Some gun buyers find ways around law

The line stretched down the sidewalk down College Park’s Main Street. At times there were as many as 400 people waiting to sell their guns to the city.

But those waiting to go inside the Civic Center also presented a marketplace of sorts for anyone wanting to buy a gun. Buyers approached gun owners, cutting deals to purchase weapons before the city could buy them back.

No backgrounds were checked. And no laws were broken.

The irony was not lost on College Park City Councilman Joe Carn, who organized the $20,000 gun buy-back held in February. The city buys unwanted guns — $100 for handguns, $150 for long guns — to decrease the chances of deadly weapons winding up the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. Yet, there is no way to know the background of those cutting deals to buy weapons on city property.

“It only makes common sense to make checks of who is getting weapons,” Carn said.

Such sales are at the heart of the national debate about whether background checks should be conducted on all or just some gun sales. One of the President Barack Obama’s proposals for reforming gun laws is to require a background check in all gun sales, whether the purchase is made at a gun store or a gun show or from a private seller. There also is an attempt to toughen the punishment for those who buy guns for a felon or someone who has been involuntarily committed for mental health reasons.

On the federal level, there is no specific crime for trafficking guns or for someone else buying a gun for a person who is legally prohibited from having one. But both aspects are part of the proposal before Congress.

The definitions for who is a casual gun seller and who must get a license are also broad. According to federal law, a gun dealer is someone whose “principle objective of livelihood and profit” is selling firearms. The person who makes “occasional sales, exchanges or purchases” of firearms as a hobby or for a personal collection does not require a federal firearms dealers license.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are almost 1,800 dealers and pawnbrokers in Georgia licensed to sell firearms.

U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said gun trafficking is a particular problem in Georgia because individuals who are not dealers can sell weapons at gun shows without a background check, the so-called “gun show loophole.” At the same time, there are people willing to make “straw” purchases for those who cannot buy a firearm because of criminal histories.

“Both of them (gun shows and straw purchases) fuel the gun trafficking trade,” Yates said.

Consider Anthony Vincent Cartman who was sentenced in federal court in February to almost 11 1/2 years in prison for trafficking in guns he procured illegally at gun shows and by using a “straw purchaser.”

In an email read during his trial, Cartman wrote that he needed to “hit the gun show and fill two orders.”

According to testimony, Cartman also sent Erron Denise Love-Morgan to gun shows at the State Farmer’s Market, the Cobb County Civic Center, the Northern Atlanta Trade Center, the Atlanta Expo Center and other places to buy guns he later took to Boston.

Those weapons were eventually recovered at crime scenes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey, according to testimony.

“Georgia is one of the prime source states for crime guns used in other states,” Yates said. “Georgia has comparatively weak gun laws. There is no limit on how many guns you can buy and there is no waiting period. Guns are plentiful and cheap.”

For example, Yates said, a gun sold for $100 in Georgia could bring $400 if sold in New Jersey, which has tighter state gun laws.

John Monroe of the gun rights group GeorgiaCarry.org said more laws won’t make citizens safer and that regulating intrastate sales should be left to the states and not taken on by the federal government.

“The guns used in crime are generally stolen,” Monroe said. “There’s not a strong link between private gun sales and guns used in crime.”

He said universal background check “would be solving a problem that doesn’t exist.”

There are ways around the laws already in place, Monroe said.

“If you can’t get a gun one way because of a background check, you can go around it and go to a gun show or go to a private person and not have a background check,” said Valerie Hartman-Levy, co-founder and president of the Metro Atlanta Million Mom March, an affiliate of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun violence.

“People have the right to hunt,” Hartman-Levy said. “People have the right to defend themselves. This is all about a balancing act when 90 percent of the public favors closing the loopholes.”

One of the fears expressed by those opposed to universal background checks is that such a measure will put the nation just a step away from a national gun data base.

“The great fear is that the government is going to come confiscate all the guns,” said Georgia State University law professor Lynn Hogue, an expert on the Second Amendment. “I don’t think it’s a real danger, but I’m not with the paranoia crowd.”