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Wheeling police: More gun restrictions wouldn’t have stopped Las Vegas massacre


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Local law enforcement officials said they don’t believe additional gun control measures would have prevented Sunday’s deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, as it already is illegal for most people to possess fully automatic weapons such as those the gunman may have used.

“I know it is illegal to transport, possess or carry any machine gun, a submachine gun or any fully automatic weapon, unless you have obtained specific permission from the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms),” Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said. “There is no need for a fully automatic weapon, except for the military or perhaps in some police situations.”

“If you purchase a fully automatic weapon without a license, you are probably looking at about 10 years in prison,” added Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball. “Unfortunately, there are some homemade weapons that probably go undetected.”

Kimball said to obtain a license for a fully automatic weapon, an applicant must pass a thorough ATF background check after submitting an application and paying a fee.

“We believe the ATF would notify local law enforcement of someone who gets such a license. That has not happened in the time I have been here,” Schwertfeger, who has led the department since 2012, said. Prior to that, he worked in Albemarle County, Va.

Even after receiving a license, however, Kimball said getting a fully automatic weapon is quite expensive.

“The cheapest machine gun is around $6,000,” he said. “A civilian model of a fully automatic M16 would probably go for about $20,000.”

“There are a lot of automatic weapons floating around out there in America,” Kimball added. “Like anything else, they are available if someone is willing to pay for them.”

Kimball said once someone with a proper license purchases a fully automatic weapon, they can transport it for use at a shooting range, but he emphasized the ATF can inspect the gun at any time.

However, a semiautomatic weapon could become fully automatic with some modifications. Although the ATF requires that someone report doing this, Schwertfeger and Kimball know there are ways for owners to avoid detection.

“I know there are ways to make an AR-15 fully automatic,” Schwertfeger said. “I have seen smaller guns that have been transitioned to fully automatic. Those were in Virginia.”

On Monday, some lawmakers called for new gun control measures, including House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif; and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Still, Schwertfeger and Kimball are not sure additional gun control can prevent such tragedies.

“I don’t know that it is possible to mitigate something like that,” Schwertfeger said.

“It’s not a gun problem — it’s a societal problem,” Kimball added. “Somehow, this guy learned that using a gun was the way to solve his problems. We have to deal with the reasons people are doing these things.”

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