Page 2 of 5   <       >

Realco guns tied to 2,500 crimes in D.C. and Maryland

"The owners of Realco Guns are cooperative with our detectives and have been compliant with all reporting requirements," said Maj. Andy Ellis, commander of the public affairs division for Prince George's police. "It shows a weakness in our system when a company like Realco can adhere to the law yet still be the source of so many crime guns. I can only imagine how much lower our violent-crime rate would be if Realco sold shoes instead of guns."

Dealers on the front lines

Tracing brings into sharp relief the fact that virtually all crime guns are first sold as new weapons by a licensed dealer to someone who cleared a background check. The criminal demand for weapons - especially new ones that cannot be tied to previous crimes - puts dealers at the front line of crime prevention.

One ATF study found that about half the guns in trafficking cases started as "straw purchases" from licensed dealers. As in the Dixon case, a person with a clean record buys a gun for a person who cannot or does not want to do so. The ATF looks to merchants to proactively weed out suspicious customers, such as a girlfriend buying for a boyfriend.

Most experts and ATF officials agree that the number of conscientious dealers far outweighs the minority that break the law. Straw schemes can be hard to detect. A gun traced to a merchant does not necessarily signal that the merchant did anything wrong, the experts say. The number of traces a store generates is shaped by many factors, including the type and number of guns sold, geography, clientele and how clerks vet customers.

The District has no walk-in gun shops but is ringed by more than 100 in Maryland and Virginia. Of the 996 guns successfully traced last year in the city, about one-fourth were tracked back to Maryland dealers, one-fourth to Virginia dealers and the rest to shops nationwide, according to the ATF.

To track crime guns in the District and Prince George's, The Post used public information requests to obtain local police logs listing 76,000 guns recovered by police in the two jurisdictions, then matched the serial numbers against a Maryland database of gun sales.

About 9,400 had no serial numbers and could not be matched. Another 13,300 were rifles or shotguns, which the state does not track. About 44,000 guns were not listed in state sales records, meaning the weapons were probably sold by dealers scattered across the country or had their serial numbers entered into police logs incorrectly.

About 8,700 guns were tracked to the Maryland merchants that last sold them.

Police in the District and Prince George's on average seized more than 160 Realco guns annually from 1997 through 2008. Realco's firearms end up at local crime scenes at a rate nearly twice that of any other active Maryland dealer that had 10 or more guns seized.

On a single day, police have logged two, three or even four guns sold by Realco, records show.

A Taurus .40-caliber pistol sold by the store in March 2004 was put to work in a murder three weeks later at a Popeyes in Oxon Hill, where 20-year-old Robert Garner Jr. killed 22-year-old Kelvin Braxton. Police learned that Garner's girlfriend had bought the gun.

A Glock .45-caliber the shop sold to Alfred L. Evans in June 2004 was used in October 2005 in Clinton at a busy traffic light to kill 28-year-old Keith Ingaharra. After one driver cut the other off in evening rush-hour traffic, Ingaharra stepped from his car waving his hands. Evans shot Ingaharra in the hip, leg and chest and then drove home.

<       2              >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company