DANIEL VAUGHAN: UNC Shooting Raises More Questions Than Answers

August 30, 2023

The tragic shooting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has far more questions than answers. It's not a run-of-the-mill news story involving a mass shooting, or anything similar. This case involves a Chinese national attending U.N.C. as a graduate student, somehow getting a firearm, and murdering his professor, with no motive revealed.

For many reasons, there's a reason this story hasn't jumped into the gun-control news cycle. Maybe they'll jump on it later. But for now, some serious questions don't address the facts we do have. And the evidence we do have suggests multiple layers of issues with this story that need to be addressed.

Tailei Qi: Chinese National.

The arrested shooter is Tailei Qi, a graduate student at U.N.C., a student in applied physical sciences. Qi is a Chinese national studying in the United States. According to N.B.C. News, "[Qi] previously studied at Louisiana State University and schools in China, including Wuhan University, before he came to North Carolina." Even if pure coincidence, the appearance of Wuhan University would merit an eye raise to most Americans.

N.B.C. News added that Qi was "enrolled at U.N.C.'s flagship campus in January 2022 as a graduate student and research assistant, and he shares links to papers about his research in metal nanoparticles. A paper published last month in the journal Advanced Optical Materials was co-written with [the victim]."

Law Prohibits Noncitizen Immigrants from Owning Firearms.

CrimeResearch.org pointed out that given Qi's status as an international student, he'd fit the description of a nonimmigrant alien in the United States. CrimeResearch pointed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms website, which cites the U.S. Code defining a nonimmigrant alien: "Generally, 'nonimmigrant aliens' are tourists, students, business travelers and temporary workers who enter the U.S. for fixed periods of time; they are lawfully admitted aliens who are not lawful permanent residents."

Additionally, the law states: "An alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa is prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing a firearm or ammunition unless the alien falls within one of the exceptions provided in 18 U.S.C. 922(y)(2)..."

The exceptions are for things like hunting licenses or exceptions provided by the government. Additionally, "certain official representatives of a foreign government, or a foreign law enforcement officer of a friendly foreign government entering the United States on official law enforcement business" can have firearms under U.S. law.

How did he get a firearm?

It seems unlikely Qi would fall under the foreign official exception. But given his status as a Chinese national, he'd otherwise be barred from purchasing a gun anywhere in the United States. It's also definitely possible he stole the firearm in question. If he didn't steal it, then the federal government and North Carolina officials have a more significant problem of a firearm seller being willing to sell to non-citizens.

It's hard to say at this stage. "The firearm used in the shooting, described as a 9mm handgun, was not immediately recovered in Monday's shooting. Authorities said they would be interviewing the suspect for a motive."

From a gun control standpoint, exactly what law would have changed this? Qi likely either stole or bought the weapon from a seller flouting federal law. U.N.C. is a gun-free campus. If the gun wasn't obtained illegally, we have even larger questions about why a Chinese national in a graduate student role has a firearm under one of the listed exceptions.

This story is occurring against a background of larger legislative pushes. The Reload notes that Tennessee's legislature shot down several proposals to introduce so-called "red flag" laws. And federal courts are refusing to enforce Colorado's ban on guns sold to those 21 or younger, failing to convince a panel that the law was constitutional. 

No impact on the gun control debate right now.

It's hard to see this story impacting the broader gun control debate. Gun control proponents tend to move on from a story whenever the facts become inconvenient to their narrative. Questionable things are happening here, but we need a broader investigation, especially into how Qi got control of a firearm. This story crosses policy lines into both gun control and immigration, topics that are hot by themselves but likely nuclear when combined. 

We also need to investigate any connection with the Chinese government. It's impossible to escape that point. We've had reports going back several years now about how U.S. universities are soft targets of Chinese spies. They use American Universities to steal information, technology, and more.

The U.N.C. shooting is troubling for more reasons than just the typical gun control news cycle. How did he get a gun? Is there a nefarious seller we need to take down? Is China involved in a way that's more than just the nationalities of the people involved? 

I hope the police leave no leaf unturned.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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