Posted 10/11/09


New York City sent private eyes to gun shows.  What did they find?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  If you’re New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, what’s not to like?  Although the Big Apple has more than twice L.A.’s population, its homicide rate is thirty-seven percent lower.  That’s not a fluke: nearly ten years ago the difference was forty-one percent.  And five years before that, in crazy, crime-ridden 1995 when 1,177 persons were murdered in NYC and 849 in Los Angeles, New York still had a considerable thirty-four percent advantage.

     Why the difference?  Hizzoner, who happens to co-chair Mayors Against Illegal Guns, would tell you that his streets are safer because they have far fewer handguns.  New York State law (Penal Code secs. 265.01, 265.20, 400 and 400.1) prohibits as much as storing a pistol or revolver at one’s home without a permit.  Licensing is administered by cities and counties, which have broad discretion to decide whether Joe and Jane can have that .44 magnum.  New York City vets applicants through an elaborate process that includes an extensive background check.  Those who want to keep a handgun at a place of business or, God forbid, carry one on the street must also demonstrate a compelling need, in writing.  Few such requests are granted.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Differences in laws among the States foster a black market where guns flow from so-called “weak-law” States like Georgia to “strong-law” States like New York.  In 2007 police seized 10,444 firearms in New York State.  Of those that could be traced (about half), seventy-one percent had been sold at retail outside the State.  For those seized in the NYC metro area the proportion of out-of-State guns was eighty-six percent.  Contrast that with California, where any resident with a clean record can buy a handgun without a permit.  In 2008 ATF traced 30,641 guns recovered in the Golden State.  Of those that could be traced (again, about half) seventy-three percent were originally sold within the State.

     New York City’s guns came from every State of the Union.  Four-hundred twenty originated in New York.  The top six external contributors were Virginia (358), Pennsylvania (305), North Carolina (290), and Alabama and Georgia (tied at 243 each.)  A recent study identified all but Pennsylvania as a top ten national gun source.  Pennsylvania probably didn’t make the list because it’s one of the few States that requires a criminal record check for all buyers at gun shows, even if the seller is a private party.

     Interstate traffickers acquire guns in several ways.  One method is to hire residents of weak-law States to act as straw buyers.  In 2006 Mayor Bloomberg sent private undercover agents to sixty gun stores in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.  Fifteen dealers were caught on camera selling guns to the male member of the pair while the female member, who openly posed as a straw buyer, did the paperwork.  Bloomberg sued.  Several gun stores eventually agreed to monitor purchases with video cameras and train their staff to recognize straw purchase.  (Authorities didn’t take kindly to the gambit.  Virginia, New York City’s biggest out-of-State gun source, actually enacted a law that made stings by non-law enforcement personnel illegal.)

     Bloomberg recently turned his attention to another favored source: gun shows.  Between May and August 2009 he dispatched undercover agents to gun shows in Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee, which don’t require criminal record checks for gun sales by private sellers. What they discovered was no surprise.  Nineteen of thirty private sellers sold guns to undercovers who said they would probably fail a criminal record check.  One seller replied “I don’t care.”  Another, “I wouldn’t pass either, buddy.”

     Actually, many unlicensed sellers seemed to be gun dealers in all but name.  Several carried large inventories, said they frequented shows and bragged about their sales.  Pretending to be hobbyists let them sell guns without running checks, thus making them an attractive source for criminals and gun traffickers.

     Undercover agents also approached licensed dealers to see if they would sell guns to straw buyers.  Sixteen of seventeen did.  An example shown on video depicts a male investigator picking out a gun.  He introduces a female companion as a “friend” there to do the paperwork.  Without batting an eye the salesman has the woman fill out the forms.

     Shady practices were commonplace thirty years ago when your blogger was an ATF agent in Arizona.  On one occasion I traced guns recovered by Phoenix PD to an unlicensed peddler who bought cheap new handguns in quantity at local dealers, then promptly resold them at gun shows, collecting a premium because no paperwork was required.  I arrested the man for unlicensed dealing; he was later tried and convicted.

     Alas, this prosecution was unusual.  ATF has always discouraged gun show investigations, forbidding agents from as much as entering a show except to work a specific, pre-identified target.  Bloomberg, who would do away with such restrictions, wants ATF to greatly ramp up its enforcement efforts at gun shows.  But that’s unrealistic.  Shows are a locus for so much illicit activity that policing them with any vigor would quickly bring the Government into conflict with the gun lobby, whose interests are best served by denying that a problem exists.  Given the political realities it’s a lot safer to look the other way.

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     Bloomberg also recommends that criminal records be checked of all buyers at gun shows, not just those who purchase guns from a licensed dealer.  As was mentioned, that’s the practice in Pennsylvania.  It’s also the law in California, where all private party sales, whether in a gun show or elsewhere, must go through a licensed dealer.  Expanding the rule nationwide would make it far more cumbersome for traffickers to acquire firearms in quantity.  Still, regulating guns is such a hot-button topic that licensed dealers have kept mum about plugging the private party loophole even as unlicensed peddlers drain away their business.

     From his base in Gotham, Mayor Bloomberg’s taken on one of the core cultural artifacts of the far right.  What happens next will be interesting to see.

UPDATES (scroll)

7/3/21  Gun control activists are pressing President Biden to act against unlicensed persons who make unregulated gun sales online and at gun shows, without complying with any laws or requiring background checks. In 2018 Thomas Caldwell, an unlicensed Wisconsin man who had been repeatedly warned by ATF about selling guns over Armslist, was sentenced to prison after a felon used one of his guns, a Glock 9mm. pistol, to kill Chicago police commander Paul Bauer.

10/25/19  Undercover California state agents regularly watch California residents acquire California-illegal assault rifles at gun shows in Arizona and Nevada. Buyers are tailed when they return to California, where they are stopped and the loot is seized. “The...problem is that California has a 608-mile border with Nevada...and Nevada’s gun regulations are less stringent,” a prosecutor said.

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Good Law / Bad Law     By Hook or by Crook (Part II)     By Hook or By Crook     Letting Guns Walk

Where Do They Come From?     Long Live Gun Control


Crime Gun Sources in Los Angeles     Gun Control: Facts and Myths     Insta-Check and Waiting Periods

Posted 5/31/09


States that encourage citizens to use lethal force
shouldn’t be surprised when they stretch the limits

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  There’s no disputing these facts.  On May 19 three robbers pulled up to an Oklahoma City drug store.  As the driver waited in the car the others donned masks and stormed inside.  One waived a gun.  Three employees were present.  Two fled out the back while the third, pharmacist Jerome Ersland, 57, took cover.  He pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired, striking the unarmed robber, Antwun Parker, 16, in the head.  Parker’s companion fled.  Ersland gave chase but soon gave up and returned to the store.  Retrieving another gun from a drawer, he walked to where the wounded youth lay and shot him five times point-blank in the stomach.

