Investigation looks into Idaho shooter's arsenal
By John K. Wiley
7:14 p.m. May 23, 2007
MOSCOW, Idaho – Courthouse shooter Jason Hamilton was supposed to surrender his firearms after a conviction for domestic assault, but the law doesn't provide for a search that might have turned up the high-powered assault rifles he used to kill three others and himself, a police official said Wednesday.
The 36-year-old janitor, who moved from the Boise area in the late 1990s, fatally shot himself in a Presbyterian church early Sunday after killing his wife, a police officer and a church sexton, wounding three other men and pouring more than 100 bullets into a county courthouse, authorities said.
Idaho State Police investigators learned Tuesday that Hamilton had purchased the AK-47 assault rifle from a federally licensed firearms dealer in Harvard, Idaho, in late 2004 or early 2005, before he was in trouble with the law, Assistant Moscow Police Chief David Duke told The Associated Press.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives field office in Spokane, Wash., was checking Wednesday whether paperwork the dealer filed was proper, Duke said.
The AK-47 was a stock automatic weapon and had not been modified, Duke said.
Julianne Marshall, an ATF spokeswoman in Seattle, said she did not have information and could not comment on the Hamilton case.
But because the fully automatic AK47 is classified as a machine gun under the National Firearms Act, a purchaser would have to buy it from a registered seller or firearms dealer, pay a $200 tax to transfer the registration, and pass an ATF background check, she said.
The application of someone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence would be rejected, she said. Also, the law requires a registered gun owner convicted of such a crime to transfer the gun to someone else.
Hamilton also used a semiautomatic Springfield M-1A rifle, Duke said.
That weapon had been purchased by telephone or over the Internet and delivered to a Moscow-area sporting goods store, where Hamilton picked it up, Duke said.
Both weapons were purchased legally before Hamilton was convicted of domestic assault on his girlfriend in 2006, Duke said Wednesday. Authorities also found several other guns in a locker in Hamilton's home near Moscow.
The investigation focused Wednesday on how Hamilton, who apparently briefly flirted with the white supremacist Aryan Nations group, could have amassed such an arsenal despite a series of run-ins with the law.
Because Hamilton's conviction was for a misdemeanor, parole or probation officers were not required to search his home for prohibited weapons, Duke said.
Hamilton's name was placed on a national database that would have blocked attempts to purchase weapons after his conviction, but guns he purchased before that date would not show up on the list, Duke said.
Also in the home, where the body of Hamilton's wife, Crystal Hamilton, was found after the shootings, were a shotgun, .22-caliber rifle and a .22-caliber handgun, Duke said. The investigation was looking into whether the guns were registered in Hamilton's name, or his wife's, Duke said.
Federal law prohibits anyone who is “mentally defective” from purchasing a gun, but Idaho is among 28 states which do not share mental health information with the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System based in Clarksburg, W.Va. Hamilton had been screened by mental health professionals after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in February.
Duke said the investigation into Hamilton's ties to the Aryan Nations shows he was not an active member.
Federal agents from the ATF, the FBI and the Latah County Sheriff's Department who searched his home found an Aryan Nations flag, literature and an enrollment certificate that had been filled out in 2002, Duke said.
“He apparently attended a meeting and completed the certificate,” Duke said. “After that date, there were no connections that we can trace.”
FBI interviews of Hamilton's family and acquaintances turned up no evidence that he was active in the white supremacist organization, or attended any other meetings, Duke said.
All the victims of last weekend's shooting were white, Duke said.