DALLAS (AP) — Investigators looking for how a Texas gunman obtained an assault-style rifle used in a Labor Day weekend rampage despite failing a background check have searched the home of a man they believe was involved in the “transfer” of the weapon, a federal law enforcement official said Thursday.
The official familiar with the investigation spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, citing a reluctance to publicly discuss the details of the search. The official said federal agents are investigating whether the Lubbock man has been manufacturing firearms but that there have been no arrests.
Spokespeople for the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed the agencies conducted “law enforcement operations” Wednesday in a residential part of Lubbock but declined to elaborate.
Seven people were killed and around two dozen were injured in the shooting that spanned for more than an hour from Midland to Odessa, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) south of Lubbock.
Officers killed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator on Saturday outside a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that spanned 10 miles (16 kilometers). He fired indiscriminately from his car into passing vehicles and shopping plazas, and at one point hijacked a U.S. Postal Service mail truck, killing the driver.
Ator failed a federal firearms background check in 2014 due to a “mental health” issue but used a private sale to obtain the weapon used in last weekend’s attack, a law enforcement official told AP Tuesday.
Private gun sales in the United States are not subject to federal background checks and, according to some estimates, may account for 25 to 40 percent of all gun sales. It is illegal for a person to sell a gun to someone he or she knows cannot legally purchase one. But private sellers, unlike licensed dealers, are not required to find out if a would-be buyer can possess a firearm or conduct a background check.
While American’s are allowed to make their own firearms, they cannot do so commercially. It is illegal to make and sell guns as a business without being a licensed dealer or manufacturer.
The Odessa mass shooting and another at a Walmart in El Paso just weeks earlier bookended a violent August in Texas that left 29 people dead and injured dozens more. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued eight executive orders that he said would help prevent other mass shootings. None of them put new restrictions on access to firearms or ammunition, which are at the forefront of calls by Democrats and gun-control groups in the wake of the two Texas shootings.
Topping Abbott’s list of orders is one that establishes a list of questions for law enforcement agencies to ask when receiving calls about people who might pose a threat. The mother of the suspected El Paso gunman called police weeks before the Aug. 3 attack to express concern about her son buying an “AK” style rifle.
Ator was “recently reported to law enforcement for confronting a neighbor while brandishing a semiautomatic rifle,” the orders state. It is unclear what came of this report or to whom it was made.
Abbott’s office referred questions about the incident to the Texas Department of Public Safety. A department spokeswoman and Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Rocio Gutierrez, whose home is near Ator’s sheet-metal shack west of Odessa in Ector County, said her family often heard him shooting in the night. Ator had menaced another neighbor over how that woman was disposing of trash, Gutierrez told the AP Monday.
Abbott on Wednesday rejected calls from Democrats who want him to haul lawmakers back to the Texas Capitol and begin taking votes on new gun control measures. The Texas Legislature doesn’t meet again until 2021, meaning any new laws in response to the Odessa and El Paso shootings are at least two years away unless the governor calls an emergency legislative session.
Abbott, an avid gun-rights supporter, has shown no appetite for a special session but says he will release legislative proposals in the coming days.
Weber reported from Austin. Associated Press journalist Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.