The weapon used by Connor Betts to kill nine people Sunday morning in an Oregon District rampage was modified to act as a rifle, police said.
It was purchased as a pistol and was modified with a barrel and had an extended-capacity drum magazine, capable of holding up to 100 rounds.
“To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment, unregulated, it is problematic,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Monday at a press conference less than 36 hours after the shootings.
Officers counted at least 41 spent shell casings from the Bellbrook man’s weapon, said Biehl, who cautioned that the shooting scene on and near Fifth Street was chaotic during and after the shooting, with people fleeing and ambulances and police cruisers responding to the scene. That chaos may have affected evidence.
Jeff Pedro, owner of the Sim Trainer Dayton shooting range, said he has not been able to determine from photos if the barrel of Betts’ weapon was greater or less than 16 inches. If the barrel was less than 16 inches, it would have been considered a pistol, he said.
A retired police officer, Pedro stressed that he did not wish to get ahead of the police investigation. But if the weapon was sold as a pistol, it could not be legally converted to a rifle with a barrel of less than 16 inches unless Betts applied to the federal government to convert it to an “SBR” or short-barreled rifle.
The legal process would have entailed obtaining a tax stamp from the government, which involves an approximate six-month wait and about $200, in addition to a very extensive background investigation, Pedro said.
He expects police, with the help of federal investigators, to fairly quickly determine whether the buyer of the weapon in this case was granted a tax stamp to convert the pistol to an SBR.
Illegally, users can convert pistols themselves to short-barrel rifles with relative ease. A 10-year-old could do it, Pedro said.
“As far as putting a stock on a gun, it wouldn’t take very much effort at all,” Pedro said. “It’s only a matter of a bolt and a couple of screws.”
Police have said the weapon was legally purchased, ordered from a Texas gun dealer and sent to a Dayton dealer, who has not been identified. It remains unclear who purchased the gun.
Modifying a pistol is very possible, said Joe Eaton, a Springboro resident and member of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a gun rights advocacy group.
“You can purchase that as a pistol which is designed without a shoulder stock to be used one-handed like a regular pistol,” Eaton said.
AR-15-style devices are the among the most popular weapons bought and sold in the United States.
The “AR” or ArmaLite rifle was designed by ArmaLite Inc. The letters do not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.”
ArmaLite first developed the weapon in the 1950s as a military rifle, originally designed to use 30-round magazines. The weapon was first called an AR-5 before ArmaLite sold the design to Colt.
The Air Force was an early adopter, according to a history at SmallWarsJournal.com. By the early 1960s, the weapon’s most famous military iteration was born as the “M-16.”
As the M-16, the weapon was meant to be pitted primarily against the Soviet AK-47.
Betts’ ammunition had a “.223-caliber” designation, which represents the diameter or size of the bullet. It’s comparable to about a quarter-inch round or .22-caliber bullet, Eaton said.
“It’s very small,” he said.
AR-style weapons are well designed, ergonomic to use, adjustable and relatively comfortable for shooters, Eaton said. There’s not much recoil felt when they are shot, he said.
“It’s a very configurable type of firearm also,” Eaton said. “Somebody can customize it to whatever sport or competition they are comfortable in.”
In most transactions involving out-of-state sales, Eaton said a buyer is expected to complete an ATF form 4473 firearm transaction record, giving basic name, address and contact information and answering about a dozen questions on criminal and mental health history.
The dealer depends on the buyer to answer questions truthfully before sending the form to a national background check database. Lying on the form is a felony.
“If anything pops up on their (FBI) databases, they put the transaction on hold so they can do more investigation,” Eaton said.
The process was probably completed while Betts waited at the local retail store, Eaton said.
There has been no record of felonies or serious crimes in Betts’ past.
“There was nothing in any of the national FBI databases about this guy which precluded him from purchasing the firearm,” Eaton said.
One notable feature of the weapon was the high-capacity magazines. Round, “drum-style” magazines “are a little different,” he said.
Eaton said he often hears the term “high-capacity” magazines. Sometimes the term is used incorrectly, but not in this case.
“In this case, he truly was using high-capacity magazines that are not what is standard for these firearms,” he said. “These firearms are standard with 30-round magazines.”
He estimated that in this situation, the weapon was purchased for perhaps $500 to $700, with the magazines costing about $100 to $150, perhaps more. Body armor could have cost $200 to $300. Ammunition for this popular caliber is relatively inexpensive, with a box of 20 rounds costing less than $10, Eaton estimated.
He believes the total cost approached the range of $1,000 to $1,500.
The result was a semi-automatic firearm like hundreds of millions already out there.
“Just like your grandpa’s old revolver, each time you press the trigger, you get one shot out of it,” Eaton said. “It functions basically the same.”
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