     It was these rounds that proved the druggist’s undoing.  “Here’s the ironic part,” said D.A. David Prater, explaining why he charged Ersland with first-degree murder.  “If the first shot had been fatal, we wouldn’t be here.”

     Concerns about violent crime and NRA-fed outrage about citizens who have been sued and prosecuted for shooting criminals have led dozens of States to enact so-called “Castle” and “stand your ground” laws.  They usually include three key provisions:

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

  • Citizens may use deadly force to repel a forcible entry or to prevent an assault or other personal crime against themselves or another person (this is the “castle” component)
  • Retreat is not required even if possible (this is the “stand your ground” component)
  • Rules apply to any place of residence or business (some extend to vehicles and the outdoors)

     The newest castle law, in Montana, was signed by Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) earlier this month.  In addition to the usual provisions there are special goodies for the “pry it from my cold dead fingers” crowd.  Anyone who can lawfully possess guns may carry them openly.  The more bashful are guaranteed CCW permits.  What’s more, a companion measure declares that all guns and gun accessories, including silencers, that are made in Montana and stay in Montana are exempt from Federal regulation.  Take that, ATF!

     Back to the “OK” State.  Its long-standing castle law now applies everywhere, including the great outdoors.  Even better, should a law-abiding person happen to be in a structure, tent or a vehicle when accosted, responding with lethal force is presumed reasonable unless there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt to the contrary.

     If the D.A. really intends to prosecute the pharmacist he faces a considerable challenge.  Jurors will have to stand in the defendant’s shoes, absorb all that took place, then find unanimously and to a near-certainty that what he did was beyond the pale.  Now, anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with policing knows that trained and experienced officers often misperceive threats when under stress, occasionally with tragic consequences.  If that’s so, what can one realistically expect of an ordinary citizen?

     That’s exactly what Ersland and his lawyer (and yes, maybe the prosecutor) are counting on.  An older man who’s hobbling around after surgery gets robbed at gunpoint -- and fights back!  If the pharmacist sticks to the story that the youth was trying to get up it may be impossible to get unanimous agreement that what he did amounts to murder.

     On November 14, 2007, Texas retiree Joe Horn, 61, noticed two men break into a neighbor’s  home.  He dialed 911 and was told that officers were on the way.  Instead of remaining in his home, as the dispatcher instructed, Horn got his shotgun and confronted the suspects as they left.  When they failed to heed his command to stop he shot them dead.  After a great deal of controversy a grand jury declined to indict.  To his credit, Horn expressed remorse.  “I would never advocate anyone doing what I did,” he said.  “We are not geared for that.”

     No, we’re not.  And it’s impossible to recall a bullet.

     As for Oklahoma, the story is turning curioser and curioser.  Not only did the D.A. agree to the druggist’s release on bail, an unusual privilege for someone charged with first-degree murder, but he vigorously contested the judge’s order barring the defendant’s access to firearms.  Whatever may have happened in the pharmacy, the prosecutor argued, Ersland is legally entitled to have a gun to defend himself and others.  Why, he wouldn’t even be in court had the robbery not occurred!

     “Then why did you charge him, Mr. Prater?” the exasperated judge asked.

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      Technically, the prosecutor may be right.  Oklahoma’s gun laws, which score two points out of 100 in the Brady Campaign’s gun-control scale, are extremely permissive (Montana earns a whopping eight points; Texas, nine.)  When States nostalgically revert to the hang-’em high rules of the wild West, letting citizens carry guns at will and leaving it to them to figure out when to squeeze the trigger, it’s no surprise that occasionally something will happen that looks like an execution.  And if the dead person is demonstrably a bad guy, where’s the harm?  After all, there’s always enough slack in the system (wink, wink) to assure that the consequences to the good guy, if any, are minor.

     You think you’re confused?

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Walking While Black     Walking While Black     Shoot First...Then Reload!     Hillary: I Shot a Duck!

Posted 4/26/09, modified 6/19/14


Enforcing the weak-kneed laws that exist is hardly a solution

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Concerns that Mexico is losing its war with the cartels have focused attention on the flow of guns south.  In May 2008 ATF agents scored a significant victory when they dismantled a trafficking ring that supplied nearly seven hundred guns to Sinaloan gangsters.  Among these were the AK-47 rifles used to murder eight Culiacan police officers and an engraved super .38 pistol that drug kingpin Alfredo Leyva was caught carrying in his waistband.

     Investigation revealed that two smugglers, brothers Hugo and Cesar Gamez got seven local residents to buy the guns at X-Caliber, a Phoenix gun store.  Its owner, George Iknadosian, 47, was supposedly in on the scheme.  In an unusual move, ATF chose to proceed under State law because Federal prosecutors were reportedly “bogged down with immigration cases.”  Everything seemed to be going well until March 18 when Maricopa County (Ariz.) Superior Court judge Robert Gottsfield ruled that Iknadosian, the only one of the bunch who hadn’t pled guilty, was in fact innocent.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     What was the hang-up?  Charges against the dealer were predicated on his alleged possession of a “false instrument”, meaning the Federal gun sales form, ATF Form 4473.  Question 11(a) on the form must be answered “yes” or “no”:

    Are you the actual buyer/transferee of the firearm(s) listed on this form?  Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearms(s) on behalf of another person.  If you are not the actual buyer the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you. [Emphasis present.]

Iknadosian supposedly counseled the purported buyers to check “yes,” a lie, as they were only acting as agents for the brothers.  (An exception on the form allows buying guns as gifts.  Go figure.)  But Judge Gottsfield concluded that under the circumstances that falsehood didn’t amount to a crime.  Here’s an extract from his order exonerating Iknadosian:

    The state’s case is based upon testimony of individuals who falsified question 11a on ATF Form 4473, i.e. that they were the actual purchaser of the firearms when they were not.  The court agrees with the defense that for such falsity to amount to a fraudulent scheme or artifice...the falsification has to be a material misrepresentation. In order to be material, the falsification has to have resulted in an unlawful or prohibited person obtaining the weapons.

     ATF Form 4473 is a Federal form, so the judge turned to Federal law to find out what it takes to falsify it.  Title 18, United States Code, § 922 (a)(6) forbids gun buyers from making “any false or fictitious oral or written statement...likely to deceive [a dealer] with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of [a] firearm or ammunition under the provisions of this chapter [emphasis added] .”  Among other things, dealers can’t deliver guns to felons, illegal aliens, juveniles, the adjudicated mentally ill and nonresidents (to keep local laws from being circumvented, persons are forbidden from buying guns outside their State of residence.)  However, the law is silent about “straw purchase,” the practice of buying guns for others.  There’s nothing in “the provisions of this Chapter” that forbids a dealer from selling guns to someone who intends to turn them over to a legally qualified possessor.

