The Corner

Law & the Courts

The Story of This One Gun Is the Story of a Straw Purchaser

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Story of This One Gun Is the Story of a Straw Purchaser

The Washington Post offers a well-reported, detailed odyssey of how one 9mm Glock 17 pistol changed hands several times and was used in multiple shootings and crimes within just a few nights in 2014.

The gun was purchased in Manassas by Jamal Fletcher Baker, a young man with no criminal record or record of mental illness. But Baker lied on the required paperwork, Federal Form 4473, and declared he was buying the gun for himself when in fact he was purchasing it for an unemployed aspiring rapper nicknamed “Stunna.”

If we want to stop gun crimes, we probably need to stop letting straw purchasers off the hook. As my colleague Kevin Williamson points out, prosecutors may have understandable reasons to be less than fully enthusiastic about pressing charges in some of these cases: “the nature of the people making straw purchases — young relatives, girlfriends who may or may not have been facing the threat of physical violence, grandmothers, etc. — made prosecuting those cases unattractive.” Kevin points out that if you put some gang member’s grandmother in jail for a long time, you may actually deter future use of grandmothers as straw purchasers.

The gun was then used in a shootout at a party; as the Post notes, “suspects, victims and party-goers refused to cooperate with detectives.”

Which factor actually endangers residents of the inner city more, legal gun purchases or the “snitches get stitches” mentality?

After the party shooting, someone gave the gun to a Romeo Hayes, who ended up in a dispute and another series of shootings the following night. The first is with Shaquinta Gaines, an off-duty D.C. police officer, who attempted to pursue Hayes’s vehicle in her car. Then Hayes encountered Thurman Stallings, a D.C. police detective, who also attempted to intervene. Hayes shot the detective several times. (Thankfully, Stallings lived to tell the tale, including in court.) The gun disappeared for a time, and is then was recovered months later, found “tossed under a car after a police chase by a man whose relatives lived in Poppa’s housing complex.”

The Post story may not have intended this point, but the article illuminates the futility of most of the arguments for gun control we see after mass shootings. The gun was not purchased at a gun show, so there was no “gun show loophole” to exploit and the initial purchaser passed the background check, so the tired cry of “universal background checks!” is meaningless here. The existing “universal background checks” are why these young men with criminal records use straw purchasers. And the straw purchasers either do not know or do not care that they are enabling those who will commit shootings in city streets.

The good news is that Baker was indeed prosecuted for lying on the federal background check form, and sentenced to more than a year in prison. Hayes was sentenced to ten years in prison.

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