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The Police Shooting in Walker’s Point

How did the suspect get the gun?

Jun. 24, 2009
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The city was horrified to learn that two Milwaukee police officers had been shot in the head in broad daylight, allegedly by an armed teenager on a bicycle.

Even more horrifying is learning that it’s legal for an 18-year-old to purchase a handgun—as long as the gun is sold by a private seller who doesn’t have to run background checks, and not a federally licensed gun dealer that must do so.

Yet the man who allegedly sold the gun to the shooting suspect is being charged in federal court for making false statements while purchasing the gun from a licensed dealer.

These inconsistencies highlight the loopholes in our gun laws. Individuals 18 and up are legally allowed to purchase a long-arm gun—a rifle or shotgun— from a federally licensed gun dealer, so long as that person passes a background check.

But an individual must be at least 21 to purchase a handgun from the same dealer.

“It’s been a long-standing practice in federal law,” said Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm. “The thought is that the pistol is inherently more of a personal defense weapon. I can’t speak for legislative intent, but the common-sense approach is that it’s potentially a more dangerous instrument and you need more maturity before it’s purchased.”

Yet an 18-year-old can legally buy a handgun on the secondary market, from a private individual—as long as the seller isn’t purchasing it specifically for someone who can’t legally buy the gun, or isn’t making a quick buck off of the transaction.

Pieces of legislation have been drafted to require all sales, including private sales, to be brokered by licensed dealers, and to prevent private individuals from selling handguns to buyers under the age of 21, but those proposals have died in the state Legislature.


“The Classic Gun Show Loophole”

According to the criminal complaint filed in federal court, the gun that was used to shoot and injure two on-duty police officers was a Taurus PT140 .40-caliber pistol that was purchased by Jacob Collins, age 21, at the federally licensed Badger Guns Inc. in West Milwaukee, in early May. Collins filled out the required paperwork and passed the background check.

But, the complaint alleges, Collins lied on the paperwork and subsequently sold the gun to Julius Burton for $40. Collins allegedly lied about the fact that he was purchasing the gun specifically for Burton, who was prohibited from legally buying a handgun; his drug use (he “has smoked blunts about once a week since 2007”); and his address (“Collins claimed ‘Julius’ told him to put [an old address] down in case the police came looking for him”).

Collins, the alleged buyer-turned-seller, is being charged with a felony in federal court.

The alleged shooter, Burton, is being charged in state court with two counts of first degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, although he is being evaluated to see if he is competent to stand trial.

The transaction seems to be a classic straw purchase, or lie-and-buy transaction, in which legally purchased guns end up in the wrong hands because the laws governing the private sales of handguns differ from those regulating federally licensed vendors. “It’s the classic gun show loophole,” Chisholm said of straw purchases.

Adam Allan, owner of Badger Guns, said he’s complying with the law and is doing his best to prevent straw purchases from taking place in his store. Allan said that he won’t allow anyone under 21 to enter his store, and doesn’t even allow customers to talk on cell phones while they’re shopping. “What other steps can I take?” Allan said in an interview last week. “I’m doing as much as I can with what we have. I don’t think more laws are going to do it.”

The Gun in Question

The gun in question—a small Brazilianmanufactured semiautomatic pistol—retails for $379 at Badger Guns. It’s relatively cheap, accurate and powerful. The manufacturer, Taurus Firearms, promotes it as a great concealed carry weapon or backup for law enforcement. Concealed carry is illegal in Wisconsin, and the alleged shooter cer tainly wasn’t working for law enforcement on June 9, when on-duty officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch were shot in the head from a distance of 2 feet.

“[The Taurus pistol] would be good for concealed carry if we had concealed carry here,” Badger Guns’ Allan said. “But there is no such thing. Our state doesn’t trust its citizens.”

In a study of guns seized by the MPD in 2005, Steven Brandl, a UW-Milwaukee professor who sits on the city of Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, found that Milwaukee’s gun market is primarily local; 26% of the guns confiscated by the police in 2005 were originally bought at Badger Outdoors (Badger Guns’ precursor). Those guns tend to have an “extremely fast” time to crime—1,055 days, compared to 3,114 days for all guns confiscated during arrests in Milwaukee. The term “time to crime” refers to the amount of time between when a gun is first purchased and when it’s seized by law enforcement.

In the Walker’s Point shooting, the Taurus semiautomatic was purchased on May 4, then allegedly fired at the officers on June 9—a time-to-crime of just 36 days.

Since the current gun laws have not prevented minors and criminals from obtaining guns, Brandl suggested that law enforcement step up their efforts to curb illegal gun possession, especially guns being carried illegally on the street, in cars or in purses.

“If law enforcement can show that carrying guns is risky, would-be offenders would leave their guns at home,” Brandl said. “If they’re concerned about getting arrested, they wouldn’t carry them. If [Burton] didn’t have the gun on him, that [police shooting] incident wouldn’t have happened.”

Comment on this article at ExpressMilwaukee.com.


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