     There’s no question but that straw purchases took place.  But since the Gamez brothers and the pretend buyers were Arizona adults with clean records, and no evidence was introduced that a prohibited person wound up with a gun, the “yes” answers, while false, weren’t materially so.  That view has been endorsed by appeals courts.  In U.S. v. Polk, the only known case directly on point [that’s changed - see note below], the Fifth Circuit held that “if the true purchaser can lawfully purchase a firearm directly, § 922(a)(6) liability under a ‘straw purchase’ theory does not attach.”  More recently, in U.S. v. Ortiz, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that “straw purchases of firearms occur when an unlawful purchaser...uses a lawful ‘straw man’ obtain a firearm [emphasis added].”

     When the 1968 Gun Control Act was enacted Form 4473 didn’t ask buyers about their intentions.  Lacking the political muscle to change the law, ATF got permission to insert what became Question 11(a) on the form (making clear that gift purchases were OK, of course.)  This extralegal tinkering was mentioned in a footnote of the Polk decision, which pointed out that the 1991 and 1994 editions of the ATF Form 7 carried significantly different warnings.  While the earlier form advised that a straw purchase was illegal when the intended possessor is ineligible to buy a gun, the more recent version made no such mention, thus leaving the impression that all straw purchases are no-no’s.  But § 922(a)(6) hadn’t changed: just like 18 USC § 1001, the general false statements provision of Federal law, it’s always forbidden only material falsehoods.  And that’s where things stand today [that’s changed - see note below].

     It’s no surprise that the judge ruled as he did.  What can be done to avoid such problems in the future?

  • Federal law could be amended to prohibit purchasing a firearm on behalf of someone else.  Doing so would automatically make a lie to question 11(a) “material” to the lawfulness of a sale.  (Those who wish to give a gun as a gift could buy a gift certificate.)
  • Exporting undeclared firearms is illegal.  Given proof of a dealer’s guilty knowledge, one could proceed with a case like Iknadosian’s as a conspiracy to violate export control laws.
  • Limiting the number of guns that a buyer can acquire can make the use of straw buyers cumbersome.  A few States (not including Arizona) restrict handgun purchases to one a month.  That could be expanded nationally and broadened to include rifles.
  • Innovation is key.  During a Guns to Mexico campaign in the 1970’s the Mexican Army informed the Phoenix ATF office that they were seizing guns known to have come from the U.S. Gun tracing revealed that these were bought by private persons (“straw purchasers”) from a border-area dealer, and were then passed on to a smuggler. ATF brought in an undercover agent who lived in California so that selling him guns directly or through go-betweens would be unquestionably illegal. Convictions of the dealer, the straw buyers and the smuggler held up on appeal. [Edited 8/5/21]

     President Obama and Secretary Clinton have emphasized “enforcing the laws that exist.”  It’s a tired cliché that overlooks the fact that Federal firearms laws are so toothless that corrupt licensees and traffickers have little fear of discovery or meaningful punishment.  As long as the Administration keeps shying away from confronting the pro-gun lobby, the prospects for improving oversight of the gun marketplace seem bleak indeed.

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Note: In U.S. v. Johnson (no. 11-10290, 5/29/12) the Ninth Circuit ruled that when a straw purchaser falsely answers “no” to question 11(a) on an ATF Form 4473, it is prosecutable as a false statement even if the real, underlying buyer is eligible to buy guns.  That created a conflict between circuits. It was finally resolved by the Supreme court on June 16, 2014. Ruling in Abramski v. U.S., the justices held (5-4) that falsely answering “no” constitutes a lie to a material fact, and is thus illegal, even if the intended possessor can legally buy guns.

UPDATES (scroll)

1/29/22  A California man, Marco Antonio Santillan Valencia, 51, his 29-year old son Marco Jr. and several confederates face Federal gun smuggling charges after they were caught on their way to Mexico with 64,400 rounds of ammunition, ammunition belts, rifle scopes, and over $50,000 in cash. Large quantities of guns and ammunition were also seized at various locations. According to the indictment, the intended recipient was the “Jalisco New Generation Cartel” led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “El Mencho.” DEA has reportedly offered a “$10-million bounty” for his capture.

8/5/21  Mexico’s government has sued Smith & Wesson, Colt and other gun manufacturers, and a wholesaler who distributes their guns to dealers throughout the U.S., in Boston Federal court. Their negligent marketing practices allegedly let “straw” buyers with clean criminal records buy guns at retail on behalf of gun traffickers. They in turn smuggle the weapons into Mexico, contributing to the narco-related violence that besets its citizens. For an example of the prosecution of such a case from the blogger’s ATF career, click here.

7/3/21  Gun control activists are pressing President Biden to act against unlicensed persons who make unregulated gun sales online and at gun shows, without complying with any laws or requiring background checks. In 2018 Thomas Caldwell, an unlicensed Wisconsin man who had been repeatedly warned by ATF about selling guns over Armslist, was sentenced to prison after a felon used one of his guns, a Glock 9mm. pistol, to kill Chicago police commander Paul Bauer.

6/24/21  As a key part of his anti-violence strategy, President Biden announced a crackdown on lawbreaking by licensed firearms dealers. “If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited, my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”

6/23/21  DOJ announced that US Attorneys and ATF are forming “strike forces” to combat illicit gun trafficking ”corridors” that supply five areas highly impacted by gun violence: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C. Click here for our gun sources article

6/19/21  Missouri is the latest of nine States to enact laws this year that “discourage or prohibit” local police from cooperating in the enforcement of Federal gun laws. These restrictions are intended to soften the blow should new Federal laws pass that expand background checks or restrict the kinds of guns one can possess. Whether these pre-emptive rules will hamper the Feds’ ability to trace guns seized by police so as to identify illegal purchases and discover illicit resale channels is as yet unknown.

11/20/20  Mexico is being flooded with .50 caliber sniper rifles and assault weapons trafficked from the U.S.,  where straw buyers acquire them from private persons and at retail. Mexican officials are pleading with the U.S. to strengthen its gun laws and demand background checks for all gun transfers, including private party sales at gun shows, but America’s political climate makes that unlikely. According to an ATF agent, “we have to charge [traffickers] with what is basically a paperwork violation. We don’t really have a big charge to hang over them.”

10/6/19  A Los Angeles Times investigation blames largescale gun smuggling from the U.S. for “stoking a homicide epidemic in Mexico.” According to ATF, seventy percent of the 132,823 guns recovered in Mexico between 2009 and 2018 came from the U.S., mainly border states in the southwest. Most smuggled guns - one estimate says more than 750,000 firearms went South in just two years - are reportedly acquired from U.S. gun dealers and at gun shows by straw buyers.

