The former neuroscience student accused of killing 12 people and wounded 58 others in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado last Friday, made his first appearance in court today. James Holmes, 24, appeared before a judge who advised him of his rights, and prosecutors are scheduled to formally file charges on July 30.
Among investigators’ findings a disturbing detail has emerged: In the months leading to his rampage, Holmes purchased as much as 200 pounds of ammunition online and had the packages sent to him via FedEx and UPS, as reported by the New York Daily News.
The BBC is reporting that over the course of eight weeks, Holmes bought 6,300 rounds of ammunition including, 3,000 for a .233 semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, 3,000 for two .22 Glocks and 300 cartridges for a pump-action shotgun.
If Holmes lived in New York instead of Colorado, would he still have been legally able to purchase ammunition online?
It would depend on where he lived. In New York City, it is illegal to ship ammunition to an address within the five boroughs. National businesses that sell ammunition online, such as Gander Mountain, will not allow a New York City-based customer to complete an order on their website.
But New York State residents can legally ship ammunition purchased online, so long as they are 18 years old, according to Michael Carvelli, a retired Buffalo police officer who runs Mike’s Guns and Reloading Systems in Lancaster. “I can walk into any store that sells ammunition and purchase ammunition,” said Carvelli, “It’s just as easy online.” Some online stores require a copy of valid identification to be sent to them before completing an order but there is no background check required.
In early 2011, 17 members of the New York State Assembly cosponsored a bill that would prohibit selling ammunition to anyone who does not present a valid firearms license, which would presumably apply to online ammunition purchases. It remains in committee and does not have a state Senate counterpart.
To date, the only state that has come close to banning online ammunition sales is California. But in 2011, a California judge struck down the law as unconstitutional before it could take effect. “Just before the deadline on that, they got it stopped,” said Paul Carey, owner of the Aim High Arms and Ammo store in Clymer, New York. Carey doesn’t sell ammunition online but says that many of his customers buy it over the Internet. “You can buy it online cheaper than dirt and have it delivered,” he said.
The legality and ease by which Holmes purchases the ammunition used in the Aurora rampage on Friday is exasperating to advocates of stricter gun control at the federal level. “The real focus for me is the tragedy that it was lawful,” said Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, on the ammunition purchases. “He’s law-abiding up until the moment he pulls the trigger, and that’s the problem. It’s all legal.”