Legally purchased guns are appearing at crime scenes nationwide faster than ever

A South St. Paul teenager was shot dead outside his home in a botched drug deal. Bullets fired through a crowded bar in St. Paul. A gun stolen from a home in Ham Lake fired at motorcyclists less than half an hour later.

Legally purchased firearms are turning up at crime scenes in Minnesota — and nationwide — faster than ever before, due in part to a more concerted effort by law enforcement to trace guns used in crimes to those who helped provide them in some cases Protection.

“These aren’t the people who pulled the trigger, but the trigger won’t be pulled without them,” said US Attorney Andrew Luger, chairman of a violent crimes committee made up of top federal prosecutors across the country.

Luger, who began his second term by promising to make violent crime and gun cases a top priority, said in an interview last week that he believes his office will now bring more cases against people who buy firearms for those who have been killed Owning guns is outlawed – often referred to as “straw buyers” – “than ever before”.

Recent cases of federal straw buying have been linked to high-profile fatal shootings across the subway last year. Leading federal law enforcement agencies remain concerned that stolen firearms will later be used in violent crimes.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) continues to locate and prosecute a record number of firearms used in crimes in Minnesota. The ATF recently reported recovering and tracing 4,605 ​​firearms in Minnesota last year — up from 4,072 in 2020.

Among these firearms, the ATF records a sustained, precipitous decline in the average time between a gun’s legal purchase date and the date it appeared at a crime scene. That number was 6.27 years in 2021, compared to 7.34 years in 2020 and 8.43 years in 2019. Minnesota’s average is falling in a pattern consistent with the national trend over the same period: by just over 8 years before the pandemic to just over 6 years in 2021.

Luger and other local federal law enforcement agencies carefully qualify that the chilling data stemmed at least in part from investigators’ continued work to determine how the shooters first got their hands on the guns they were using.

“We’re trying to put as many links in that chain together as possible to figure out exactly how it left the legitimate flow of traffic and gained its ‘crime weapon’ status,” said William McCrary, the special agent in charge of the ATFs in the St. Paul Division, which also has Wisconsin and covers the Dakotas.

A surge in new firearm owners during the pandemic has made it harder to spot problem gun buyers, said John Munson, whose Bill’s Gun Shop & Range operates five locations between Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

“We’re going by the letter of the law when reporting,” Munson said. “I think most do. There are human errors here and there, but the reality is sometimes it’s hard to catch people. Sometimes it’s very easy.”

Staffers from Frontiersman Sports at St. Louis Park last year helped law enforcement piece together the case against Jerome Fletcher Horton Jr. – who has since been convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for supplying a handgun used in October 2021 in the Truck Park on Seventh Street. One woman was killed and 14 others injured.

Horton bought this gun from a Fleet Farm in Blaine before it got to the shooter. He aroused enough suspicion at the St. Louis Park store last year that a clerk made handwritten notes about his behavior that were later turned over to law enforcement. Criminal charges against Horton also noted surveillance footage showing him waving two gun cases in the air at people waiting for him outside the store after a successful purchase.

According to court documents, a review by investigators found that federally licensed firearms sellers documented Horton’s purchase of 33 firearms from stores around the Twin Cities subway station between June 15, 2021 and October 17, 2021 — a week after the shooting in the truck park.

James Becker, a federal defense attorney representing Horton, wrote in a memo ahead of the sentencing hearing that “This case concerns a young person who consented to buying firearms for others who were prohibited from doing so without first obtaining the consequences to consider. “

Luger said it was his view that “some of the straw buyers are mistaken, that they have nothing to do with the actual violence that ensues”.

“We need to make this connection very public: if you bring this weapon into an illicit trafficking stream, you are responsible for what happens to it,” Luger said.

Two new federal criminal cases indicted this month underscore the speed at which legally owned firearms can become violent weapons.

The 9mm Springfield Armory Hellcat pistol used in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Anthony Skelley outside his South St. Paul home on May 8 was later traced to a legal purchase 159 days earlier by Wayne Danielson at the 200th Miles distant Virginia, Minn.

An ATF agent then linked Danielson to several other firearms seized by law enforcement and documented 50 guns Danielson purchased from licensed dealers between May 2019 and August 2022. The agent noted that Danielson had purchased the same firearms multiple times during this period.

When police searched his home earlier this year, Danielson admitted buying firearms with the intention of reselling them online through Armslist – a firearms classifieds website.

He told investigators he would use the site to find buyers before doing business via text message. Danielson said he would sell guns if he needed extra money, adding, “Guns are like money,” according to a Star Tribune affidavit.

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges last week against Danielson for unlicensed arms trafficking.

Also last week, prosecutors charged Carson Thomas McCoy with illegal possession of a firearm after he stole a Springfield Armory .45 cal Model XD Mod-2 handgun and other items from a Ham Lake home in August. Less than half an hour after the burglary, according to the criminal complaint against McCoy, a BMW sedan stolen and driven by McCoy was involved in an altercation with a group of motorcyclists, during which someone from the BMW fired shots at the bikers from the car’s sunroof.

McCoy and a passenger were later arrested after the vehicle crashed into an Anoka County Sheriff’s Department squad car and a tree during a pursuit.

A federal defense attorney representing both men declined to comment on their cases when reached last week.

The case comes amid an ongoing plea from law enforcement agencies like McCrary, who is urging lawful gun owners to do everything they can to protect their firearms.

“Please don’t leave your guns in the car,” McCrary said. “If you carry a gun, use your permit and carry it. Bring them in at night, and if you keep one in your house and you leave your house for something, put it in a locker to secure it.”

“That would go a long way in keeping a significant number of guns off the streets.”