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Gun Show and Tell     Where Do They Come From?     Letting Guns Walk


Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market      2011 Senate report on gun smuggling to Mexico

Sources of Crime Guns     The Iron River (Phoenix magazine on the flow of guns to Mexico)

Posted 4/21/09


 America’s gun culture exacts a toll, but it’s only a small part of the problem

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. In 1978 I was testifying in a Phoenix Federal courtroom against a man who repeatedly bought dozens of cheap, new handguns at gun stores and took them to gun shows, where he posed as a “collector” and, in a practice that remains widespread, sold them to all comers, no paperwork, ID or record check required.  Many of his guns quickly wound up being used in crimes.

     As an ATF agent I was used to investigating such cases, but what surprised me in this instance was the presence in the spectator section of an NRA attorney who flew in specifically for the trial.  In time the jury found the defendant guilty of dealing guns without a license and the lawyer disappeared.  But his shadow haunted me throughout my career.

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Now that our land has suffered the effects of a string of twisted personalities --  Presidential assassin and would-be assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley, Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, Jewish Community Center shooter Buford Furrow, Columbine High School killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Virginia Tech killer Seung-hui Cho, and, most recently, the murderously self-pitying Jiverly Wong and Richard Poplawski -- one might be tempted to conclude that a straight line leads from the lawyer to the madmen.

     Most of my work (I retired in 1998, after working in Arizona, Montana and Los Angeles) involved the investigation of illegal gun sales, by licensed dealers selling them out the back door, and by unlicensed peddlers selling them on the street and at gun shows.  While spending countless hours in and around gun stores, gun shows and the cultural backwaters of this other America I came into intimate contact with what is commonly called -- though I think too simply -- the gun subculture.

     Yes, those whom I met, sometimes undercover, other times not, liked guns -- a lot.  Like me, most were from the working class.  Where we differed was in outlook.  As an immigrant from troubled Argentina, whose parents barely squeaked through the Holocaust, I was delighted to be in the land of opportunity.  Yet the last thing these men (and a few women, as well) manifested was hope.  Their invariant rallying cry -- that the unworthy got the benefits, while the hard-working got the shaft -- placed them in the lunatic extremes of the far right.  It also reflected a sense of worthlessness that made more than a few dangerous and many others candidates for a good shrink.

     No -- their concerns weren’t fundamentally about guns.  But when talking about guns, holding guns, or, best of all, firing guns, their eyes lit up and their burdens visibly lifted.  Yes, it’s pop psychology, but in my mind nonetheless true: many of these gun aficionados, both the outwardly law-abiding and the unabashedly criminal, found in their toys a sense of power and autonomy that was otherwise sadly lacking.

     Naturally, those who got famous for the worst of reasons are so beyond the pale that no one, not even an NRA lawyer, would dare stand in their defense.  But their twisted justifications, like the sniveling manifesto that Jiverly Wong used as his excuse for the Binghamton massacre, seem much more a difference in degree than in kind from the pathologies that suffuse much of America’s gun culture.  Every so often another disturbed gun fanatic will come out, pistols, rifles and shotguns blazing, and a handful of innocents will die.  Then after a respectful but pitifully brief interval we’ll shrug our shoulders and turn our attention elsewhere.

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     Still, even neutralizing every murderous extremist would have little effect.  We’ve become so accustomed to gun violence that we seldom think about the gang members, “ordinary” criminals and otherwise law-abiding heads of household who commit countless mini-massacres year-in and year-out with weapons whose unthinkable lethality would have horrified the framers of the Second Amendment.

     That’s what’s really insane.

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A Lost Cause     A Ban in Name Only     All in the Family


Arizona Republic series on guns     The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market

VPC report on “big boomer” handguns     Guns and Hate monograph on domestic hate movements

Posted 3/8/09


Reinstating the (original) Federal assault weapons ban is a poor idea

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. It didn’t take long for the new man on the block to ruffle the gun lobby’s feathers.  Less than three weeks after his confirmation, rookie A.G. Eric Holder was holding a news conference to announce a major victory against the violent Sinaloa drug cartel when a reporter’s question took him in a dangerous direction.  Asked what he would do about the gun smuggling that’s been propelling Mexican drug violence, Holder let slip his intention to once again make assault weapons illegal under Federal law:

    As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.

     Those few words touched off a firestorm from the “pry it from my cold dead fingers” crowd and sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scurrying for cover.  “I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now,” she said, carefully sidestepping the quarrel.  “I think it's clear the Bush administration didn’t do that.”

Click here for the complete collection of gun control essays

     Setting aside the obvious political obstacles, let’s consider what reinstating the Federal ban would really accomplish.  Enacted in September 1994, the law, codified as Title 18, USC, Sections 921(a)(30) and (31) and 922 (v), accomplished three things.  First, it prohibited the manufacture, transfer and possession of certain enumerated firearms:

    (i) Norinco, Mitchell, and Poly Technologies Avtomat Kalashnikovs (all models);
    (ii) Action Arms Israeli Military Industries UZI and Galil;
    (iii) Beretta Ar70 (SC–70);
    (iv) Colt AR–15;
    (v) Fabrique National FN/FAL, FN/LAR, and FNC;
    (vi) SWD M–10, M–11, M–11/9, and M–12;
    (vii) Steyr AUG;
    (viii) INTRATEC TEC–9, TEC–DC9 and TEC–22; and
    (ix) revolving cylinder shotguns, such as (or similar to) the Street Sweeper and Striker 12.

More broadly, the law banned any semi-automatic weapon that could accept a detachable magazine and possessed two or more of certain external characteristics, such as a folding stock, pistol grip, flash suppressor or barrel shroud.  Ammunition magazines that could hold more than ten rounds were also outlawed.  In a concession that greatly complicated enforcement, existing guns and magazines could continue to be possessed and transferred without restriction.

     Manufacturers and importers shrugged.  Colt renamed the AR-15 the “Sporter”, removed its flash suppressor and bayonet lug and reworked the magazine so that it could hold only ten rounds.    Soon everyone was stripping weapons of meaningless baubles and producing essentially the same guns as before.  When the ban, which carried a ten-year sunset clause, came up for re-approval in 2004 it died quietly.  Even the vociferously anti-gun Violence Policy Center saw little reason to support it:

    The 1994 law in theory banned AK-47s, MAC-10s, UZIs, AR-15s and other assault weapons.  Yet the gun industry easily found ways around the law and most of these weapons are now sold in post-ban models virtually identical to the guns Congress sought to ban in 1994... Reenacting this eviscerated ban without improving it will do little to protect the lives of law enforcement officers and other innocent Americans.

