Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been notified of a recent incident involving several foreign nationals and a weapon that took place at the Walmart Supercenter, located at 3900 Dave Ward Drive.
According to an incident report from the Conway Police Department, on Oct. 16, officers were called to the business by a woman who stated she saw a man standing outside the grocery doors with a black rifle. The woman described the man, as well as what vehicle he was in, for emergency operators and officers arrived at the scene to locate the man. When they arrived, they located the vehicle and observed three other individuals standing next to the vehicle.
After making contact with the men, officers noticed a black, muzzle-loading rifle on the front seat of the vehicle. When the officers asked who owned the rifle and why someone had it out in plain sight in front of the business, a man identified himself and said that he had purchased the rifle from Walmart a few days earlier and brought it back to find out how it worked. The officers asked if the weapon was loaded, and the subject stated that it was. The subject also stated that employees at the business had advised that he was not allowed to bring the item inside the business and he had his friend stay outside with the rifle.
When the officers searched the vehicle, they discovered a box of shotgun shells, a large hunting knife and a brown stock of a gun with a sight that had no barrel. The man stated the gun was only an air rifle. However, the officers could not determine if the gun was an air rifle because the barrel could not be found.
According to Grover Crossland, resident agent in charge at the Little Rock Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a muzzle-loading rifle by definition is not considered a firearm, though it is still a dangerous weapon.
"A muzzle-loading rifle is a gun that uses powder to shoot with and primer to ignite the powder to cause the blast," he explained. "By federal definition, it is not considered a firearm because the Gun Control Act of 1968 does not recognize it as a firearm, but it can still be used to harm or kill someone. The only time a muzzle-loading rifle would be considered a firearm is if it will, in some fashion or form, accept regular ammunition, but generally muzzle-loaders are not able to do so."
Since the muzzle-loader not being considered a firearm, the man did not have to fill out the forms required by the ATF in a firearms purchase.
Ashley Hardie, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said the only restriction that is placed on the purchase of a muzzle-loader is the age of the buyer.
"A person must be 18 years old or older to purchase a muzzle-loader," Hardie said. "As a responsible retailer, our policy is to comply with all federal, state and local laws."
Even though the rifle was only a muzzle-loader, the officers that handled the incident forwarded the information from the men to the FBI, as a precaution based on discrepancies in statements the men told the officers.
The man that owned the rifle stated that he lived in Jacksonville but had come to Conway to visit a friend who told him he would take him hunting, which is why he made the purchase in Conway instead of his hometown. When the officers asked the other two men who they were, the subject stated that they were his friends, who are students at a college in Illinois who were visiting him on their Halloween break.
The officers noted in their report that "none of the individuals resided in Conway and did not provide the name of the friend they were visiting."
However, the subject told the officer that he along with the other men were in the country on visas provided by the Department of Homeland Security, but could not produce the documentation to prove it.
When the officers contacted the school in Illinois the subject stated his friends attended, they stated that not only was school still in session and not on a Halloween break, but that they had no record of the students the officers inquired about. Officials with CPD have since been notified that the men are students in the college’s English as a Second Language Program (ESL) but are not traditional students.
Crossland said had the rifle not been a muzzle-loader, people who are in the country on a visa or are residents of another state generally are not entitled to purchase a firearm.
"If you are a non-resident, you are not entitled to buy or possess a firearm," Crossland said. "If you are in the country on a work visa and owning a firearm is a necessity, you might be able to be issued a waiver to possess a firearm, or if you are in the country as a diplomat, you could carrying a firearm, but there are very few exceptions."
Crossland said if a weapon were purchased from a business with a Federal Firearms License, the person intending to buy the weapon would have to fill out a federal document required by the ATF, then the employee at the business would have to contact someone to check the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for a background check on the buyer. Even with those restrictions in place, Crossland said that there are still ways that the buyer might have been able to buy a weapon without the business knowing that the buyer was prohibited from doing so.
"We call them ‘NCIC’s delayed denials,’ which just means that the initial check could not find any indication as to why the person couldn’t buy the weapon," he explained. "However, days later the system might find a reason as to why the person can’t own a weapon, which is when we get notified and sent to retrieve the weapon and file a case if need be. It happens from time to time and the employees at the business have done nothing wrong because they were told they could sell the weapon to the buyer. Other than that type of situation, the only other way to obtain a weapon is to produce a false, government issued identification that can provide a clear background check when the employee calls to verify it."
Crossland said that despite what people think, there is not a national registry that records who purchases a firearm, so it makes it difficult to trace a weapon once it is purchased because the buyer has the right to sell it to whoever they choose.
"Everyone still thinks there is a registry of firearms and there isn’t," he said. "When someone buys a weapon, what they get is a bill of sale. It is for the seller’s records and is not listed in a database for anyone to access. However, just because the original buyer of the weapon was recorded by the seller, doesn’t mean that it can be traced back to the current owner. Citizens have the right to buy and sell guns without going through a licensed seller."
(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at firstname.lastname@example.org)