WASHINGTON Ė Law-enforcement officials said on Wednesday they have identified a person of interest they suspect of illegally manufacturing and selling the rifle used in the weekendís mass shooting in West Texas.
Authorities were in the process of investigating the Lubbock, Texas, man, whose identity they havenít released, and were seeking to question him late Wednesday at his residence, officials said.
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been trying to piece together how Seth Aaron Ator was able to purchase the AR-15 style rifle he used to kill seven people and wound 22 before police shot him to death. Ator, 36, was prohibited under federal law from owning a firearm because a court had previously found him mentally unfit, law-enforcement officials previously said.
He had tried to buy a gun in January 2014 but failed because a nationwide criminal-background check system flagged the mental-health determination by a local court and prevented the purchase, according to the officials. Authorities suspect the Lubbock, Texas, man sold Ator the gun through a private sale. Such a sale allowed Ator to purchase a gun without going through a criminal-background check.
Gun-control proponents have frequently complained that private sales are a hole in the background-check system that should be addressed. It is unclear whether the man knew Ator was a prohibited person when selling him the rifle.
If the gun dealer did in fact know that Ator was barred from buying guns, he could be charged with a federal crime. But authorities are also looking into whether the man was illegally selling guns. While private gun sales are legal under federal law, it is a crime to be in the business of manufacturing or selling guns without a license.
Law-enforcement officials suspect the man was buying various gun parts to build his own guns and then reselling them. It has become increasingly popular for people to build AR-style rifles at home with parts purchased online.
Ator shot 29 people as he drove between Odessa and Midland on Saturday afternoon, firing at random and hijacking a US Postal Service van, authorities said.
He died after officers intercepted and shot him outside a movie theater. A Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman referred questions to the ATF. A spokesperson for the ATF didnít immediately respond to requests for comment.