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.

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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.

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