This week's mass shooting at Washington's Navy Yard has thrust the AR-15 assault rifle is back in the center of the gun control debate, even though authorities have debunked reports the weapon was used in the gunman Aaron Alexis.
FBI Assistant Director Valerie Parlave said at a press briefing on Tuesday that Alexis used a shotgun in the rampage in which 12 were killed, not an assault rifle, as many news outlets and gun-control advocates had reported.
"We have no information that he had an AR-15 assault rifle in his possession," Parlave said. "He may have gained access to a handgun ... after he began shooting."
: Massive New Rules Revealed for 2013
Appearing on The Hugh Hewitt Show, CNN's Jake Tapper said he could not "speak to the motivation of anybody who was talking about the fact that it was an AR-15," but did acknowledge "there certainly is a meme that it fits into, which is those who favor greater restrictions on gun control seem to have targeted this particular weapon, AR-15 … even though if you look at which guns cause the most violence or homicide, it's actually handguns."
Tapper added that reporters and news consumers should go by the policy that "just because it's coming from authorities doesn't mean it's right."
In the hours after the mass shooting multiple media outlets reported that Alexis was carrying an AR-15 during his rampage.
The New York Times reported:
"an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol," were found on Alexis, according to "a senior law enforcement officer."
The Los Angeles Times reported
: "Investigators think Alexis began the assault with only the shotgun and that he took the AR-15 and handgun from people he shot, a U.S. official said."
CNN's Piers Morgan said
on his show, "He was carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, another rifle, and a handgun. Would somebody carrying weapons in the way that he was immediately ring alarm bells inside the base?"
And despite Parlave's clarification, some outlets continued to reference the AR-15.
CNN, after acknowledging that an AR-15 was not used, said, "Regardless, the massacre pushed the AR-15 back into the gun-control debate. The weapon has been used in several other rampages that shocked the nation."
Morgan has been on a crusade to change U.S. guns law following the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December. After the Navy Yard shootings, he tweeted that "the AR-15 has been used seven times in the past 20 months in U.S. mass shooting."
After it was apparent an AR-15 was not used in the Navy Yard shooting, Morgan did not issue a retraction. Instead, he tweeted, "Lots of confusion over exactly what guns Wash Navy Yard shooter used. But do you think it matters to the victims?"
MSNBC’s Alex Wagner continued to use a graphic of the Navy Yard shooter wielding the large AR-15, hours after reports that federal officials were backing away from the AR-15 claim.
The New York Times also made an error in saying that Alexis sought to buy an AR-15 before the shooting but was stymied by a Virginia ban on out-of-state purchases of assault rifles. The Washington Times, however, pointed out that Virginia law does not prohibit the sale of assault rifles to out-of-state citizens who have proper identification.
Politicians also were quick to say that an AR-15 was used.
"A gunman appeared with an assault rifle, and several other weapons," said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin in on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney told reporters at an event honoring National Guardsmen that Alexis "was a disturbed individual and with a record like that, you wonder how somebody like that got the urge to carry around an AR-15 and a handgun," according to The Boston Herald
As of Wednesday morning, Senator Diane Feinstein
had yet to correct or remove a statement issued hours after the shooting that stated: "There are reports the killer was armed with an AR-15, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol when he stormed an American military installation in the nation’s capital and took at least 12 innocent lives."
“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."
: Massive New Rules Revealed for 2013
Parlave, according to USA Today
, said Alexis had a shotgun when he arrived at the Navy Yard. He began shooting randomly from a catwalk inside the building when he was confronted by a security officer. Authorities believe Alexis shot the officer and took his handgun.
Officials said Alexis twice returned to catwalk to resume shooting and it was there he eventually was killed by police.
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