Thursday, May 10, 2018

VA: College Student Harrassed for Acquiring, Shooting, Rifle at Range



19-year-old student, Yonsong Zhao, came to the United States from China on a student visa.  As of January, 2018, he had been in the country for seven months.

As with many people, especially young men, he likes guns. In China, it is nearly impossible to access legal guns. Zhao set about learning what was necessary for him to acquire and legally fire guns in the United States. 

Given the complexity involved, I am amazed that Zhao appears to have found the various rules, and followed them rigorously.  It is well that he did. The authorities were watching him very closely.  They may have done so because of the notorious mass murder at Virginia Tech in 2007.

The warrant claims that on January 22, Zhao purchased a 30 rd magazine. It was legal for him to purchase the magazine.  At the time, he did not own a rifle. Much of the media case against Zhao seem to come from Internet searches he made. He looked up how much 5,000 rounds of ammo would cost. He looked up the availability of body armor. He looked up how much modifications to the bumpers of his car would cost.

He legally purchased a rifle on January 25. He says it came with 30 round magazines. He says he traded the 30 round magazines for a sling, because he knew that he could not use 30 round magazines in the rifle because of a weird quirk in Virgina law. The man who processed the sale backs up Zhao's account. From roanoke.com:
An investigator could look into Zhao’s purchase of the AR-15 on Jan. 25 at Pawn Plus in Christiansburg, Wolfrey wrote. The man who processed the sale has told police that the gun came with two 30-round magazines — but that Zhao did not take them, instead trading the magazines for a sling for the rifle, Wolfrey wrote.
It is perfectly legal for Zhao to own 30 round magazines, and perfectly legal for him to own an AR15 type rifle. It is not legal for him to use the 30 round magazines in the AR15 type rifle. What a process trap for an uniformed student!  From virginia.gov:
§ 18.2-308.2:01. Possession or transportation of certain firearms by certain persons.

A. It shall be unlawful for any person who is not a citizen of the United States or who is not a person lawfully admitted for permanent residence to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport any assault firearm or to knowingly and intentionally carry about his person, hidden from common observation, an assault firearm.

B. It shall be unlawful for any person who is not a citizen of the United States and who is not lawfully present in the United States to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport any firearm or to knowingly and intentionally carry about his person, hidden from common observation, any firearm. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 6 felony.

C. For purposes of this section, "assault firearm" means any semi-automatic center-fire rifle or pistol that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material and is equipped at the time of the offense with a magazine which will hold more than 20 rounds of ammunition or designed by the manufacturer to accommodate a silencer or equipped with a folding stock.

On January 25, Zhao checked his rifle into the student gun locker at the police station. This is the same day that he purchased the rifle. Prosecutors have asked the judge to block Zhao's lawyer's access to the gunlocker's logs.

On January 26, Zhao checks the rifle out and goes to a local range. University police ask Blacksburg Police Department detectives to follow Zhao there.

One Blacksburg Police officer, Brian Wilson, claimed he saw Zhao with a 30 round magazine in the rifle. Wilson has no video or pictures of the magazine to back up his claim.

On January 29 Zhao is arrested.  The Virginia Tech police admit they had been investigating Zhao for six months prior to his arrest. That would be almost from his time of arrival.  From vt.edu: from 30 January
The arrest followed an investigation that spanned several weeks, and the suspect is now in custody.

At no time during this investigation did police believe there was any threat to our community, nor is there one now.
The Police had a warrant to search, but they found no 30 round magazine.

At the bond hearing, Zhoa's attorney shows video of Zhoa at the range, firing with 20 round magazines. From collegiatetimes.com:
Investigators have not been able to find a 30-round magazine, and Zhao has previously said on the witness stand that he knew he was not allowed to have a 30-round magazine and therefore felt the safest option was not to own one. According to Zhao, after buying the rifle from an out-of-state seller, he traded the two 30-round magazines that came with the gun at the Pawn Plus in Christiansburg for a sling, and he only owned three 20-round magazines he had purchased from local gun stores.

