Page 4 of 5   <       >

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

Stretched across one end of the front porch at Realco is a "Team Glock" banner, a marketing nod to the angular-shaped handgun. Bars line the windows. Customers enter in the back next to a sign announcing the "Realco Outdoor World & Gun Hospital."

Inside is a small paneled showroom lined with glass display cases and space for only a handful of customers. Rifle bags, gun safes, animal trophies and assorted gun gear fill the shop. Tacked behind the counter is a small yellow notice: "We will refuse the sale of ammo and guns to suspected straw purchasers."

Researchers in law enforcement, academia and the media first began to examine gun tracing data for clues to potential illegal sales in the late 1990s. (The efforts so angered gun supporters that they successfully lobbied Congress to impose a blackout on the once-public data in 2003.) In 1999, The Post identified Realco as the source of 493 guns used in crimes from 1996 to 1998, based on data from the ATF. That was twice the number of any other dealer in the region, and later researchers would rank Realco in the top 10 in the nation for crime-gun traces.

At the time, Greg and Carlos del Real disputed the numbers. They said they operated in a high-crime area but obeyed all laws.

"We step all over these people's constitutional rights to prevent these straw purchases," Greg del Real said.

Months later, Maryland State Police officials told The Post they were "taking an aggressive look" at Realco and potential straw purchases. Nothing came of the investigation, records show.

Greg del Real followed news of the state probe with a letter to The Post, disputing that "our store is in any way responsible for the flow of 'crime guns.' "

Guns, he wrote, are traced for many reasons that might not include "criminal use," including stolen guns and guns used in self-defense.

"We suspect that those reasons for traces, coupled with our high volume of sales, may account for the 'higher than average' number of gun traces attributed to our store," he wrote.

"The hundreds of sales that we have refused to make over the years," he also noted, "are not reflected in any statistical report."

Realco was back in the news in August 2007 when D.C. police issued a report that identified the leading sources of crime guns seized in D.C. in 2006 - Realco was No. 1 with 76, three times the number of the next-most-frequent dealer.

That month, prosecutor Ivey joined Jesse L. Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition and others outside Realco in a "protest against illegal guns." Inside the shop, Maryland State Police pored over Realco's paperwork. Investigators found little of concern.

<             4        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company