     Tired of deferring to the spineless Feds, a handful of States, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California enacted their own assault weapons laws.  California’s actually dates back to 1989, when a deranged man opened fire in a Stockton school yard with a Chinese AK-47 knockoff, killing five children and wounding 29 and a teacher.  Although court challenges slowed enforcement, by 2000 the Golden State’s laws banned a long list of semiautomatic pistols and rifles.  What’s more, any semiautomatic gun with even one special characteristic such as a handgrip or folding stock must have a permanently fixed rather than detachable magazine, thus making it far more cumbersome to reload.  And in all cases maximum ammunition capacity is set at ten rounds.

     But do any of these laws really make a difference?  As we’ve argued elsewhere, not one takes on the most important determinant of a gun’s lethality: ballistics.  There’s a reason for the lapse.  Since ordinary hunting cartridges such as the .30-06 are every bit as deadly as any so-called “military” round, setting limits on penetration and killing power by, say, outlawing rounds that can defeat protective garments commonly worn by police would make most semi-auto rifles illegal. Don’t believe it?  According to the National Institute of Justice, the most protective (hence, cumbersome) ballistic vest normally worn by street cops, designated level III-A, is effective only against ordinary handgun ammunition:

    As of the publication of this standard, ballistic resistant body armor suitable for full-time wear throughout an entire shift of duty is available in classification Types II-A, II, and III-A, which provide increasing levels of protection from handgun threats.

    Type II-A body armor will provide minimal protection against smaller caliber handgun threats.

    Type II body armor will provide protection against many handgun threats, including many common, smaller caliber pistols with standard pressure ammunition, and against many revolvers.

    Type III-A body armor provides a higher level of protection, and will generally protect against most pistol calibers, including many law enforcement ammunitions, and against many higher powered revolvers.

    Types III [hard and heavy] and IV [harder and heavier] armor, which protect against rifle rounds, are generally used only in tactical situations or when the threat warrants such protection.

     Reducing the threat posed by semiautomatic weapons could be addressed with a point system that incorporates factors such as ballistics, cyclic rate and accuracy at range.  Only problem is, most rifle bullets cut through a cop’s vest like a knife through butter.  To afford meaningful protection we might have to ban semi-auto rifles that chamber anything beyond a .22, a round useful only for plinking.  That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma that’s kept meaningful restrictions from being implemented.

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     So why not simply reinstate the Federal ban?  Isn’t doing something better than nothing?  Not always.  Enacting laws that bypass the hard issues promotes the illusion that we’re doing something about violence, letting legislators take credit while leaving the gun industry free to peddle increasingly lethal hardware.  As our country’s current troubles amply demonstrate, pretending to regulate is even worse than not regulating at all.  Alas, that seems to be a lesson that we’ve yet to learn.

UPDATES (scroll)

7/30/22  With two “Reds” in favor, and five “Blues” opposed, the House narrowly passed an assault weapons ban (217-213). It is slightly stiffer than the lapsed measure, as it bans rifles with detachable magazines that have only one special feature (a pistol grip, forward grip, folding stock, grenade launcher, barrel shroud or threaded barrel) instead of two. Semi-auto rifles with fixed magazines that can accept more than 15 rounds are also banned. It is expected to fail in the Senate. Bill text

3/11/18  In the New York Times and Washington Post, illustrated features about the grievous damage inflicted on the human body by ultra high-velocity projectiles such as those fired by AR-15 style rifles.

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Loopholes are (Still) Lethal     Again, Kids Die     Ban the Damned Things!     Massacre Control

Bump Stocks     A Lost Cause     Do Gun Laws Work?     A Matter of Life and Death

A Ban in Name Only     Bigger Guns Aren’t Enough


The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market     VPC report on “big boomer” handguns

Posted 1/18/09


Most guns used in crime aren’t stolen; neither did they fall from the sky

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Of the many distortions propounded by the gun lobby perhaps none is more insidious than the fiction that most firearms seized by police are stolen.  Although firm data is lacking, studies suggest that no more than twenty-five percent of recovered guns (and possibly far fewer) find their way to the street through theft and burglary.  Sure, some gun thefts go unreported.  On the other hand, many reported gun thefts never really took place.  Gun buyers to whom recovered guns are traced frequently cry “stolen” to cover up the fact that they really bought the weapon for someone else.  Corrupt dealers who sell guns out the back door often do the same.

     In October 2002 Beltway snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo terrorized the nation’s capital, killing ten innocent citizens and wounding three.  Their weapon, a Bushmaster rifle (an AR-15 knock-off) was traced to Bull’s Eye, a Tacoma gun store and indoor range where Muhammad practiced his shooting skills.  Problem is, Bull’s Eye had no record of ever selling this gun or more than two-hundred others also missing from inventory.  How was the dilemma resolved?  Its owner, Brian Bogelt, declared the guns stolen.

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     ATF ultimately revoked Bogelt’s Federal Firearms license.  He and Bushmaster settled a negligence suit filed by relatives of the shooters’ victims; Bogelt, for $2 million and Bushmaster for $500,000.  Of course, Bogelt can’t be considered a corrupt dealer as he was never charged with a crime.  As far as the rifle and other guns go, they were supposedly shoplifted while he wasn’t looking.

     In a study of gun trafficking investigations conducted between 1996-98 ATF concluded that corrupt dealers were by far the largest source of trafficked guns.  That was old news to agents in Los Angeles, where fifteen of 28 prosecuted gun trafficking cases between 1992-95 involved crooked dealers who diverted from ninety to three-thousand guns each.  (In a later case, corrupt dealers in Cypress and Lake Forest, California were prosecuted for jointly selling as many as ten-thousand guns out the back door.)

     Considering the damage that a bad dealer can cause one would think that ATF strictly supervises licensees.  One would be wrong.  Most of the agency’s energy is expended going after felons with guns and, to a lesser extent, straw buyers, these being far more politically correct targets than “honest businessmen.”

     When the crack epidemic of the seventies sent violence skyrocketing New York and Chicago banned handguns. While no community in the West went that far, California began tightening the screws on the gun marketplace.  Its laws, now considered the toughest in the nation, prohibit gun transfers between private persons, limit handgun purchases to one per month, impose a ten-day waiting period on all gun deliveries and require that handgun buyers pass a safety test.

     Sad to say, other States lag far behind.  A majority don’t regulate guns at all.  According to ATF nearly half (44 percent) of trafficked guns travel down one of several well-worn interstate corridors. It’s not a pretty picture.  “Weak law” States such as Georgia and Florida (neither has a waiting period, testing requirements or limits on the number of guns one can buy) have for decades supplied  the crime-ridden inner cities of the Northeast, with Texas, Arizona and Nevada providing a comparable service for the gangsters of L.A.

