Politicians, media outlets red-faced over wrong claims about gun in Navy Yard shootings

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Media, politicians and activists had to backpedal Tuesday after an FBI spokesperson said there is no evidence that Aaron Alexis, the gunman who murdered 12 people in the Navy Yard shooting Monday, used an AR-15 in the massacre.

“We do not have any information at this time that [Alexis] had an AR-15 in his possession,” said FBI assistant director Victoria Parlave at a press conference on Tuesday. Parlave said that it is now believed that Alexis, 34, possessed a shotgun when he entered the Navy Yard.

Parlave also said that Alexis had “legitimate access” to the military installation.

Alexis, a former Navy reservist, may have had access to a handgun after the shooting began, said Parlave.

Many outlets reported the initial claim that Alexis used an AR-15 in the attack.

The New York Daily News ran a front page headline which read “Same Gun Different Slay” in reference to the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting and the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school.

The Daily News front page contained another error — it used a picture of the crime scene which turned out to be a unrelated to the shooting.

The website BuzzFeed posted a now-corrected article featuring several pictures of the AR-15 citing the gun as being used in the Navy Yard shooting.

MSNBC’s Alex Wagner continued to use a graphic of the Navy Yard shooter wielding the large AR-15 in a report on Tuesday, hours after CNN issued a report that federal officials were backing away from the AR-15 claim.

On Monday a federal law enforcement official told USA Today Alexis was “armed with an AR-15, which is a light-weight semi-automatic rifle, as well as a shotgun and a handgun.”

The Los Angeles Times also reported that Alexis was engaged in a “running gun battle” with Navy security guards while carrying the AR-15.

The Washington Post editorial board asked how Alexis acquired “his weapons (an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol were reportedly found on him).”

The New York Times cited the false claim as well. “Three weapons were found on Mr. Alexis: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol, a senior law enforcement officer said,” the Times reported.

CNN talk show host Piers Morgan reiterated the false report on his show Monday evening saying that the Navy Yard “was still infiltrated by a man with a legally purchased AR-15, who just committed the same kind of atrocity as we saw at Sandy Hook, and Aurora.”

Politicians also mimicked Monday’s error.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a statement on Monday which read, “This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons — including a military-style assault rifle — and kill many people in a short amount of time. When will enough be enough?”

“A gunman appeared with an assault rifle, and several other weapons,” said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

“How did he get these weapons into this Navy Yard, an assault rifle and other firearms,” Durbin asked at the end of his speech.

Senator Durbin has been a strong supporter of gun control efforts.

The senator postponed a hearing scheduled for Tuesday on the controversial Stand Your Ground law, which gained national attention after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, was scheduled to testify against such laws.

“How could a man of that kind of a background end up getting the necessary security clearance for a military contractor to go into this Navy Yard?” asked Durbin of Alexis.

Alexis worked as a contractor for Hewlett-Packard. He was reportedly fired from his job on Tuesday, leading some to speculate that the shooting was retribution.

Alexis joined the Navy reserves in 2007 and was honorably discharged in 2011, despite “a pattern of misbehavior”.

In 2004, he was arrested for shooting out the tires of construction vehicles near his home in Seattle, Washington. In 2010, he was arrested for unlawful discharge of a firearm after he fired a shot that entered the apartment above his in Fort Worth, Texas.

Alexis’ father told reporters that his son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was a first responder during the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. Alexis also reportedly complained of hearing voices and of ringing in his ears.

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