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Rockefeller still hanging on to AR-15 assault rifle

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate, few members of Congress have more political firepower than West Virginia's Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

But Rockefeller, a Democrat, might have his opposition outgunned in other ways, too.

Sometime in the 1970s, one of the senator's cousins gave him a Colt AR-15 assault rifle.

As the Daily Mail reported in August 1994, Rockefeller kept the shooting iron at his Pocahontas County estate for several years, along with other guns.

The senator told Daily Mail Washington correspondent Jack Deutsch he no longer used the gun but called it a "terrific weapon."

Rockefeller removed his guns from the Pocahontas County home around 1990 because his farm's caretaker had children. He didn't want to store his AR-15 at his Washington home, either, because his son Justin was so young.

The city's gun ban also made it illegal for Rockefeller to keep the gun in his D.C. mansion.

To avoid violating the ban, Rockefeller gave his AR-15 to one of his security guards, a retired Washington police officer, for safekeeping in the man's northern Virginia home.

The rifle moved back to West Virginia at some point in the last 19 years. Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner said it is back at the Pocahontas County farm, locked in storage. He said he did not know when Rockefeller fired it last, nor did he have any more information about the gun.

Back in 1994, Rockefeller said he was "a pretty good shot," but declined to say how he came by his marksmanship skills.

"No lives were lost," Rockefeller said at the time.

Those familiar with the history of gun laws will remember 1994 also was the year Congress passed a decade-long assault weapons ban.

The legislation banned companies from manufacturing 18 types of assault weapons for private use, and limited ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.

The law did not require gun owners like Rockefeller to give up their guns or high-capacity magazines, however. It also allowed guns and magazines manufactured before the ban to be re-sold after it was enacted. That left 1.5 million assault weapons and 24 million high-capacity magazines in circulation, according to the Washington Post.

Congress allowed the ban to expire in 2004.

President Obama is now pursuing a reinstatement of that assault weapon ban, along with a ban on high-capacity magazines and certain kinds of ammunition. He also recommended closing loopholes in the background check system, providing money to help schools hire armed guards and improving the nation's mental health services.

Obama's proposed gun ban also would not require gun owners to turn over their weapons.

Rockefeller indicated last week he would support the president's proposals, saying Congress could protect West Virginia's traditions of hunting and gun ownership while still looking for ways to prevent violence.

"I support steps that build on these ideas, while making sure our hunters' and sportsmen's rights are protected," he said in the statement.

He was the only member of West Virginia's congressional delegation to express outright support for the president's agenda.

Obama's suggested gun ban was inspired in part by mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. and a movie theater in Aurora, Col. The killings, which were both carried out by lone gunmen armed with AR-15s, left a combined 42 people dead.

"Senator Rockefeller respects West Virginia's proud hunting tradition and the Second Amendment. He believes we can protect those rights while looking at ways to reduce gun violence - and prevent horrific, senseless acts like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School - including closing loopholes in background checks, improving mental health services and exploring the effect violent media has on our youth," Beckner said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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