One of many things that separates the United States from other countries is the right to keep and bear arms. For foreigners who reside here, it’s an opportunity to check out things like guns for the first time. After all, they actually can.
In Virginia, a Chinese student attending class at Virginia Tech was one of those. He began looking into what was required for him to own a gun in the United States.
Unfortunately, authorities there in Virginia weren’t impressed. This past February, the student was arrested.
A former Virginia Tech student charged with possessing an assault weapon may have been improperly questioned in jail, his attorney said in a court filing this week.
Yunsong Zhao, a 19-year-old from China who was a freshman at Virginia Tech until his arrest last month, has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday in Montgomery County General District Court on a charge of being a foreign national illegally in possession of an assault weapon. The class 6 felony carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Zhao was the focus of a wave of media reports and online commentary after his Jan. 29 arrest, with reports that he’d tried to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition and online warnings that Tech students should stay away from large lecture halls.
But university officials issued statements saying the case was about a weapons violation and that Tech did not see Zhao as a threat to anyone. Still, the university expelled him after his arrest.
A search warrant filed in the case explained that the assault weapon Zhao is accused of possessing was an AR-15 rifle that he was allowed to own and to fire — but not if the gun was equipped with a 30-round magazine.
Over at Ammoland, they have a very long and detailed story of the case, including how investigators began following Zhao pretty much from the moment he got off the plane. They allegedly followed him when he checked his lawfully owned rifle out of the student gun locker–that’s apparently a thing at Virginia Tech–and took it shooting.
There, they allege he placed a 30 round magazine in it.
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.
They found no magazine, there’s no evidence of Zhao using a 30-round magazine, and only a single officer said he saw a 30 round magazine.
Also, the store who sold him the rifle also notes that Zhao traded the 30-round magazine that came with the gun for a sling, which means he understood the law.
Zhao has been expelled from Virginia Tech on this flimsy evidence. He also apparently remained in jail for a month before finally being granted bond.
However, it’s also a good glimpse at what our system is really like when it comes to guns. Arbitrary rules that make no sense are in effect that can turn someone into a felon in no time flat, rules like using a 30-round magazine instead of a 20-round mag are just one of a myriad of rules like that. Then, even if you do it right, some of these rules are so easy to break that all it really takes to get you locked up is someone saying they saw you with the wrong magazine.
And there are people who want to make even more rules. The end result will be more people like Zhao being locked up when there’s little evidence they did anything wrong.
That wouldn’t be an accident either. I believe it’s the goal of such rules.
(An earlier version of this story stated Zhao remained in jail. He was granted bond on Feb. 26th, however. The story has been updated to address this mistake.)