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Feds set sights on gun buys
More investigations to target illegal sales
By Joe Johnson | [email protected] | Story updated at 2:21 AM on Sunday, October 22, 2006

The owner of a Madison County gun shop told a convicted felon that silencers were "illegal as hell," but that he had a contact in Florida who could make one.

Within nine months, the felon bought two silencers from 46-year-old Michael Curtis Oakley of Athens, in addition to a revolver, three semi-automatic pistols, an assault rifle and boxes of ammunition - all without a background check or filling out the required paperwork.

That's the allegation in a complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Athens. An agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that a felon wore a hidden camera and microphone to capture each illegal transaction, as he helped make a case against the owner of Oakley Outdoor Sports in downtown Colbert.

The complaint convinced a U.S. magistrate on Monday to authorize police and ATF agents to arrest Oakley for violating federal firearms regulations. The magistrate also signed warrants that led authorities to seize dozens of weapons from Oakley's gun shop and search his house at 356 Oak Meadows Drive, where officials confiscated documents and other evidence.

The agent's complaint purports to show how guns are winding up on the streets and in the wrong hands, even when the source is a federally licensed firearms dealer.

In a similar ATF sting last month, authorities arrested another Athens man and four others for allegedly trafficking in guns at the J&J Flea Market in Jackson County. According to indictments filed in U.S. District Court in Gainesville, the men weren't licensed firearms dealers, but they sold guns to convicted felons, illegal immigrants and an undercover ATF agent posing as an out-of state resident.

Agents seized 130 firearms in that case.

Firearms trafficking is not necessarily on the rise, but the number of investigations to find the source of illegal guns is, according to Special Agent Marc Jackson of the ATF's Atlanta field division.

"Part of our mission is to reduce violent crime and protect the public by disrupting the source (of illegal guns), and that source could be the dealers themselves," Jackson said.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are working more closely in the wake of Project Safe Neighborhoods, according to Jackson. The 2001 initiative has tripled the number of suspects police and ATF agents forward to the U.S. Justice Department for prosecution, he said.

Backed by $1.5 billion in federal money, Project Safe Neighborhoods also has allowed the ATF to hire more agents to help state and local police to decide whether cases should be prosecuted on the federal level and train licensed dealers to spot "straw buyers" who buy guns in their own names for people who cannot.

"It's a collaborative effort which seeks to combat the problem of gun violence through more aggressive prosecutions," Jackson said.

Athens-Clarke police Lt. Mike Hunsinger, who heads the Western Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force, says his unit's investigations are the main way local police find illegal weapons, because guns and drugs go hand in hand.

"Any time we recover a firearm associated with a drug-related crime, we pursue federal prosecution if needed," Hunsinger said. "We're working more closely with the ATF than ever to conduct these investigations."

In Oakley's case, it took a criminal to catch another alleged criminal.

According to the ATF agent's complaint, an informant who pleaded guilty to unspecified drug charges, but hadn't yet been sentenced, told Athens-Clarke police last December that Oakley had sold guns to another convicted felon and known drug trafficker.

The informant was not given or promised anything in return for the information, according to the ATF agent, and had helped Athens-Clarke police in at least seven previous investigations that landed two other people in federal custody on drug and firearms charges.

Oakley allegedly violated several federal laws when he sold guns to the informant, including failing to note transactions in an "acquisition and disposition" ledger that licensed dealers are required to maintain.

Oakley's gun shop also held weapons that weren't registered under the National Firearms Act, according to the ATF complaint. Under the law, licensed dealers must register and pay taxes on certain firearms and accessories, like machine-guns and silencers.

Since it's illegal for a dealer to sell guns to certain people - convicted felons, illegal aliens, dishonorably discharged soldiers and people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence - gun sellers must conduct background checks on customers.

And each time he sells a gun, the dealer must file a form with the ATF that has the buyer's information on it.

Dealers must keep records for each transaction for 20 years, according to Jackson, and those records help investigators trace the history of a gun used in a crime from the time it was made to the last time it was sold.

Joseph Thornton Jr., who manages Thornton's Pawn Center for his father, is a federally licensed gun dealer who says some dealers don't keep proper records because they are too lazy.

"There is a lot of paperwork you've got to do, but either you want to do the right thing or not," Thornton said. "We've been in business 27 years and I'd like to stay in business another 27 years, and if I abide by the law, I will be in business."

Some people sell guns without licenses because the black market is lucrative, according to Thornton, who said he saw an assault-style rifle sold at J&J Flea Market before last month's sting, and recognized the black market price was twice the legitimate value.

"There's so much money that can be made and people allow the fruit to become so tasty," he said.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 102206

3,119 Posts
Woody_the_Infidel said:
The owner of a Madison County gun shop told a convicted felon that silencers were "illegal as hell," but that he had a contact in Florida who could make one.
They aren't if you're not a felon...
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