Just days after the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a 23-year old college student in Connecticut was a victim of another gun-related tragedy.
No guns were fired, no one was physically injured, but even so, a life was ruined. William Dong was licensed in Connecticut to carry a concealed handgun. He worked for an armored car company and, along with being a good student, and hard worker, he was a budding firearm enthusiast.
Like all of us, Dong was deeply disturbed by the atrocity in Newtown and the subsequent media hype surrounding that tragic event. And like many people, especially those near the event, he developed a fear of something like that happening again and being helpless to do anything about it. He was reassured by his own ability to carry and effectively use a handgun, but also wanted to have a good personal-defense carbine. That’s where William Dong made his first mistake; on a trip to Pennsylvania he purchased an AR-style rifle from a private seller.
It’s not illegal to purchase a long gun in another state in a face-to-face transaction, but out-of-state purchases should be made through a licensed dealer.Since the rifle he purchased had a collapsible stock and other “military” features, it was subsequently banned in Connecticut, compounding Dong’s mistake.
Out of concern that a Virginia Tech-style attack could occur at his school, Dong discreetly carried his licensed handgun while attending classes. This was his second mistake. Though Connecticut law does not ban firearms on college campuses, the owner or manager of any property can forbid guns and, unlike most states, where violation of such a prohibition is misdemeanor trespassing, in Connecticut it’s a serious felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison. UNH includes a firearm prohibition in their student code of conduct.
Dong’s third mistake was deciding he was going to take a trip to the range after class one day and putting his rifle and extra ammo in his car in preparation for that range session. He parked the car off campus, and made a point of placing the rifle out of view behind the driver’s seat before walking to class.
A homeless woman saw Dong transferring the rifle to the back seat, and with visions of Sandy Hook dancing in her head, she called the police to report a man with a gun headed toward the campus of UNH. Police and SWAT teams mobilized as Dong hurried to biology class. He was in the middle of a test when the school went into lockdown, and he was peacefully taken into custody a few minutes later.
Dong eventually pled guilty to one count of illegal sale and transfer of an “assault weapon” and two counts of illegal possession of a pistol. He was sentenced to eight years, with supervised release after two if he behaves in prison. Now a felon, he loses his right to firearms for life. He still faces prosecution on federal charges for the way he acquired the rifle.