Despite Mitt Romney’s Claims, Aurora Suspect’s Gun Purchases Were Legal

Mitt Romney brushed off suggestions that the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting should renew a national conversation on gun control Wednesday, saying that it “was illegal” for accused Aurora shooter James Holmes to have the “kind of weapons and bombs and other devices” he used in his deadly attack.

Not exactly. Holmes legally purchased the weapons used in the attack, and legally bought thousands of rounds of ammunition online. One of the guns would have been illegal under the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

In an interview, NBC’s Brian Williams specifically asked Romney about the legal gun purchases and ammunition purchases (“Perhaps they want to start a national conversation about whether an AR-15 belongs in the hands of — of a citizen, whether a citizen should be able to buy 6,000 rounds off the internet,” Williams said), a Romney aide told TPM that the former Massachusetts governor was referring to the homemade bombs in Holmes’s apartment, not the weapons he allegedly used to kill 12 people, when he said Holmes used illegal devices.“The governor was clearly referring to the homemade bombs in the apartment,” the aide told TPM. Those bombs — which did not kill anyone and were disabled by law enforcement — would be illegal under a Colorado law that bans “incendiary devices,” though reports indicate those devices were constructed from items weren’t aren’t illegal to obtain, like gasoline.

Romney also told Williams that the political and legal implications “are something which will be sorted out down the road,” but said he does not believe that America needs new gun laws.

“A lot of what this — young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening,” Romney said. “We can sometimes hope that just changing a law will make all bad things go away. It won’t. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential to improve the lots of the American people.”

Williams asked whether Romney had a problem with an individual being able to buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet.

“Well, I don’t know that I’m gonna be able to find a way to prevent people who want to pro — provide harm, from being able to purchase things that could carry out that harm,” Romney said. “What I wanna do is find the people who represent a danger to America and find them and keep them from having the capacity to use or buy things that could [harm] — hurt other people.”

Romney’s support for preventing individuals who “represent a danger to America” from buying things that could harm other people could be read as an endorsement of legislation to close the so-called “terror gap.” Under current federal law, individuals on the terrorist watch list are legally allowed to buy weapons, but civil libertarians say the government shouldn’t be allowed to keep individuals on an extrajudicial list from exercising their constitutional rights.

Romney said that he still differs with the NRA on certain issues that he declined to mention but said they shared a commitment to the Second Amendment.