Larry King: ‘Unfair’ Treatment of Owner of Gun Store That Sold to Virginia Tech Killer

April 19th, 2007 6:22 PM

John Markell, the owner of the gun shop that sold one of the guns that was used in the Virginia Tech massacre, appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday evening, not only to recount the situation behind the sale, but also told host Larry King that he was receiving threatening messages through his business's website. In response, King first said, "That's kind of ironic that people opposed to guns are threatening you with bodily harm." When Markell said he had been called a murderer as well, King replied, "Now, that's totally unfair, John. We're with you, and I thank you for sharing these moments with us."

On March 13, just over a month before his shooting rampage, killer Cho Seung Hui bought a .9 millimeter Glock handgun, and a box of 50 bullets at Roanoke Firearms, the gun shop Markell owns. In an ABC News report on April 17, Markell described Cho as a "clean-cut college kid," but wasn't actually present during the purchase. During his interview with King, Markell repeated his description of Cho as a "clean-cut college kid," and stated that the clerk who sold Cho the Glock handgun "barely remembered him because the sale went so smoothly." He also stated that Cho had lied one on the required forms for the purchase, which asked whether he had been "adjucated mentally defective" (a General District Court in Virginia found that Cho was "mentally ill and presents an imminent danger to self or others" in December 2005).

Markell and his gun shop's connection to the Virginia Tech shootings has received a significant amount of press coverage over the past days.

A transcript of Markell's interview on Wednesday's "Larry King Live:"

LARRY KING: Joining us in Roanoke, Virginia, is John Markell, the owner of Roanoke Firearms, where Cho Seung-Hui bought the guns that were apparently used in the shootings.

John, do you remember anything about that sale?

JOHN MARKELL, OWNER, ROANOKE FIREARMS: No, Larry, I wasn't even in the shop that day. I talked to the clerk who was there. It was such an uneventful sale, and it was five weeks ago. The ATF had to show us a picture so we actually knew who it was. I did not recognize him. I don't believe he's been in the shop before. The clerk barely remembered him because the sale went so smoothly.

KING: Any indication that he had ever had a problem with instability?

MARKELL: Oh, none at all. I mean we did the normal background check. We sent the paper work to the state police. They checked it out with the FBI and told us to approve the sale. And as far as his demeanor, he was just calm, collected, just a clean-cut college kid.

KING: Now, had you known he was described previously as mentally ill, is that a reason not to sell firearms?

MARKELL: Absolutely. There's a question on the form that asks that very question, so he lied and put no.

KING: And of course, when someone lies, what can you do about it?

MARKELL: Well, in this case, the FBI should have determined that it was a lie but they didn't. There was really no way for me to get that information. Medical information is private and is not available to people like me.

KING: How long is the waiting period before you can pick up a gun?

MARKELL: There is no waiting period. We have to look at a lot of identification with a foreign national. So, after I looked at all of that, because - that's a Virginia driver's license, a checkbook, an INS card, and then we sent off the information to the state police. Normally, there's going to be a delay for someone who is not a citizen, so he probably walked out with the gun somewhere between half hour and an hour.

KING: Would you change any of the gun laws?

MARKELL: I think somebody dropped the ball on his mental condition. As I understand it that is the only thing in his past that would have prevented him from buying a gun. If we have 20,000 gun laws, I don't think one more is going to make a difference. It wouldn't have stopped him. How many laws did he break when he killed all of those people?

KING: You told me today, we spoke a little earlier, that you're getting threatening mail?

MARKELL: We finally had to shut our website down after the 200th -- well, they weren't all death threats but most were, most threats -- many threatening bodily harm.

KING: That's kind of ironic people opposed to guns are threatening you with bodily harm.

MARKELL: I have had two phone calls today calling me a murderer.

KING: Now, that's totally unfair, John. We're with you, and I thank you for sharing these moments with us.

MARKELL: Sure. My daughter went to Virginia Tech.

KING: Oh really?

MARKELL: She graduated in 1997.

KING: John Markell, the owner of Roanoke Firearms.