04/09/2009

N.Y. gunman's 98 rounds spurs ammo debate

By William Kates
Associated Press

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N.Y. gunman fired 98 shots during rampage

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — The man who gunned down 13 people at an upstate New York immigration center fired 98 shots from two handguns in a little more than a minute, police said Wednesday, a gunslinging feat one expert said would make him a "new Rambo."

Gun control advocates said if a man who complained about not getting enough in unemployment benefits could afford enough ammunition to repeatedly practice shooting and go into his killing zone with a satchel of bullets around his neck, new ways are needed to stem gun violence, including raising the price of ammunition.

Ballistics reports showed Jiverly Wong fired 87 times from a 9mm Beretta and 11 times from a .45-caliber handgun. If he bought the ammunition online, he could have paid as little as $40 for the rounds he fired.

Friends say Wong complained that he only received $200 a week in unemployment benefits.

"Chris Rock says in one of his routines - have all the guns you want but charge like $1,000 for every bullet," said Jackie Hilly of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "I think if you raised the price, you would probably discourage the violence, but I don't think you would prevent it."

Police said almost all 13 victims died instantly. Four others were wounded but survived. Wong, 41, killed himself as police were rushing to the scene. He was found with a satchel containing several full ammunition clips.

Police have speculated that Wong, who was ethnically Chinese but was from Vietnam, was angry over losing a job at a vacuum cleaner manufacturer and frustrated about his poor English-language skills.

"I asked our range officer and he said easily in a minute you could rip off 98 rounds," said Police Chief Joseph Zikuski. "Our range people tell us it was over in a minute, a minute and a half. It doesn't take long. Especially, it's our understanding that he was an accomplished marksman."

Dan Kash, the owner of LAX Firing Range in Inglewood, Calif., was dubious that Wong fired that many rounds in the time police say he did.

"He'd have to be super-proficient because he's walking and shooting, and shooting probably moving targets," Kash said. "Either it took a lot longer than what cops are saying, or this guy is more than just the average Joe. Unless the guy is some type of super gunslinger, no, he's not going to be able to do that."

Kash said it would take more than just practice on a shooting range and suggested combat training or military experience would be needed to be that fast and accurate. There is no record of Wong serving in the military.

"He'd have to be a new Rambo, basically," Kash said.

Wong, wearing a bulletproof vest, barged into the center Friday morning and started shooting. Two employees and 11 immigrants taking an English class died in the assault.

Meanwhile, recordings posted on the Web site ScanAmerica.us, reveal some of the communications between dispatchers and police on the scene.

At one point, officers on the scene were told about the vehicle Wong used to block a door at the rear of the building.

"Be advised guys, you may have somebody come out the back door, so keep alert," says a man's voice.

"This door's barricaded with the, uh, suspect's vehicle," is the answer from the scene.

"Use cover, don't ... don't do anything foolish back there," the first voice replies.

The rampage left the small classroom in ruins, Zikuski said. Desks were found flipped over and bullet holes riddled the space, he said.

"It was very tight close quarters. The room was in mayhem. There was not a lot of moving around the room. We do know he began firing as soon as he got to the doorway because there's casings right at the doorway," Zikuski said.

Police found full magazine clips on the ground inside the center, suggesting Wong had dropped them while reloading. Police found an empty clip that had the capacity for 30 bullets. A laser sight was also found at the scene.

Gun rights advocates argue that cheap ammunition is important for people who frequently practice to be responsible gun owners.

"Most often, the argument for gun control, for ammo control, for magazine control, is an emotional argument, " said John Mercer, vice president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which has lobbied for gun owners' rights. "Isn't it terrible that we had somebody walk into a store or a college campus and create mayhem? Well, it is terrible, but if you penalize 99.9 percent of the people that do own firearms and are responsible, have you really gained anything?"

Zikuski said it was not known if any of the students tried to fight back. Their desks faced away from the door Wong used to enter the classroom full of immigrants learning English.

"We will never know that," he said. "There was no indication ... it happened so quickly, they had little time to react. He walked in there shooting. Nobody really had any time."

Police have said Wong had been practicing shooting at a local firing range in recent weeks.

Wong had a New York state pistol permit, first obtained in 1997, with the two handguns used in the shooting registered to it.

In the recordings initially reported by WBNG-TV in Binghamton, a male voice says early reports are the gunman is dead. Zikuski said the recordings were authentic - he's on them at several points - but were not released by the county.

"If you have any contact with people in that building, they think the assailant may have did himself," the man says on the recording. But there's still enough doubt to warrant caution: "So if you talk to anybody, tell them to stay put until the police come and get 'em."

A female voice is later heard saying, "That's affirmative, two victims, female, gunshot wound to the abdomen under a desk on the first floor and a subject laying on the ground in front of the reception area, unknown male or female, unknown life status."

Police and dispatchers talk about people hiding in other parts of the center.

"Students are in a basement, students who were taking classes in a basement classroom," says a woman, apparently an emergency dispatcher.

"If you can communicate with any of them, have them lock their doors," a man responds.

"There's no locks on the door, I'm trying to get them to use something to barricade," she responds.

A few minutes later, a female voice describes the suspect, an Asian man in his 20s, wearing a green jacket and black glasses.

Police are heard mobilizing the SWAT team, running the license plate on Wong's car, blocking traffic, calling for a floor plan of the building and getting updates on the people in hiding.

"Most of the subjects are in the basement, about 30 of them, unable to barricade that door. There's no furniture," a female dispatcher says.

The first calls to 911 came at 10:30 a.m. Police arriving on the scene at 10:33 a.m. did not hear any shots.

One of the surviving victims was released from a local hospital Tuesday and three others were reported in stable condition at another hospital Wednesday morning.

New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said Wednesday they will introduce legislation in Congress to grant honorary citizenship to the victims.

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