There are “crime gun” stats aplenty in today’s Washington Post story Tracing Secrets. The WaPo reveals its methodology in an accompanying piece entitled After gun industry pressure, veil was draped over tracing data. “To break through the federal secrecy imposed by the Tiahrt amendment, The Post obtained hundreds of thousands of state and local police records and did its own tracing and analysis. To develop Maryland statistics, The Post took records of handgun sales from a state database and cross-referenced them against lists of gun serial numbers from police evidence logs in the District and Prince George’s County. For Virginia, The Post gathered records of gun traces from a State Police database.” If that’s not worrying enough, the WaPo has a major hard-on for gun dealers prone to “straw purchases” for felons. Actually, one gun store in particular . . .

[Murderer Erik Kenneth] Dixon’s Glock was one of 86 guns sold by Realco that have been linked to homicide cases during the past 18 years, far outstripping the total from any other store in the region, a Washington Post investigation has found. Over that period, police have recovered more than 2,500 guns sold by the shop, including over 300 used in non-fatal shootings, assaults and robberies.

Realco has been known as a leading seller of “crime guns” seized by local police, but a year-long Post investigation reveals the magnitude of Realco’s pattern and links the guns sold by the store to specific crimes. The Post compiled its own databases of more than 35,000 gun traces by mining unpublicized state databases and local police evidence logs.

Given the mountain of gun sales data that Post scribe David S. Fallis’ minions mined and refined, it’s more than slightly odd that the resulting story only “names and shames” Realco. For example . . .

— Nearly two out of three guns sold in Virginia since 1998 and recovered by local authorities came from about 1 percent of the state’s dealers – 40 stores out of 3,400 selling guns. Most of those 40 had received government warnings that their licenses were in jeopardy because of regulatory violations. But only four had their licenses revoked, and all are still legally selling guns after transferring their licenses, reapplying or re-licensing under new owners.

— A gun store in Portsmouth, Va., transformed over the past seven years from a modest family-owned business into one of the state’s top sellers of “crime guns,” leading Virginia in the category of how quickly its guns moved from the sales counter to crime scenes.

Again, why doesn’t the Washington Post name these 40 stores and/or the Portsmouth VA gun dealer that’s supposedly feeding firearms to the criminal element (either D&R Arms or SRP Enterprises)? Could it be that the stats are misleading?

I’m no John Lott, but I’d be willing to bet that the “suspect” 40 percent of VA gun dealers—the ones supplying the two out of three recovered guns—are probably responsible for two out of three gun sales generally. On page five, we get a clue, when the WaPo finally puts Realco’s sales in some kind of perspective.

Realco is listed in the Maryland database as selling 19,000 guns since 1984. Of every 1,000 sold, analysis shows, police later recovered 131.

About five miles away from Realco, near Andrews Air Force Base, is Maryland Small Arms Range Inc. The longtime dealer has sold about 15,000 guns over the past 25 years. For every 1,000 it sold, police later recovered 41.

The Post is trying [its damnedest] to imply that Realco and its ilk are co-conspirators in these straw purchases, leading to horrific gun crimes. You know: greedy gun dealers turn a blind eye to evil in order to sell death for profit. Yet the discrepancy between Realco and Maryland Small Arms Range’s guns recovered numbers can be explained by three words: location, location, location. As the store’s owners suggest.

In 1999, The Post identified Realco as the source of 493 guns used in crimes from 1996 to 1998, based on data from the ATF. That was twice the number of any other dealer in the region, and later researchers would rank Realco in the top 10 in the nation for crime-gun traces.

At the time, Greg and Carlos del Real disputed the numbers. They said they operated in a high-crime area but obeyed all laws.

“We step all over these people’s constitutional rights to prevent these straw purchases,” Greg del Real said.

And there, buried in the piece, is the real nub of the matter. How do you prevent straw purchases? If a gun dealer follows all applicable laws, and Realco weathered a State Police investigation, perhaps the laws need changing? Uh, no. The Post singularly, spectacularly fails to focus on the fact that purchasing a gun for a convicted felon is a felony.

Yes, prosecuting straw purchasers is difficult. But the law’s already on the books, and it’s the thing that must be done. (Well, that and putting away criminals who use firearms.) Remember that 86.9 percent of Realco’s gun sales are not involved in crimes—and that’s about as bad as it gets.

So Greg del Real is right: unless you’re willing to heavily restrict legal sales, the straw sales problem must be viewed as collateral damage. In fact, the Post article ends as it should have started: by exposing a straw purchaser. Which raises the most important question: why wasn’t she charged?

4 Responses to WaPo on Crime Guns: From Straw Purchase to Straw Man

  1. Realco is listed in the Maryland database as selling 19,000 guns since 1984. Of every 1,000 sold, analysis shows, police later recovered 131.

    Does that imply that almost 2500 guns sold by Realco were used in crimes (or "recovered")?

  2. An article in the Baltimore Sun references an Abell Report which indicates that a few bad apple dealers near Baltimore weren't very good at following "applicable laws." Hundreds of guns went out unaccounted, and the ATF took almost ten years to shut them down. So straw purchases were and are only part of the problem. Most dealers are OK, but there are some very bad ones.

    "Around the country, a small number of dealers are typically responsible for selling a significant proportion of these new crime guns each year. Records collected by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) showed that between 1996 and 2000, about 1 percent of gun stores were the source of about 57 percent of the firearms used in crimes."
    http://www.abell.org/pubsitems/arn108.pdf

  3. That is one of the highest crime areas in the country, and it is the closest gun store to DC (no gun stores in the District!) Is anyone suprised that a store in a high crime district would have more of it's products used in crimes?

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