St. Lucie Shooting Center, a nondescript gray warehouse owned by a former New York City police officer, is where Omar Mateen legally purchased his weapons of mass destruction, ending the lives of 49 people in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Mateen — a belligerent, intolerant self-radicalized Islamic terrorist — walked out of the business with a .223 caliber AR-15 rifle the same day he bought it after passing a background check.
He had to wait three days, though, for the 9mm Glock 17 handgun because he did not have a concealed weapons permit.
After at least two shootouts with police, officers shot Mateen dead during a daring rescue in the early morning hours of Sunday.
“We follow the rules; we don’t make the rules,” said the center’s owner Ed Henson, a former police detective.
“An evil person came in here and he legally purchased two firearms from us and if he hadn’t purchased them from us, I’m sure he would have gotten them from another local gun store in the area.”
The killer — who vowed allegiance in a 911 call to the terrorist group ISIS before the rampage — also tried to purchase Level III military-grade body armor at another firearms store, according to a story broken by CNN. Body armor requires no license or background check, but something stopped a gun shop from selling Mateen the armor that could have prolonged the massacre at the dance club Pulse.
“On behalf of my business associates and myself, I would just like to express that were truly truly saddened and shocked by this horrific terrorist act,” Henson said. “He’s familiar to me vaguely. I don’t know him personally. He’s been here obviously.”
The killer had been investigated twice by the FBI for possible ties to terrorist organizations in 2013 and 2014 and was placed temporarily on the terrorist watch list. Still, he passed a background check to purchase firearms.
Henson noted Mateen was a security guard who held two security licenses. He purchased the guns about a week apart. The long gun was semi-automatic but Mateen had to wait the mandatory three days before receiving the Glock because he did not have a concealed weapons permit.
“It’s horrible. I’m just sorry he picked my place,” he said. “Unfortunately, we happened to be the gun store he picked.”
He closed the business on Monday so ATF agents could investigate without distraction.
The AR-15 purchased by Mateen is a weapon that the NRA calls America’s most popular rifle. It certainly is the weapon of choice for mass shootings, used to kill schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary, moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and office workers in San Bernardino, Calif.
The shooting again is sure to spark debate about gun control and the AR-15. A bill that would have prohibited suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons died in Congress in December.
The St. Lucie Shooting Center is a vast operation that offers security training, gun safes and a shooting range. The Google reviews on the shop heralded the instructors and friendly atmosphere.
Mateen was born in New York to parents who immigrated from Afghanistan. A former co-worker at G4S security company where Mateen was employed has said Mateen spoke of killing people all the time.
At Gunfire Arms and Ammunition in Port St. Lucie, Jack Little said people who have been looked at by the FBI for radicalism should not be able to buy guns legally. The failure in the system is there’s “no database or interchange between the background check organization and the people who do investigating,” he said.
Still, he was disappointed in President Barack Obama’s calling for gun control again in wake of another mass shooting.
“These terrorists are going to get the job done no matter what,” he said. “Those are people whose rights should be infringed on, not the people who have done nothing wrong.”
Questions remained about Mateen’s effort to purchase body armor. CNN reported Lotus Guns Works in Jensen Beach was where Mateen tried to buy body armor but workers there refused comment.
Port St. Lucie area gun shops said it was a mystery why a dealer would refused to sell Mateen the body armor. A man who would only identify himself as Frank at J&F Firearms in Port St. Lucie said Mateen may have struck a sales person as dangerous.
“Everybody is different with what they do and how they perceive things,” he said. “Some people, they just go off of instinct about the individual.”