     Accumulating quantities of desirable new guns through theft is difficult and risky.  There’s really no need.  All that’s necessary is to have a straw purchaser visit a gun store, display an in-State driver license and plunk down their money.  Once the Insta-Check comes through they can leave with a carload of guns in minutes.  Incidentally, that’s exactly how assault rifles purchased in Texas regularly wind up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

     Shouldn’t the mere fact that a private person wants to buy a dozen guns raise suspicion?  Alas, as long as dealers do no more than wink and nod, they’re free to aid and abet straw buyers at will.  No U.S. Attorney will prosecute a dealer and no ATF Regional Counsel will go after their license simply because they handed over a stack of guns to a stranger.  Bending over backwards to let the gun industry maximize its profits has always been the American way.  Your humble blogger will never forget the ATF memorandum sent during the height of Vice President Al Gore’s reinventing government campaign directing that field offices officially refer to corrupt dealers as “conflicted clients.”

     How can we remove dealers from the trafficking equation?

    Discourage straw purchase.  Expand one-gun-a-month throughout the U.S., and not just for handguns.  Presently only three States -- California, Maryland and Virginia -- have enacted that limit.  New Jersey, which is trying to become the fourth, has met concerted resistance from the gun lobby.  Until all States are on board traffickers will continue taking advantage of regulatory disparities to buy guns wherever doing so is easy.

    Reform investigative practices. Instead of looking on straw buyers and traffickers as the ultimate target, investigators should use them to go after the real source of the misery: corrupt dealers.  As the writer and his former colleagues know, sending informers and undercover agents into gun stores to make purchases and elicit incriminating statements can work wonders.  Quite frequently this approach has revealed other serious misconduct.  In one case, which led to the felony conviction of a retailer in Carson (Calif.), undercover agents investigating straw buying unearthed a machine gun conspiracy.

    Reform regulatory practices.  Thanks to Bernie Madoff and his Wall Street friends regulation is no longer a dirty word.  Political change has created a window of opportunity to enhance oversight of the firearms industry.  To prevent gun diversions and discourage straw sales ATF should perform intensive, quality audits of dealer records.  Corrupt dealers have created pools of “clean” guns by simply not recording them when they come in.  To prevent diversions inspectors should not take dealer records at face value but compare them with distributor invoices.  What goes out must also be audited.  Knowing what we do about gun trafficking, there is no place for superficial inspections that only provide an illusion of control.

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     “Voluntary compliance” has been the touchstone of American regulatory practice, and not only in gun enforcement.  But as every parent knows, absent a credible threat of punishment, promoting self-control is a loser’s game.  It’s a lesson that America’s gun enforcers should finally heed.

UPDATES (scroll)

2/4/23  According to a new ATF study, an increasing number of guns recovered from crimes were sold by licensed dealers as part of a “multiple sale.” That’s when buyers, often unlicensed resellers, acquire guns in quantity for resale to persons, such as felons and the underage, who cannot legally buy guns. Semi-auto pistols fashioned after the popular “Glock” have also become the gun of choice, comprising nearly seven out of every ten recovered guns. ATF study

12/17/22  Two-and-one-half years in Federal prison. That’s the sentence handed down to Jamel Danzy, who straw-purchased (bought for someone else) the pistol that two brothers, Eric and Emonte Morgan, used to shoot and kill Chicago police officer Ella French last year. Danzy admitted to an ATF agent that he bought the gun for Eric Morgan, who as a felon couldn’t do it himself. U.S. District Judge Gettleman gave Danzy, a “college-educated” man who expressed great remorse, half the maximum term.

10/17/22  As part of a $370 million- plus set of Federal anti-violence grants, DOJ is disbursing $9 million to help local agencies participate in initiatives with ATF that apply “intelligence, technology and community engagement” to identify the sources of guns used in crimes. Additional grants are being awarded to help post-secondary schools provide instruction in collecting gun-related intelligence.

7/28/22  Indiana resident Jamel Danzy pled guilty in Federal court to straw purchase. He admitted buying a .22 Glock pistol at a Hammond dealer on behalf of Chicago man Eric Morgan, who as a felon couldn’t buy a gun. Morgan and his brother have been charged with murdering Chicago police officer Ella French and critically wounding her partner during a traffic stop last August (see 12/17/22 update).

6/30/22  To identify the person who first bought a gun recovered from a crime, ATF employees ask manufacturers, distributors and dealers to trace that weapon through their records. Rules prohibit ATF from digitizing the results, so trace requests are returned to police on paper. To help detect gun trafficking schemes, Illinois just established “The Crime Gun Connect Platform,” a computerized registry that compiles all trace replies to agencies within the State into a searchable database.

6/28/22  “Trust me we gone keep you with all the artillery.” Setting up each transaction with expletive-laden text messages, two Indiana men sold “an arsenal” of handguns and assault rifles to undercover Feds in Chicago who pretended they supplied local gang members. Devante Brown, 27, and Corey Sartin, 19, were indicted for conspiracy, unlicensed dealing and, in Brown’s case, felon with a gun. They were arrested last week with four pistols, four rifles, and two ghost guns for which they expected to receive $16,500.

6/25/22  Passed in the wake of recent massacres, the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” was signed into law. It enhances background checks to include juvenile records, helps fund State “Red Flag Laws” and mental health programs, includes “boyfriends” in the definition of domestic partners who may be barred from having guns, and specifically prohibits “straw” purchases (i.e. buying guns on behalf of unqualified persons). It does not create waiting periods or ban assault weapons.

6/24/22  Many guns used in Chicago crimes are purchased by “straw buyers,” meaning third parties, at gun stores in Illinois and Indiana. Over the years ATF inspections of these Federally licensed dealers revealed serious recordkeeping problems. But even when a license revocation seemed clearly warranted, say, for knowingly delivering guns to a felon or straw buyer, the agency preferred to settle matters with a warning, and no substantial penalties were assessed.

6/14/22  Highlighting a continuing crackdown on gun trafficking, the Attorney General announced the indictment of a Texas man for unlicensed dealing in firearms. Over time he bought “at least 92” firearms, mostly handguns, and mostly from a single licensed dealer. He then resold them at will, mostly within a six month period. Sixteen of these guns have turned up in crimes, including murders and shootings.

5/28/22  An AP investigation of twenty-two mass shootings during the past decade reveals that the five most recent (Uvalde, TX 5/24/22; Buffalo NY 5/14/22; San Jose CA 5/26/21; Boulder CO 3/22/21; Atlanta GA 3/16/21) cost fifty-eight innocent lives. AR-15 style rifles were used in the three recent shootings with the highest tolls (Uvalde, 21; Buffalo, 10; Boulder, 10), and 9mm. pistols in the two others (San Jose, 9; Atlanta, 8). In each case the shooter legally bought their weapon from a dealer.

