EDITORIAL: Gun violence Strengthen prosecution of straw buyers

Nov. 25—More mass shootings — in a Colorado Springs bar and a Virginia Walmart — leaves more hard questions about what can be done to stop the carnage.

One answer comes from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota: Prosecute more so-called "straw buyers," who buy guns legally and then sell them to people who are prohibited from possessing weapons due to criminal history.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has ramped up prosecution of gun crimes, making it a priority for his office. He recently told the Star Tribune he would bring more cases against straw buyers "than ever before." That's good to hear. There are plenty of cases.

Working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Luger and his office are tracing more guns used in crimes than ever. In fact, the ATF traced and recovered some 4,605 firearms used in crimes in Minnesota in 2021, about 15% more than the 4,072 recovered in 2020.

And guns purchased legally are finding their way to crimes in record time. ATF records shows guns purchased legally in Minnesota showed up in crimes an average of 6 years after legal purchase in 2021, down from 8 years in 2020.

In two egregious cases in Minnesota, legal gun buyers purchased dozens of weapons to sell online and to others who turned around and used them in a shooting at a busy bar in St. Paul. Jerome Fletcher Horton Jr. purchased over 33 firearms from licensed firearms dealers in a five-month period in 2021. One of the guns was traced to a shooting at the Seventh Street Truck Park in St. Paul in October of that year.

In another case, Wayne Danielson, of Virginia, Minnesota, purchased 50 guns over three years and sold them online using Armslist, a classified ad website specializing in firearms. One of those guns ended up being used in the fatal shooting of a 17-year old South St. Paul boy outside his home.

Horton was sentenced to two years in prison. Danielson was recently charged with dealing firearms without a license. Danielson told police he did it to earn extra money and "guns are just like money."

And that's the part of the problem.

But too often we see state and federal prosecutors making plea deals where the first charges to be dropped are the gun charges. This has to change. If prosecutors don't have time or money to fully charge out these cases, elected leaders need to give them the resources to do so.

Luger seems to be putting more muscle into prosecutions and that's good to see.

"We need to be very public about this connection: If you put this weapon into an illegal stream of commerce, you are responsible for what happens to it," Luger told the Star Tribune.

What can we do? Support tougher prosecution of gun buyers and gun sellers who violate laws already on the books. Regulate sites like Armslist and prosecute them if they break gun laws. Impose tougher sentences on straw buyers. If sentencing guidelines limit tougher sentences, change the sentencing guidelines.

We can take action or we can watch the mass shootings continue. All of this can be done, if only we have the will.