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Investigators: Marksmanship remarkable in theater shooting

Law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation say the gunman in a massacre on Friday in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater must have had a substantial amount of target practice before the shootings.

They based their assessment on what they call the gunman’s “unusually high” hit rate during the attack in the theater. Twelve people were killed, and 58 were injured.

Among other things, the law enforcement officials said, authorities are searching the suspect’s apartment for evidence of a gun range receipt, a brochure, related information he accessed on his computer or phone calls he may have placed to a range.

The officials are being briefed on the local investigation, but did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the developing case.

Such evidence would go to the gunman’s state of mind, the officials said, and provide more evidence of premeditation and that he deliberately planned the attack. For the government, investigators said, such evidence would tend to knock down any defense strategy that the suspect is insane.

One local shooting range owner said the suspect in the Aurora case, James E. Holmes, applied for membership at his club in June.

Officials monitoring the local investigation in Colorado said the gunman displayed a high degree of marksmanship for an amateur.

The gunman was shooting in a dark theater after midnight and aiming at moving targets, all amid a canopy of thick gas from canisters he’d set off. That environment, when combined with the kick from the shotgun and the Glock, would make firing with much precision all the harder.

To kill 12 people and wound 58 in that kind of chaos would be “unusually high for someone new to this,” one official said.

Meanwhile, state data show background checks for gun purchases spiked 41 percent in Colorado after 12 people were killed inside a suburban Denver movie theater.

In the four days after the July 20 shooting, dealers submitted 3,647 requests for state background checks required to buy a firearm, said Susan Medina, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. That’s 41 percent more than the 2,583 requests during the same four days the prior week and a 38 percent increase over the 2,636 checks during the first Friday to Monday in July.

Debate over gun laws after high-profile shootings can prompt gun sales. Last year, one-day sales in Arizona jumped 60 percent after a gunman killed six people in a Tuscon parking lot.


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