From collegiatetimes.com:March 5
Zhao was arrested in January and is charged with possession of an AR-15 rifle with a magazine over 20 rounds, which is not permitted for noncitizens. A police officer, who traveled to the firing range at the request of the Virginia Tech Police Department, said he saw Zhao with a AR-15 rifle and a 30-round magazine. The combination of a magazine with more than 20 rounds and an AR-15 rifle is not permitted for noncitizens, and is a felony charge that could lead to up to five years in prison.

In a preliminary hearing last week, a video of Zhao shooting a legal 20-round magazine at a firing range and wearing the same clothes as the day he had been arrested was shown. After presentation of this, Williams said the case would move to a grand jury due to the police officer’s word. However, he also stated that prosecutors would have a hard time winning the case and that Zhao would be let out on bond.
Zhao was expelled from Virginia Tech immediately upon being arrested. I am surprised at the speed of his expulsion. Such proceedings usually take months, with appeals and due process.

Zhao has access to assets. He is here from China. He is not impoverished. He purchased a car and a rifle. Zhao is fighting back against the accusations.

On 26 April he filed a complaint against the police and Virginia Tech.  From wtop.com
Yunsong Zhao filed a complaint Thursday saying police violated his rights in falsely arresting him, and school officials violated his due process rights in dismissing him.

Police claim they saw Zhao at a local range shooting a semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine. Virginia prohibits non-citizens from having guns with magazines holding more than 20 rounds.

But police never found a 30-round magazine in searching Zhao’s room and vehicles. A judge has expressed doubt about a conviction.
Zhao's attorney has alleged that police interrogated him without counsel, while he was in custody. 

 From nydailynews.com:
“This case is about over-eager police trampling over a foreign student’s rights because he resembles a student who committed a mass shooting Virginia Tech’s campus in 2007,” Zhao’s lawyer wrote in the complaint filed Thursday.

Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korea native, killed 32 people on campus before fatally shooting himself in the head on April 16, 2007.

The suit names Blacksburg Police Officer Brian Wilson, who was asked by the school to follow Zhao at a shooting range where he fired an AR-15 rifle.

“He (Wilson) has no evidence, neither photos nor videos, to corroborate his account,” the suit says. 
Zhao was finally granted bond on the 26th of February. He had been in custody almost a month.

The case against Zhao looks weak. His assertions of inappropriate behavior on the part of school officials, the police, and federal immigration officials all  fit the evidence very well. The only assertion against him, that he inserted a legally owned 30 round magazine into his legally owned rifle, has no physical evidence to back it up. Video evidence, eye witness accounts, and search warrant results all support his version of events.

People may not like the idea that foreign students can legally acquire guns in Virgina.  If a student follows the rules, he should not be abused by the system.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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4 comments:

Cory C said...

This is a damned good article. Folks, this is why we have to be cautious about “reasonable gun control measures.” It’s an invitation for abuse.

Paul Weber said...

Assuming everything in the article is true, the authorities are going to offer him a plea deal to a much lesser crime. It's the only way they can save face at this point.

ExpatNJ said...

"Prosecutors asked judge to block Zhao's lawyer's access to gun locker's logs."

That's grounds for summary case dismissal WITH PREJUDICE, right there. (But we don't follow the Constitution and Bill of Rights anymore.) Unfortunately, it Zhao will probably have to go to the Appellate court or VA Supreme Court so get final justice.

The State doesn't want gun owners - Northern states like Virginia, especially so (and, this is taking place in a so-called pro-gun 'rural' area). Zhao's case is harassment, embarrassment, and shaming of gun owners, plain and simple.

VA Department of Tourism used to have a slogan: "Virginia is for lovers". It still is. But, now, it's, "Virginia is for lovers of Gun Control".

Anonymous said...

Point in fact of law. He was here legally. a registered student on legal student visa. they don't have a case. Some one tell me the difference between a 30 round magazine and 10 ten round magazines. 70 rounds he was not carrying. a self defense weapon is only an assault weapon when you need to stop an assault. in fact it is an anti assault weapon.