Police block off the M Street, SE, as they respond to a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, September 16, 2013. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
After two days of criticism and rising doubts, The New York Times finally corrected a crucial fact in one of its featured pieces this week, by Michael Schmidt, on the massacre at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. But the correction only heightened the mystery.
It all began when Schmidt broke the story that Aaron Alexis had fired off a few rounds from the assault rifle at a Virginia shooting range and gun store, but was prevented from buying it because state law prevents such quick sales to out-of-staters. So Aaron bought the shotgun that ended up doing plenty of damage itself. The Times even featured the role of the law right in the headline (“State Law Prevented Sale…”).
It was an important angle. The media had falsely reported that Alexis had used an AR-15 during his rampage, based on police reports, and was being accused by the usual gun advocates of deliberately pushing that lie to help its gun control allies. But here was a new detail that seemed to fully bolster the gun control argument: the killer had tried to buy an assualt rifle, which could have fired many more rounds and faster than a shotgun (he only had twenty-four shells for that weapon) but been turned away thanks to a gun measure.
But the next day a Washington Times reporter, who has used the shooting range in the past, charged that there is no such law in Virginia and her sources claimed Alexis didn’t even try to buy the AR-15—and she demanded the Times correct its story. It did not, for quite a spell.
CBS News offered a story that fell somewhere in between, stating that he did try to buy weapon but was rebuffed—for an unknown reason. NBC said a lawyer for the shooting range/gun store told them he didn’t know if Alexis did try to purchase the AR-15.
Then Talking Points Memo talked to the same lawyer for the store and now he denied that Alexis tried to buy the AR-15. Mediaite talked to a salesman at the store, who refused to give his name, who also claimed that Alexis did not try to purchase the assault rifle.
Nevertheless, hosts and guests on cable news, and others on the web, continued to use the he-couldn’t-buy-an-AR-15 claim.
Late last night, the Times corrected the Schmidt article. However, it did not change—and still has not revised—the key claim that the shooter tried to buy gun and was stopped by the law. Now there’s no explanation of why that occurred, if it did occur. If not prevented because he was out of state, then why?
Here’s the correction:
An article on Wednesday about the gunman in the Navy Yard shooting, using information from senior law enforcement officials, misstated a provision in Virginia state gun law. Out-of-state buyers must provide additional forms of identification to purchase a high-capacity AR-15 rifle; the laws do not prohibit the sales of all AR-15 rifles to all out-of-state residents.