- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

Investigators hunting the Washington area sniper have cast the net far and wide over the region's gun community confiscating sign-in logs from shooting ranges, tracking sales of .223-caliber weapons and knocking on gun owners' doors.
Montgomery County police and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) came knocking on the door of Ken Scott's home in Silver Spring twice last week, asking for his thoughts about the shooting spree and about where he was during the times of the shootings.
Mr. Scott, confident the account of his whereabouts eliminated him as a suspect,said that either his neighbors gave his name on the tip line or investigators singled him out because he owns a gun shop.
On Tuesday, ATF agents arrived at Mr. Scott's Article II Unlimited store in Silver Spring accompanied by a man who had sold Mr. Scott a .223-caliber rifle the same round that has killed nine and wounded two persons in the sniper attacks. The agent wanted to see the gun, but it had already been resold, Mr. Scott said.
"Based on what they said to me, it seemed they were checking everyone who owned any gun that shoots that [.223-caliber] ammunition," Mr. Scott said.
Some gun owners reported that ATF agents had taken people's rifles to perform test-firing experiments and later returned the weapons. The Washington Times could not confirm the reports.
Authorities declined to comment on the probe of gun dealers and gun owners. An FBI spokesman for the multiagency task force searching for the sniper said that they were using every possible strategy to catch the killer, and that countless interviews were being conducted.
U.S. marshals from the task force questioned the owner of Schelin Guns in College Park last week about a man who took a firearms-safety class at the shop in late September, less than a week before the shooting spree began Oct. 2 in Montgomery County.
The federal agents checked the class roster and asked about sales of .223-caliber rifles, said store owner John Schelin, who had not recently sold that type of weapon.
The agents told Mr. Schelin that they were following a tip about a specific man who took the class, which is mandatory when purchasing handguns or rifles such as AK-47s or AR-15s, which are considered assault weapons.
A Northern Virginia man recently visited by ATF agents was asked whether he owned a .223-caliber weapon or had access to a white van, which has been seen at the scene of some of the shootings. The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he answered no to both questions, and the agents left.
He also said the agents told him that neighbors submitted his name to the tip line because he owns guns.
"You have all these news agencies saying to call the tip line if you know anybody who owns guns, if you know anybody with a white truck or anybody acting suspicious. You know, people act on that," he said. "It's too broad of a spectrum, and the ATF have to be thorough."
ATF agents last week confiscated the sign-in log from the firing range at Clark Brothers Guns in Warrenton, Va. The log included the signatures, some illegible, of customers who had used the range during the past six months, said owner Steve Clark.
"I don't know what they hope to glean from it," he said. "I guess they are trying anything."
Lamar Miller, a handwriting expert in Summerland Key, Fla., formerly with the Alabama State Forensic Lab, said the signatures could provide information beyond who used the range.
But it would be difficult to link a signature to the writing on the tarot card found at the scene of the Oct. 7 shooting outside a Bowie school that critically wounded a 13-year-old boy, he said.
"That's not to say it can't be done," Mr. Miller said. "You could find some similarities that might bear following up. They are trying to find some similarities such as the size of the letters and the shape of the letters. If there are [similarities] they would probably try to obtain more writing samples."
Task force investigators also paid a call on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservationist and outdoorsman organization that operates a private firing range in Poolesville on the western edge of Montgomery County.
ATF agents have visited numerous gun shops in the Washington area to review sales records and federal 4473 forms that list buyer information for every firearms sale. In some instances, the investigators madecopies of documents, said gun shop owners and employees.


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