April 15, 2008 -- "Easy" gun stores that turn a blind eye to arms purchasers, whose multiple gun buys and questionable behavior should indicate they are merely middlemen, are a large part of the problem that has led five million Americans to become victims of violent crimes involving guns over an eight-year period ending in 2005, according to a new report.
In one case, the "straw purchaser," or middleman, purchased 55 guns in just five visits to a store. In another, a gun trafficker bought 27 weapons in 15 visits, according to the report, "Inside Straw Purchasing," commissioned by the Mayors Against Illegal Handguns, a group of more than 300 U.S. mayors.
"Our interviews also revealed that dealers sold to straw purchasers who clearly knew nothing about guns or were intoxicated or high on drugs. One trafficker told us that he would use straw buyers to purchase guns while he was in the store wearing gang colors… and he once even asked employees if a shotgun he was buying would fit under a coat," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The report examined 1,000 prosecutions in which 14,000 firearms were purchased in 4,000 separate transactions and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, including traffickers, their middlemen -- "the so-called straw purchasers" -- and former employees of gun stores.
It found that:
-Traffickers picked "easy" stores;
-Traffickers paid their middlemen in drugs and money;
-Some gun dealers sold to middlemen who knew nothing about weapons;
-A trafficker usually accompanied his middleman into the store; and
-Some salesmen sold weapons despite suspicions.
In one federal case, a Connecticut store owner pleaded guilty in 2007 to the charge that he "specifically advised [a trafficker] how to structure his straw purchases to avoid the multiple sales reporting requirement and to avoid drawing the attention of law enforcement or firearms regulators." The 2006 indictment noted that the purchaser, a drug trafficker who had spent five years in prison and as a felon was prohibited from buying weapons, used middlemen to purchase 100 guns from the dealer.
The report's findings are in line with earlier reports by the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau. Those 1997 and 1998 reports showed most crimes are committed by weapons that begin as legal guns and then are diverted. The ATF data for 1998 showed that 85 percent of gun dealers had no guns used in crimes traced back to them, while one percent of federally licensed firearms dealers accounted for 57 percent of the weapons traced.
"We know that nearly 60 percent of guns traced from crimes come from approximately one percent of gun dealers. These are the dealers that do little to prevent or guard against straw purchasers," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Guns don't get into our communities by accident. Stopping straw purchases would put a major roadblock in the illegal gun trafficking which fuels the crime and much of the gun violence in this country."