weapon and ammunition sales have prevented the massacre in Colorado? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.