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Report Highlights Difficulty of Naming Problematic Gun Dealers

ProPublica has identified Deb’s Gun Range in Indiana as selling a high number of crime guns

A new ProPublica investigation provides more insights into the difficulty of identifying the gun dealers who sell a significant number of crime guns. In this case, ProPublica’s Vernal Coleman had to dig through court records to uncover the name of the gun dealer — Deb’s Gun Range in Hammond, Indiana — that sold the .22-caliber Glock 44 pistol used to kill 29-year-old Chicago Police Officer Ella French in August 2021.

To learn more about gun dealers and how they’ve allowed guns to slip from the legal to illegal markets, click here.

following the gun

According to ProPublica, in March 2021, Deb’s Gun Range sold the pistol to a straw purchaser, Jamel Danzy, who illegally resold it to Eric Morgan, a man prohibited from owning firearms due to a prior felony conviction. Months later, Morgan’s brother, Emonte, fired the Glock 44 several times at police officers after being pulled over for a traffic stop. He struck and killed Officer French and severely wounded another officer. The Morgan brothers and Danzy were later convicted for their crimes.

But as the article noted, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), “which investigated the purchase of the gun used to kill French, would not reveal the name of the Hammond retailer when contacted by ProPublica. Neither would federal prosecutors. In filings for the case against Danzy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois did not reveal the name of the store where he purchased the Glock.”

In the past, “federal and local law enforcement routinely identified the source of guns used in crimes to members of the media or anyone else who inquired.” But that “changed in 2003 when Congress, bowing to pressure from the gun industry, approved legislation known as the Tiahrt amendment, named after a former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., a gun rights champion.” The ATF and law enforcement have interpreted the amendment as barring them “from disclosing any information they uncover during gun-tracing investigations, including the names of retailers.”

The Tiahrt Rider has made it very difficult for local officials, gun violence prevention advocates, and researchers to investigate gun trafficking patterns and how they contribute to gun violence. According to ProPublica, “Gun safety advocates and researchers argue that the Tiahrt Rider created a knowledge gap on a pressing public safety issue and allowed retailers to escape scrutiny. Such information, they say, can help the public determine whether the transactions that put guns in the hands of criminals are a rarity or part of a larger pattern.”

Court records provided answers in this case, however. ProPublica noted that “Tiahrt’s restrictions prevent investigators from disclosing the names of gun retailers, but federal prosecutors who try gun traffickers have more leeway. In fact, such disclosures in federal filings occur often.”

dangerous practices

ProPublica also noted that Deb’s Gun Range has been part of the ATF’s “Demand 2” program since at least 2021 — the same year the shop sold another gun to a straw purchaser that was later used in a shooting outside a school.

The Demand 2 program requires gun dealers who sell a significant number of crime guns — those who have 25 or more crime guns traced back to them within a given year, and that were purchased and recovered by police within three years — report limited information on the used guns they acquire every quarter. This information helps the ATF link firearms on the used, or secondary, market to dealer transactions.

A review of ATF documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request shows that Deb’s Gun Range has been cited for multiple violations from ATF compliance inspections over the years. For example, a 2015 inspection report notes that Deb’s Gun Range failed to report a multiple handgun sale (when a customer purchases two or more handguns within five consecutive business days), failed to complete transaction records, and failed to maintain accurate inventory records, leading to an unknown number of firearms going missing, as required by law. These were all repeat violations from previous inspections in 2005, 2010, and 2011 as well.

Regarding the sale of the Glock used to kill Officer French, Mark Oliva, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, told ProPublica, “The illegal straw purchase of a firearm is a crime committed by the individual lying on the [transaction] form. That is not a crime for which the firearm retailer is liable.” However, gun dealers may miss or ignore obvious warning signs of straw purchases, including “buyers making multiple purchases of the exact same model of gun, buying sprees over a short time period, large-volume purchases, cash payments and staggered visits to elude multiple-sale reporting requirements.”


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