James Holmes built up Aurora arsenal of bullets, ballistic gear through unregulated online market

Crime scene tape surrounds the Century 16 movie theater where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage July 23, 2012, in Aurora, Colo. Getty Images

(CBS/AP) DENVER - In a world where Amazon can track your next book purchase and you must show ID to buy some allergy medicine, James Holmes spent months stockpiling thousands of bullets and head-to-toe ballistic gear without raising any red flags with authorities.

The suspect in the mass theater shooting availed himself of an unregulated online marketplace that allows consumers to acquire some of the tools of modern warfare as if they were pieces of a new wardrobe. The Internet is awash in sites ranging from BulkAmmo.com, which this weekend listed a sale on a thousand rifle rounds for $335, to eBay, where bidding on one armored special forces helmet has risen to $799.

A federal law enforcement source told CBS News that Holmes spent $15,000 fortifying his arsenal online. Authorities found a shipping label from BulkAmmo.com in a dumpster near Holmes' apartment, the source said. EBay was the vendor Holmes used to purchase some body armor, the source said.

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"We're different than other cultures," said Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which advocates for firearms owners' rights. "We do allow Americans to possess the accoutrements that our military generally has."

Gun rights activists like Brown celebrate that freedom, but even some involved in the trade are troubled by how easily Holmes stocked up for his alleged rampage.

Chad Weinman runs TacticalGear.com, which caters to police officers looking to augment their equipment, members of the military who don't want to wait on permission from the bureaucracy for new combat gear, and hobbyists like survivalists and paintballers. The site receives "thousands" of orders daily, sometimes from entire platoons that are about to deploy to war zones.

On July 2, Holmes placed a $306 order with the site for a combat vest, magazine holders and a knife, paying extra for expedited two-day shipping to his Aurora apartment. The order, Weinman said, didn't stand out.

"There's a whole range of consumers who have an appetite for these products, and 99.9 percent of them are law-abiding citizens," Weinman said. But he said that "it makes me sick" that Holmes bought material from him. He added that he doesn't sell guns or ammunition and that he was "shocked" at the amount of bullets that Holmes allegedly bought online.

The federal law enforcement source also told CBS News that authorities obtained a video of Holmes picking up approximately 160 pounds of ammunition from a FedEx store.

Authorities say all of Holmes' purchases were legal — and there is no official system to track whether people are stockpiling vast amounts of firepower.

During a news conference in Philadelphia on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the government has to think about the issues raised by Holmes' alleged arsenal.

"We have tried to come up with a better system with our instant background checks so that we have the ability to make sure that people who have emotional problems, people who have felony records, other people cannot get access to these kinds of weapons," Holder said.

There is no restriction on the sale of bullets in the United States, except for armor-piercing rounds, which can only be bought by law enforcement, said Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Hence the proliferation of websites offering Amazon.com-style wish-lists for hollow-point rifle rounds or tracer bullets.

There is a federal law that bars selling body armor to violent felons — which Holmes was not — but it is rarely used because there are is no requirement to check whether purchasers of the material have criminal records, according to Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reported that the shooter had a hit ratio twice of what a police officer might have engaging with armed assailants in a street setting. That suggests that the suspect -- who is believed to have planned his assault with precision -- must have practiced shooting prior to the attack.

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Over four months, authorities said, Holmes received packages at his Aurora apartment and the University of Colorado medical school, where he was studying neuroscience.

The federal law enforcement source told CBS News that authorities interviewed a UPS driver who said he delivered about 90 packages to Holmes at the school's Anschutz Medical Campus in the last few months.

As the boxes piled up, Holmes began to shop for guns at sporting goods stores — because of the need to pass a background check to buy a firearm, they are still generally bought at brick-and-mortar locations.

The four guns used in the shooting were purchased legally at three Colorado gun stores between May 22 and July 6, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports. Those weapons included a Glock pistol from a Gander Mountain store in Aurora, another Glock and a shotgun from a Bass Pro Shops in Denver and an assault rifle from a Gander Mountain in Thornton, Colo.

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