Friday, February 06, 2015

My Last Straw

It was last Friday night when two customers walked up to the firearms desk. One explained to me he had placed a handgun on layaway after Christmas. I'll call him customer#1. He wanted to cancel the layaway and get his money back. This happens. Could be money he believed he would be getting didn't come through or his wife told him otherwise. Doesn't matter, our layaway policy is 25% down 60 days to pay with no penalty or restocking fee for a cancellation. He then told me his buddy was impressed with what a good deal this firearm was and his buddy wanted to purchase it. I'll call him customer #2.

Having gone through a BATFE course on what to look for when confronted with a potential straw purchase this one smelled. A straw is when one individual who is able to pass a FBI/NICS background check purchases a firearm for another individual who cannot pass the check. Most likely due to a felony, guilty to misdemeanor of domestic violence or drug trafficking among other run-ins with the law. A straw purchase could also be a citizen purchasing a firearm for an illegal alien, a juvenile or an out of state resident.

Buying a firearm for another individual is legal and acceptable if it is to be given as a gift. A father or mother buying one for an underage offspring would be an example or a wife buying one for her mate is another, as long as the giver is able to pass a check. In the case of a gift the responsibility of the actual gift transfer is on the gift giver.

As you can see determining a potential straw purchase is based on verbal and visual evidence and the seller's judgement. Is one individual looking at and touching the firearm while the other silently watches but then decides to make the purchase and fill out the NICS paper? Did anyone witness money changing hands between customers during the course of the store visit?  We only are able to do our best to deny purchase when we feel, in our judgement, one is occurring. A straw purchase is a crime punishable by 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine or both.

I explained to customer#1 we would go to the register, cancel his purchase to wipe it off the system, then customer#2 would need to fill out the 4473 form and go through the background check process before making the purchase. At this point there wasn't enough visual or verbal evidence for me to judge beyond a doubt this as a straw purchase. In front at the checkout was the store manager and I explained to him what was happening. He seemed OK with it but I didn't. When the two customers proceeded to the rear of the store for the check I discreetly told the manager this transaction smelled. He nodded in agreement.

Back at the gun counter I asked customer#2 for his valid government issued photo ID so I could make a copy. I gave him a pen and the form then went onto the vault to make the copy. The manager stepped in to the vault and I gave him the low down. He went back out to observe the customers, to see if any money was changing hands or to look for other clues. While at the firearms desk customer#1 seemed calm but was pacing and looking at merchandise. When the form was completed I took a look and reviewed it. Customer#2 left some line items blank. As I was explaining to him what needed to be filled in the manager stepped in and asked to see the form. Then came the manager's question. "I see you were found guilty of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, is that correct?", asked the manager.

I had not yet looked at the question column but he spotted the answer box right away. Customer #2 casually said he had, but it was a misdemeanor, so what?. It didn't matter. This is the law and we had to deny the sale of a firearm and terminate the transaction immediately. Even if I didn't spot this, which I would have, I explained to customer#2 that if I had called in his check, the NICS people would have denied the sale even if he lied and checked the no box. Passing a background check is serious and conducting them just as serious. 

(If we ever are audited by the BATFE and they find mistakes on the forms in our store we will be subject to a penalty which could range from a fine, probation, a combination of both or losing the FFL for a period of time or forever.)

Both customers were not happy, mumbled a few curses and stomped out of the store. I filed the form in the 'denied' folder and the layaway document from customer#1 in the 'straw purchase' folder. We are obligated by law to save all 4473 forms no matter what. As soon as ink touches the paper  the document is owned by and forever property of the feds. They are organized in folders describing the nature of the transaction outcome.

I thought this was the last we would see of customer#1…but noooooooo.

On Saturday morning I was discussing with a new customer (for the millionth time) why 22LR ammunition continues to be impossible to find…at retail. We were at it for a few minutes when over his shoulder I see customer#1 approaching the firearm desk. Our conversation continued for a few minutes longer while customer#1 waited, paced and appeared to be in a hurry.

As our discussion concluded I looked toward #1 and asked what I could help him with. This time he had a woman with him. He shamelessly told me that the lady with him was interested in purchasing the same handgun he once had placed on layaway. I looked right at him and explained that after the encounter the previous evening there was no way I would sell her the firearm. He looked pissed and she asked that I call the manager. I did. The manager was told him once again there would be no sale based on what took place the previous night. Both of them began to curse and complain, then turned to exit the premises cursing and stomping all the way out the door.

