Police target illegal gun transactions; Criminals use people without arrest records for purchases; 15 city buyers charged


Trying to get guns off city streets, Baltimore police are cracking down on what they describe as a widespread but illegal practice of convicted felons recruiting people with clean criminal records to buy firearms.

Detectives say they have traced 13 handguns found at crime scenes to people without arrest records.

They bought the guns at local gun shops and later resold them to convicts, who are barred by law from buying weapons because of their criminal past.

One .45-caliber Glock pistol was linked to three homicides and two shootings. A 9 mm Highpoint was linked to a killing and a shooting. A .380-caliber Davis Industries and .45-caliber Llama were each seized in separate drug raids.

"Make no mistake about it," Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said yesterday, "If you illegally sell or buy guns in Baltimore City, we will come after you. We simply won't tolerate it."

In the past two weeks, police have charged 15 people under the 1996 straw purchase law that makes it a crime for a Maryland gun owner to sell a handgun to someone else without going through state police, who conduct background checks.

Seven suspects have been arrested, including one yesterday in an early morning raid at a Baltimore County home that turned up a 9 mm handgun.

City police said they seize about 3,000 handguns a year.

The issue of straw purchases came to light in 1991, when a mother who managed a department store jewelry counter walked into a city gun shop and bought $6,000 worth of high-powered handguns, including a laser-sighted Taurus pistol and an Israeli Desert Eagle Magnum handgun.

The woman gave the weapons to a man who picked out the guns at the counter and gave her the cash to pay for them.

He was later convicted in federal court of fatally shooting a 10-year-old East Baltimore boy who was playing football when a gun battle broke out between rival drug dealers.

Last year, the owner of Baltimore Gunsmith, a shop in Fells Point, was acquitted by a jury of straw purchasing charges.

He had been charged with selling a gun to a woman -- an undercover federal agent posing as a waitress -- at the behest of a convicted murderer.

On Friday, state prosecutors won their first conviction in state court when Richard Sherman, 37, of the 1400 block of N. Milton Ave., pleaded guilty to illegally selling a gun later used to shoot at three police officers in West Baltimore.

He was sentenced to five years in prison.

In an interview with Officer Ed Bochniak of the Violent Crime Task Force, contained in court records, Sherman said he bought three handguns and sold two of them to a convicted drug dealer who sold cocaine at North Milton Avenue and East Oliver Street.

The dealer "said one time that he was gonna shoot this little kid because the kid was in the way," Sherman told Bochniak during an interrogation about the guns. "I don't know whether he did or not."

Sherman's lawyer, James E. Stancil, declined to comment yesterday.

Police said the man Sherman sold the gun to, Edward Myers, 33, has been charged in a warrant under the straw purchase law.

Police said they believe he is in Florida.

Police displayed the seized guns at a news conference yesterday, but they would not detail the shootings linked to the weapons because arrests have to be made.

Police said all those arrested in the past two weeks are alleged purchasers in the transactions.

Bochniak said the guns traced cost between $200 and $600 each, and that the purchaser was typically paid an additional $200 for each gun illegally transferred.

He said city police are working with the state's attorney's office to ensure the cases are prosecuted.

"This is a top priority," Bochniak said.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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