Gun crimes are too often committed by persons who cannot legally own guns. Virtually all gun sales start with a legal sale. So how do those legally acquired guns get into the hands of prohibited users?
The conventional answer is, "from down south." We hear about the "Iron Pipeline," I-95, which facilitates the trafficking of guns from Southeastern states into the hands of criminals in mid-Atlantic and Northeastern cities.
But this is not as true in Connecticut as it may be in some other Northeast states.
Gun trace data provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, showed that, in 2012, 56 percent of the guns traced were found to have been purchased in Connecticut. In 2011, 65 percent were originally purchased in Connecticut.
Even with this data, we are still left with the unanswered question: How does the gun get from the legal purchaser to the prohibited person who committed the crime with it?
One of the primary sources is the straw purchaser, someone who passes a background check to purchase a gun and then transfers it to a prohibited person. Often this involves a gun for drugs deal. In Bridgeport, in March of this year, a Trumbull man was arrested by the Statewide Urban Violence Task Force on gun trafficking charges after police said he admitted to trading guns for drugs to fuel his drug habit.
Another source is the rogue dealer. In 2006, Frank D'Andrea, owner of a Stratford gun store, helped Bridgeport gang leader Frankie "The Terminator" Estrada arm his gang. At least two of the guns purchased from D'Andrea's were used to commit murders, and others were traded in New York City after they were used in crimes. Estrada estimated that he purchased 100 firearms from D'Andrea, including AK-47s and two Streetsweeper shotguns.
Gun trafficker Elwood Schular admitted to buying at least 177 firearms from D'Andrea in 13 months. At least one of those guns was used in a homicide. D'Andrea also sold numerous firearms to gangster Danny Melendez. D'Andrea admitted accepting as payment a bag of cash from Melendez filled with $5,000 in small bills.
This year an ATF investigation of Riverview Sales, an East Windsor gun store, found approximately 300 examples of false or missing information in Riverview's records. The investigation revealed individuals receiving firearms prior to approval of background checks. Riverview also failed to report the theft of a firearm, and failed to report multiple sales of handguns to the same individuals. Owner David Laguercia entered a guilty plea to making false entries in dealer's records. He awaits sentencing. Although not an illegal transaction, Riverview is also the shop where Nancy Lanza bought the Bushmaster rifle used by her son in the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook massacre.
The third source is stolen guns from burglaries and robberies. In 2007, Connecticut passed a bill requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms. Since then, an average of 395 guns per year have been reported stolen. We do not know how many of those reported guns were subsequently used in gun crimes. We do know that the Trumbull man who was charged with illegally trading guns for drugs had fraudulently reported those guns as stolen.
Strong gun laws work. States with the strongest gun laws have the lowest rate of gun deaths. Connecticut has the fourth strongest gun laws in the U.S. and the fifth lowest rate of gun deaths, 5.7 per 100,000 population vs. the national average of 10.4 per 100,000, according to the National Center for Injury Control data from 2008. The Connecticut General Assembly has addressed the problem of gun violence with meaningful laws that save lives, including the historic legislation passed this year led by Senate and House leaders from both parties and signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on April 4.
Gun violence is not an intractable problem. Solving it requires strong laws, strong enforcement and strong community involvement.
Connecticut needs to dedicate more resources to identifying and prosecuting rogue dealers and straw buyers who are diverting guns into prohibited markets. The safety of our communities, our families and our children depends on it.
Ron Pinciaro is executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, based in Fairfield.