5/18/22  A new ATF report depicts a surge in firearms production during the past decade. Semi-automatic pistols have become the most popular weapon type. In 2020 over five and one-half million were manufactured and distributed in the U.S., with over half in 9mm. caliber. Between 2016-2021 the number of unserialized, privately assembled “ghost guns” reportedly recovered by police increased by 1,000 percent, from 1,758 to 19,344, with 692 used in murders. ATF Report (Vol. I)

5/11/22  In California all gun transfers, including between private persons, must go through a background check. Gun and purchaser information is perpetually stored in a State database. That data is an integral part of a new, State-funded effort at U.C. Davis to measure gun violence and assess and develop preventive measures. But gun-rights groups object to the project’s intrusion into privacy and have challenged the Constitutionality of the authorizing legislation in State and Federal courts.

5/6/22  Addressing a gathering of police chiefs at ATF Headquarters, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced his commitment to remedying the problem of untraceable firearms. Regulations are being prepared that would treat gun parts kits as guns and require that even incomplete housings be serialized. Sellers of parts kits must have a gun dealer’s license and keep records. And should an unserialized “ghost gun” appear in a dealer’s inventory, applying a serial number would be mandatory.

4/14/22  ATF agents arrested fourteen persons for trafficking nearly 400 handguns into Philadelphia. Three-hundred were bought from gun dealers in Atlanta, and the remainder from dealers in South Carolina. Some of the purchases were made by “straw buyers” on behalf of the traffickers. Charges include conspiracy, unlicensed gun dealing, and making false statements to licensed gun dealers. Federal agents were initially tipped off about the scheme when they discovered that guns being recovered by police from shootings and other crimes were recently purchased in nearby States.

4/2/22  Federal agents arrested three enlisted military servicemen from Tennessee and nine members of a Chicago street gang for an illegal gun-distribution conspiracy. According to the indictment, the soldiers bought dozens of guns and large quantities of ammunition from licensed dealers in Clarksville, Tennessee and Oak Grove, Kentucky, then brought the goods to Chicago and resold them to members of the Pocket Town Gangster Disciples “to facilitate...ongoing violent disputes” between gangs.

3/28/22  Federal agents discovered that a gun used in a California shooting came from a Georgia gun store. That connection led to the indictment of two Californians and three Georgians in a trafficking scheme that supplied more than 500 guns to felons and other private buyers on the West coast. Meanwhile the Feds are considering prosecuting an LAPD Captain and an L.A. sheriff’s deputy who resold dozens of guns they bought from an employee at the police academy gun store (he pled guilty to stealing them from inventory.) Whether they were hobbyists or unlicensed gun dealers is a key issue.

1/31/22  A University of Chicago study reveals that most guns recovered from local gang members by police are older weapons that moved through “underground markets” of gun sellers and buyers. Incarcerated persons report that’s how they mostly get their guns. Gangs have also become involved,  creating distribution networks in which “gun runners” move substantial quantities between areas.

12/21/21  Los Angeles has sued the long-standing, privately-managed gun store at the LAPD academy for negligence and breach of contract for failing to supervise its employees, thus allowing its manager to profit by stealing guns and selling them to cops on the side (see 11/30/21.) But the D.A. has refused to prosecute several of those cops, and they are in turn suing the city for damaging their reputations.

12/10/21  Two $100 million lawsuits have been filed against the Oxford Township school district by families of the victims. An investigation by the Washington Post revealed that families of would-be shooters prevented a handful of like events in past years. In 2018, in Everett, Washington, the guardian of Joshua O’Connor, 18, discovered the once-badly abused teen’s elaborate written plans to stage a Columbine-like massacre. She also found the 9mm. rifle he had just bought to carry out his intentions. Police were called, and their search turned up bomb parts. In 2019, after pleading guilty to attempted murder and other charges, O’Connor was sentenced to 22 years.

Smash-and-grabs continue to beset Southern California retailers. And when it comes to guns, the consequences could be especially profound. In Garden Grove, masked thieves broke into a gun store during the early morning hours and got away with forty firearms. They sped off in a pair of BMW’s.

12/4/21  A prosecutor explained why the parents of the Oxford high school shooter were charged with manslaughter. (Click here for the video.) One day before the massacre, a teacher caught the youth searching for ammunition on his phone. His parents were informed. His mother later messaged her son “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” On the day of the shooting, while the parents were at the school, they were shown a photo of a note their son wrote. It depicted a gun, a bullet, a bleeding person, and these comments: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me”,  “Blood everywhere”, “My life is useless”, “The world is dead.” But no one looked in the student’s backpack. His parents declined to take the boy home, and an hour later he committed the massacre.

According to the Washington Post, there have been 34 school shootings this year. But twenty States, including Michigan, lack “child access prevention laws” that require guns in households with minors be kept locked up. That, says the Post, is crucial, as its review of 105 school shootings committed by youths revealed that eighty percent got their guns from their homes, or those of friends or relatives.

12/2/21  A fourth student, age 17, succumbed in the massacre at Michigan’s Oxford High School. Authorities announced that the shooter, Ethan Crumbley, is being charged as an adult with murder and terrorism. He had apparently revealed his intentions the previous evening on an Instagram post that pictured the gun in his hands: “just got my new beauty today...I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow, Oxford.” On that day, but before the massacre, Crumbley’s parents were  summoned to his school over their son’s “concerning behavior.” Years earlier Crumbley’s mother posted an “open letter” to President Trump complaining about her son’s education and extolling gun ownership. Authorities may charge the parents for leaving the gun unsecured.

12/1/21  Armed with a 9mm. pistol his father recently bought, a 15-year old boy opened fire at Oxford High School, located in a suburban Detroit community. He killed three students, ages 14, 16 and 17, and wounding eight others, including a teacher. Three of the surviving students are in critical condition. The shooter peacefully surrendered. His motive is presently unknown.

11/30/21  Last year LAPD investigators discovered that Archi Duenas stole dozens of guns from the gun store he managed at the police academy. He resold many to cops, who should have known better. His thievery ultimately earned him probation. Problem is, some of his badge-wearing customers, including a station commander, were also selling guns as an unregulated sideline, even offering so-called “off roster” guns that State laws normally keep out of civilian hands. Several are under investigation.

9/26/21  On January 1, 2016 burglars smashed into the showcase of a Wisconsin gun store and stole nine guns. At least four wound up in Chicago. One, a Glock 17 9mm. pistol recovered that July, was linked by tests on spent cartridges to 27 Chicago shootings, including two murders. Less than two weeks after the burglary, another of the guns was used by the occupant of one car to shoot and kill an occupant of another. According to authorities, gun thefts and straw purchases in neighboring states, primarily Indiana and Wisconsin, help feed the violence that engulfs Chicago.

