Easy access to guns helped me commit murder. I’ve changed, but the loopholes remain

Compelling article from a convicted murderer who used  gun obtained by straw purchase. Read the entire story here at The Quartz.

On Sundays, I attend Protestant services at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. It’s my safe place. There’s a band, a choir, clapping, and hands-in-the-air yelling—“Thank you Jesus!” “Hallelujah!” Most prisoners are black with green uniforms, and the guards, posted at the back of the chapel, are all white with blue uniforms.

Weeks later, I was facilitating a workshop with the Alternative to Violence Project, a civilian-run volunteer program that began after the Attica prison uprising in 1971. During a break I was talking to a prisoner who calls himself “Paradise,” convicted of trafficking guns and attempting to commit murder with one of them. From behind his big beard and permanent diamond grill, Paradise told me how he used to take drugs from Buffalo, New York, to rural towns in Pennsylvania. After selling the drugs, he’d ask customers with clean criminal records to buy guns for him. Paradise would take the guns back to Buffalo to sell or trade for more drugs.

This is a phenomenon known as straw purchasing, a dangerous loophole that has remained open for decades. I should know, my friends and I had gotten guns the same way in the mid-nineties.

 Illegal private-party gun sales account for as much as 40% of gun purchases in the US. Conventional wisdom holds that if a problem exists—like, say, a loophole that allows untraceable gun purchases–we should just close it. And yet, illegal private-party gun sales account for as much as 40% of gun purchases in the US. Why do we refuse to actually address such a patently—and demonstratively—dangerous problem in American society?

This isn’t to say some people aren’t trying to make changes. President Barack Obama was right on point when, at CNN’s Guns in America town hall, he told the sobering tale of a van full of straw purchased guns crossing state lines and winding up on the streets of Chicago. But clearly, awareness isn’t enough. We need to investigate individuals who make suspicious gun purchases—like white drug addicts with clean records who saunter into Virginia guns and ammo stores and buy cheap 380-caliber automatics, Taurus 9-millimeters, Tek Nines, and boxes of hollow point bullets—and then file reports claiming those guns stolen before they flip them to criminals on the street.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 11.38.33 AM

In fact, there is already a system in place that may be able to help: the e-Trace Firearm Tracing Program, an internet-based tracing program that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) already uses. Once e-Trace is programmed accordingly, the Obama administration should provide gun merchandisers with an “Anti-Straw Purchase” memorandum and encourage them to show it to their customers. The memo itself could work as a deterrent by merely making gun buyers aware that e-Trace is investigating straw purchasers—and reminding them that handing guns over to felons is itself a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. As someone who’s had firsthand experience with these kinds of crimes, I know how easy it is to get spooked.

As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

With my wonderful wife Stephanie, I am raising my two sons, Sam and Teddy, in Lake County. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety and I bring that passion and determination to protect all families with me to work every day.

I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.