Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights

By Glenn H. Utter | Go to book overview
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Oklahoma City Bombing

The April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in which the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed and 168 men, women, and children lost their lives is commonly associated with three events that had occurred in the two years preceding the bombing: the standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 in which two members of Randy Weaver's family were killed by federal agents; the tragic ending to the confrontation at the Branch Davidian compound just outside Waco, Texas, in 1993; and the passage in 1994 of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Each of these events involved federal firearms legislation. Federal officials wanted to arrest Randy Weaver for the illegal possession and sale of two sawed-off shotguns; Branch Davidian leader David Koresh was accused of possessing illegal automatic weapons; and the Brady Act imposed a waiting period and background check on anyone wishing to purchase a handgun. Timothy McVeigh, a gun enthusiast and prime suspect in the bombing, had expressed his extreme dislike for the federal government.

On April 19, 1995, two years to the day after federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound, a truck containing a 4,800-pound home-made bomb exploded in front of the Oklahoma City federal building. The building contained several federal offices, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), an agency that many perceive as a major enemy of the right to bear arms. Ninety minutes after the blast, Timothy McVeigh, a 27-year-old former Army sergeant, was stopped by a state trooper for speeding along Interstate 35. McVeigh's automobile had no license plates, and he was carrying an unregistered 9-mm Glock semiautomatic pistol that was loaded with Black Talon bullets. The trooper arrested McVeigh and transported him to the Perry, Oklahoma, county jail, where he stayed for two days until the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) traced him through his social security number. Using the computer system at the National Crime Information Center, the FBI discovered that their prime suspect was being held in Perry. They contacted the sheriff's office, requesting that McVeigh, who was about an hour away from release, be held for transfer to federal authorities.

In the first days following the bombing, some militia groups claimed that the devastation had been committed by the federal government to lay blame on militia groups, to manipulate Congress into giving law enforcement greater power, and to justify the repression of militia members and gun owners generally. However, the quick arrest of McVeigh and claimed co-conspirator Terry Nichols put to rest, for all but the most extreme militia members, claims of federal government involvement. In August 1995, McVeigh and Nichols were indicted by a federal grand jury.

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