8/12/21  Chicago police superintendent David Brown blasted the Federal judge overseeing the straw purchase charge against Jamel Danzy for releasing him from custody pending trial. Danzy admitted he bought the gun for an acquaintance, Eric Morgan, who traveled to Indiana to pick it up. Morgan used the pistol several months later to murder CPD officer Ella French and critically wound her partner.

8/10/21  Chicago brothers Emonte Morgan, 21 and Eric Morgan, 22 were charged with murdering police officer Ella French. Both have serious criminal records, and Eric Morgan is a felon. Indiana resident Jamel Danzy admitted he acted as a “straw buyer” by buying the Glock pistol used in the killing at a store, then giving it to Eric Morgan, whose record prohibits him from buying guns. Danzy was Federally charged.

8/5/21  Nine New York residents were charged in Federal court with acquiring dozens of guns through a straw buyer who bought them at six retail stores in Georgia. These guns were then smuggled into New York. Eight have been recovered by police in four states. One was seized from a New York City man who fired the weapon at an officer; four more were found during a murder search warrant.

7/23/21  To disrupt illegal gun distribution DOJ recently formed “Firearms Trafficking Strike Forces” in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco/Sacramento and Washington, D.C. US Attorneys and ATF agents will partner with local police to identify “straw buyers,” who buy guns for illicit resale, and to interrupt the flow of guns from source regions where many guns used in violent crimes originate.

7/20/21  In the wake of unremitting gun violence - 61 were shot, with ten killed, during the most recent weekend - Chicago police aren’t waiting for the Feds to combat gun trafficking. A fifty-officer anti-gun trafficking team was just placed on the street. Its mission is to go after “unscrupulous” gun dealers, straw buyers, and other sources of the guns that beset the city. And they beseech the public to help.

7/3/21  Gun control activists are pressing President Biden to act against unlicensed persons who make unregulated gun sales online and at gun shows, without complying with any laws or requiring background checks. In 2018 Thomas Caldwell, an unlicensed Wisconsin man who had been repeatedly warned by ATF about selling guns over Armslist, was sentenced to prison after a felon used one of his guns, a Glock 9mm. pistol, to kill Chicago police commander Paul Bauer.

6/24/21  As a key part of his anti-violence strategy, President Biden announced a crackdown on lawbreaking by licensed firearms dealers. “If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited, my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”

6/23/21  DOJ announced that US Attorneys and ATF are forming “strike forces” to combat illicit gun trafficking ”corridors” that supply five areas highly impacted by gun violence: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C. Click here for our gun sources article

6/19/21  Missouri is the latest of nine States to enact laws this year that “discourage or prohibit” local police from cooperating in the enforcement of Federal gun laws. These restrictions are intended to soften the blow should new Federal laws pass that expand background checks or restrict the kinds of guns one can possess. Whether these pre-emptive rules will hamper the Feds’ ability to trace guns seized by police so as to identify illegal purchases and discover illicit resale channels is as yet unknown.

6/17/21  Nearly two-thousand military firearms were “lost or stolen” during the past decade. Many have been used in violent crimes. In 2015 a reservist down on his luck stole ten pistols and six fully automatic rifles from an armory, then resold them on the street.  A decade ago more than two dozen AK-47 type rifles were stolen from a Fresno base by MP’s; some of the guns wound up with a street gang.

5/12/21  Three U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Ft. Campbell: Demarcus Adams, 21, Jarius Brunson, 22, and Brandon Miller, 22, have been arrested for gun trafficking. It’s alleged that they bought 91 guns during the past year from gun stores near their base, in Kentucky and Tennessee. Miller is accused of taking these guns to Chicago and transferring them to acquaintances. Several of the weapons were recovered from a March 26, 2021 shootout in Chicago where one was killed and seven were shot.

4/27/21  Chicago has sued Westforth Sports, an Indiana gun store, for “ignoring obvious signs” and selling “hundreds of guns” to persons they knew where “straw buyers,” meaning that they were buying the guns to illegally resell. “More than forty” of these buyers were subsequently charged in Federal court for dealing guns on the street, and many of the weapons turned up in crimes.

4/17/20 In testimony before the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement, a high-ranking ATF official identified “privately made firearms” as an important and “increasingly more common” gun source for criminals. Other sources mentioned included theft and straw purchase.

10/25/19 Undercover California state agents regularly watch California residents acquire California-illegal assault rifles at gun shows in Arizona and Nevada. Buyers are tailed when they return to California, where they are stopped and the loot is seized. “The...problem is that California has a 608-mile border with Nevada...and Nevada’s gun regulations are less stringent,” a prosecutor said.

10/10/19 Wisonsin’s Supreme Court turned away a lawsuit against Armslist, an online website that puts together private gun sellers and gun buyers, for facilitating a gun purchase by Daniel Haughton, whom a restraining order had made ineligible to buy a gun under state law. In 2013 Haughton used a gun he got through the service to murder his wife and two of her coworkers.

9/10/19 Seth Athor (see below)was turned away by a gun store in 2014 because of a prior mental commitment. So he turned to a private seller.

9/5/19 Seth Ator, 36, who shot and killed seven and wounded twenty-two, including three officers, as he rampaged through Texas’ Odessa-Midland region on August 31, used an AR-15 type rifle that he reportedly bought from a Lubbock resident. Federal agents suspect that the seller may be dealing in guns without a license and searched his home.

7/31/19 Santino Legan, the 19-year old Nevada man who used a California-banned rifle to kill three and wound a dozen at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival on July 28, legally bought his AK-47 type weapon at a Fallon, Nevada gun store on July 9. Police shot him dead. In a recent Instagram post Legan praised a novel that glorifies white supremacism.

7/23/19 A national study that compared levels of household firearms ownership with gun homicide reveals a significant relationship between more ownership and more domestic homicides but none between ownership level and non-domestic homicides. The recently released 2016 BJS survey of prison inmates reports that ninety percent of those who used a gun in their crime did not buy it at retail. Forty-three percent got it from a street source; six percent stole it.

8/23/18 Federal prosecutors charged a 47-year old Las Vegas man who bought hundreds of guns and resold them using the Internet. Dozens were later recovered in crimes, most recently the murder of a Sacramento, CA sheriff’s deputy. ATF news release  US Attorney news release

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Milwaukee Journal series on gun dealer oversight     Washington Post: The Hidden Life of Guns

The Pistol That Killed Officer Heim     Sources of Crime Guns in Los Angeles, California


Good Law / Bad Law     An American Tragedy   Don’t Like the Rules? Change Them!

Loopholes Are Lethal II    Going Ballistic     Ban the Damned Things!     Do Gun Laws Work?

By Hook or by Crook (Part II)     By Hook or By Crook     An Inconvenient Truth     Turn Off the Spigot

Letting Guns Walk     Shootout at Times Square