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Could the UVa tragedy have been prevented? Scrutiny on the suspect’s gun conviction, failed background check

Gun conviction was never relayed to UVa committee

On Monday, officials began painting a disturbing picture of Jones, a former football player listed on the school’s gridiron roster in 2018.

University Police Chief Timothy Longo told reporters the university’s “threat assessment team” had learned about Jones in September after a third party, who was not a student, reported that he spoke about having a gun. He said the school’s student affairs office interviewed Jones’ roommate, who had not seen the suspect with a gun.

It wasn’t clear if the school’s internal investigation of Jones possibly having a gun ended with that roommate’s interview.

Jones had also been involved in the campus hazing probe, which was closed due to uncooperative witnesses, Longo said.

More coverage of the deadly University of Virginia shooting

More disclosures about Jones’ past were made public.

On Tuesday, university officials admitted they learned Jones had been convicted of a misdemeanor for a concealed weapons violation in 2021.

But it was unclear whether the revelation about his criminal history would have been enough for the university to take timely, serious action against him.

University spokesman Brian Coy said that it was “around mid-September” that the school uncovered Jones’ gun incident and that “he had failed to disclose a conviction to the university, which is a requirement of university policy.”

The Office of Student Affairs moved Oct. 27 “to escalate his case for disciplinary action,” the statement said.

But officials said they realized only after Sunday’s shooting that the report of his conviction was never relayed to the University Judiciary Committee.

While the student-led University Judiciary Committee might have been in a position to act against Jones, the school said that in “order to serve due process, their proceedings customarily take weeks or months.”

“In the wake of the shooting yesterday, Student Affairs officials discovered that the report had not been transmitted to the University Judiciary Committee (UJC), and are working to correct that,” the school said Monday.

Jones made his first appearance in court Wednesday over a video link. Prosecutor James Hingeley of the Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said a witness saw Jones shoot Chandler in his sleep.

Hingeley revealed in court Jones’ previous scrapes with the law.

He was arrested in February 2021 in Chesterfield County, Virginia, on a concealed weapons violation, Hingeley said. Jones was convicted in June 2021 and given a 12-month suspended sentence, he said.

When Jones was arrested in Chesterfield County, he had outstanding warrants out of Petersburg on charges of hit-and-run with property damage and reckless driving, Hingeley said. Jones was given a 12-month suspended sentence on each of the charges in October 2021, he said.

Gun purchase came months after failed background check

Jones’ apparent fondness for guns also put him on the radar of law enforcement at least two times.

He tried to buy a handgun from Dance’s Sporting Goods in Colonial Heights, Virginia, on Dec. 31, 2018, when he was younger than 21, store owner Marlon Dance said in statement.

Jones returned to the same store July 8, 2021, the statement said. He attempted to purchase a Smith & Wesson M&P15-22, a .22-caliber rifle, but “failed the background check,” the owner said.  

Both attempted purchases were forwarded to the Virginia State Police “for further action,” the statement said.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said there is “an active investigation into an attempted purchase of a firearm on July 8,” 2021. The agency’s Firearms Transaction Center denied Jones’ request, she said, based on a pending charge.

Geller did not disclose the charge, but NBC affiliate WWBT of Richmond reported it stemmed from the hit-and-run crash Jones was involved in Aug. 9, 2020, in Petersburg.

“The pending charge was reduced to a misdemeanor by the court in October 2021, thereby removing the prohibition against future purchases,” Geller said.

That paved the way for Jones this year to buy two guns from Dance’s Sporting Goods — the same store that denied him in 2018 and 2021.

Jones bought a Ruger AR-556 rifle Feb. 19 and a Glock 45 9 mm pistol with an additional magazine July 8, the store said in its statement.

Virginia State Police officials have not disclosed the type of gun used in the week’s rampage, but said it was turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “as evidence for processing.”

Virginia law does spell out a procedure for law enforcement to petition a court to confiscate weapons and block gun sales to someone who is a deemed credible risk.

However, Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’d struggle to blame any police officer for not flagging Jones.

“From the information I have, I cannot tell whether this would have been a viable option for law enforcement, though his convictions may have been evidence to support this allegation,” she said. 

T. Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady United Against Gun Violence, said that in hindsight, he thinks Virginia police could have gone to court against Jones, but he added that they would’ve needed additional evidence — more than what’s known now — to restrict him from acquiring weapons.

“It’s probably missing one piece and what I’ll be curious about coming out is: Was there anybody else who identified that he was acting dangerously?” Heyne said Friday, referring to people in Jones’ circle. “It’s like a series of cracks that he slipped through.”

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