The owner of the store that sold one of the two guns used in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting says his first line of defense against selling to dangerous people is a simple gut check.
“The first thing that happens is we size the person up,” John Markell told The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro in Wednesday’s episode of the podcast “The Daily.” “Do you have any idea how many sales we’ve lost because we refused to sell the gun? Something didn’t smell right. We get lots of mad people. I mean, we’ve seen some really squirrely people.”
Markell’s store, Roanoke Firearms, located in Roanoke, Virginia, sells a wider range of guns than other hunting-centric stores in the area. Markell estimates he turns away someone weekly or monthly because of a “feeling.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Markell told Barbaro. “It’s probably cost me $20,000 of what we’ve turned down.”
According to Markell, an employee judged that Seung-Hui Cho – who killed 32 in a shooting spree on Virginia Tech’s campus – seemed like a “typical college student” when he sought to buy a gun. The Virginia Tech shooting is the third-deadliest mass shooting in modern US history behind last year’s rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas.
In Virginia, people need to go through state and national background tests before purchasing a firearm. Cho had no prior criminal record and passed both background tests.
Markell told Barbaro that he didn’t feel guilty about selling Cho the gun and that someone who was suspicious of the student’s mental state should have reported him to the authorities. If someone had reported their suspicions, Markell said, Cho would have been placed on the “do not sell” list.
In the US, any gun seller can deny any customer based purely on instincts.