Looking at my manager we both were astonished that this individual would try it again the very next day. We replayed the video surveillance in the office, identified both occurrences and he recorded the video time codes for future reference, just in case.

It's a good thing most criminals are just plain dumb.

During the past year we have issued and recorded six denials of sale. One was denied by the NICS during a check because the customer had something in the past. We are never given a reason for the denial. Five others were denied by staff members and myself based on verbal and visual evidence. The BATFE agents instructed us this would surely happen, not if but when.


Overload in Colorado said...

Should any of the six denials triggered prosecution?

Carl from Chicago said...

Took me a while to figure out the title... pretty clever.

Amazing that the guy came back in.

Dan from Madison said...

Good on you. Funny that he could have just sent the woman in alone and she could have just purchased the firearm for him, assuming she has a clear record. Of course he didn't trust her to purchase the correct firearm or why on earth would he have come back? Then again,as you noted, criminals are, for the most part, pretty stupid.

Anonymous said...

I am unfamiliar with the subject (guns, gun laws, gun purchase tricks &&&), so forgive me if the question sound silly to you.
Why customer #1 didn't purchase the gun himself if he has been so persistent in trying to buy it through a proxy (customer#2 and then the woman?
If he didn't want to buy it for himself and the whole charade was a trick to get customer #2 to get it w/o a check, then how bringing a woman customer later helps to make a legal purchase? Yes, she could then "make a gift" to customer #2 - but customer #1 could do it himself w/o going through all the complications if he didn't cancel the layaway in the 1st place.
Could you explain?

Gerry from Valpo said...

So many questions. I'll do my best.

"Should any of the six denials triggered prosecution?"

We have never been instructed to inform law enforcement of an attempted straw purchase by the BATFE, the FBI or local law enforcement. What we are responsible for is detecting and identifying potential straws, denying any suspected attempts (the store will never question an employee's denial of a sale) then maintaining a file and list of denied applicants and any parties involved.

"Why customer #1 didn't purchase the gun himself if he has been so persistent in trying to buy it through a proxy customer#2 and then the woman?"

Customer#1 obviously has a sordid past that would have been on record with federal law enforcement. No way could he have passed through the FBI/NICS even if he lied on his 4473 form and he knew it. Using a second stooge further proved how dumb #1 truly was.

"Yes, she could then "make a gift" to customer #2"

She and #2 were both being used as stooges by #1, #2 never had any intention of owning the firearm and neither did the woman.

Anonymous said...

Customer#1 obviously has a sordid past that would have been on record with federal law enforcement. No way could he have passed through the FBI/NICS even if he lied on his 4473 form and he knew it.
[...]She and #2 were both being used as stooges by #1, #2 never had any intention of owning the firearm and neither did the woman.

But didn't you say he cancel layaway and asked for his money back? I thought that means he already obtained his gun, only didn't pay for it in full. "Canceling layaway" means he returned the merchandize, did he not?
If he was in obsession of the gun, he already passed the checks - yours and govt's, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

"possession", not "obsession", d'oh.
stupid auto-correct

Gerry from Valpo said...

I will respectfully attempt to answer your question. Please do not misunderstand any emphasis or wording as being rude.

In my recount of a straw purchase attempt customer#1 was NEVER IN POSSESSION of the firearm. NEVER. He reserved the future purchase the firearm under terms of the layaway agreement and we held that firearm in our vault until the customer came in to pay off the layaway and make the final purchase in person. None of the individuals mentioned in my personal account ever had possession of one of our firearms.

The firearm in question never left the premises. FBI/NICS background checks are required for each and every purchase and each customer must pass one before a final transaction is complete. Only then is a customer permitted to leave the premises with a firearm of any type (handgun or long gun).

The process of selling firearms legally to law abiding citizens is extremely complicated and highly regulated by federal law in modern times. It way too complicated and involved to explain all the background check and legal transfer nuances here in my comment response. I will write more about and publish my personal experiences selling firearms here. It is an awesome responsibility and one I take very very seriously.

…thanks for asking : )

Overload in Colorado said...

If I understand you correctly, Gerry, you only need to fill out a background check (4473) when a customer is going to take possession, and that only happens when a firearm is fully paid for and right before the customer takes it out of the store?

So, you don't need to fill out a 4473 to place a firearm on layaway?

Gerry from Valpo said...

"So, you don't need to fill out a 4473 to place a firearm on layaway?"


Anonymous said...

Apparently, "layaway" means different things at gun store and the rest of retail.
Thank you for explanation.

Terry from Crown Point said...

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Glock 42 today.