Colorado Suspect Had Easy Access to Assault Rifle, Ammo

James Holmes had a 100-round drum magazine clipped into the Smith & Wesson (SWHC) semi-automatic rifle police say he fired into a crowded Colorado theater.

Jared Lee Loughner was accused of killing six people last year and injuring more with help from a 33-round magazine, the bullet holder extending from the grip of his Glock 19.

High-capacity accessories like these would have been illegal a decade ago.

Today, there is little difficulty amassing a military-style arsenal since the 2004 lapse of the federal assault weapon ban. And tougher gun laws probably wouldn’t have prevented Holmes from killing, Colorado’s governor said yesterday.

“If there were no assault weapons available and no this or no that, this guy is going to find something, right?” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He’s going to know how to create a bomb.”

Debate over gun control in the U.S. regularly unfolds after high-profile shootings, such as the federal proposal to require background checks at gun shows after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 and when firearms lobbyists pushed state legislatures to allow concealed weapons on college campuses after the massacre at Virginia Tech University in 2007. Still, other than a law aimed at improving state reporting for federal background checks, there have been no major U.S. gun regulations since the 1994 assault weapon ban prohibited 19 military-style guns and magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

Federal Ban

President Barack Obama promised to reinstate the ban during his 2008 campaign, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney signed an assault weapon ban as Massachusetts governor. Obama hasn’t mentioned gun control since the Colorado shootings, and Romney says he doesn’t believe new laws would “make a difference in this type of tragedy.”

“Our challenge is not the laws, our challenge is people who, obviously, are distracted from reality and do unthinkable, unimaginable, inexplicable things,” Romney said today in an interview with CNBC. He said he signed the Massachusetts assault weapon ban because both sides agreed.

“Where there are opportunities for people of reasonable minds to come together and find common ground, that’s the kind of legislation I like,” he said.

Mixed Results

The federal ban had mixed results, leading to less use of assault weapons in crimes and greater utilization of other firearms, according to a 2004 Department of Justice report.

Existing checks and regulations failed to flag Holmes -- accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others in the Aurora, Colorado, theater -- for state or federal authorities because he avoided buying handguns within five days at the same store and never committed prior offenses that would have raised an alarm during required background checks, according to a federal official who asked for anonymity and wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Use of high-capacity magazines and avoiding state and federal checks “is a worst-case scenario for gun-rights defenders,” said Richard Feldman, a former political organizer for the Fairfax, Virginia-based National Rifle Association, a 4- million member gun-rights organization.

“It’s not that the system didn’t work,” Feldman said. “He wasn’t in the system.”

Calls for Ban

Elected officials, including New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, said yesterday the ban should be re-instated.

“We spend all our time talking about tax returns and gaffes and things like that,” Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This is one of those issues, along with a handful of others, that really matters to the American public.”

Perlmutter, whose district includes Aurora, said reinstating the ban is a starting point.

“We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition,” Perlmutter said. “He had enough ammunition for a small army. There’s something wrong about that.”

Steve Schmidt, a Republican consultant who was chief strategist for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, said gun control is “an absolutely settled issue.”

‘Powerful’ NRA

“People absolutely will not take on the NRA,” Schmidt said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s the most powerful interest group in Washington.”

Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said the U.S. should “re-instill values in what we’re teaching our children.”

“This isn’t an issue about guns,” Johnson said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is just really an issue about sick, demented individuals.”

On July 20, the NRA said in a statement it wouldn’t comment “until all the facts are known.” A message left for the NRA’s public relations department yesterday wasn’t returned.

“It’s time for us to address and enforce the gun laws that we have,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, told reporters in Trenton today. “I am a little bit disturbed by politicians who in the immediate aftermath of this type of tragedy try to grandstand, and I’m not going to be one of those people.”

Holmes had more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said at a July 21 news conference.

He spent more than $15,000 the past several months buying ammunition, firearms and explosives, said a law-enforcement official who lacked authorization to speak publicly and asked for anonymity. Holmes had the 100-round magazine in a Smith & Wesson M&P .223 caliber rifle, the official said.

Surveillance Video

Surveillance video shows Holmes picking up 150 pounds of ammunition at a FedEx Corp. (FDX) outlet in Colorado, the official said. Investigators have interviewed a United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) driver who says Holmes had 90 packages delivered to his workplace on the University of Colorado medical campus, the official said.

A shipping label from BulkAmmo.com, an Internet ammunition site, was found in the trash bins outside Holmes’s apartment, the official said.

The retailer, which has a St. Louis mailing address on its website, was “actively assisting in the investigation,” Oliver D. Adams, an attorney the store, said in a statement.

Authorities also found that 30 aerial shells -- softball- sized black-plastic objects used in fireworks displays -- had been turned into hand grenades, the official said. Enough gunpowder and gasoline were discovered to engulf in flames two floors of his apartment building, the law-enforcement official said.

’Novelty Item’

A 100-round magazine is mostly a “novelty item” that has “no practical use,” said Cameron Hopkins, former editor-in- chief of American Handgunner, a San Diego-based magazine for firearms enthusiasts. Hopkins said the gun magazines are “too unreliable, too bulky and too cumbersome” for use by military or law enforcement.

“If zombies were coming over the horizon and I had to defend my house and I wanted to massacre thousands of zombies, I still would not use a 100-round magazine,” Hopkins said. “I would have a whole bunch of 30s.”

The 6,000 rounds of ammunition Holmes is said to have bought wouldn’t have set off alarm bells for most ammo dealers, said Jeremiah Johnson, owner of National Match Armorer, a Bairoil, Wyoming-based ammo retailer.

“It’s nothing that would raise eyebrows,” Johnson said in an interview yesterday at a gun show in Loveland, Colorado.

The gun show was held at the Loveland Outlet Mall, where outside the shopping center oversized U.S. and Colorado flags flew at half-staff. Inside, hundreds of firearms were on sale along with stun guns, pepper spray and clothing, including a black baseball hat printed with a blue dove and the words “Jesus Prince of Peace.”

“A lot of guys come in and they might buy 5,000 rounds of this, 5,000 rounds of that and 5,000 rounds of that,” Johnson said. “Not only does it not throw up red flags, they’ll probably get a discount.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael C. Bender in Tallahassee at mbender10@bloomberg.net; Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net; Vincent Del Giudice in Denver at vdelgiudice@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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