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

"The brothers Del Real were cooperative during the inspection," they wrote.

Crime guns stack up

The gun industry often says that traces reflect little more than the number of guns a merchant has sold. But Maryland dealers that have sold almost as many or more guns than Realco have had their guns seized at much lower rates, records show.

Realco is listed in the Maryland database as selling 19,000 guns since 1984. Of every 1,000 sold, analysis shows, police later recovered 131.

About five miles away from Realco, near Andrews Air Force Base, is Maryland Small Arms Range Inc. The longtime dealer has sold about 15,000 guns over the past 25 years. For every 1,000 it sold, police later recovered 41.

Jack Donald, a longtime salesman at the shop, said police officers often use the range on site, potentially affecting who shops there.

"It may be some kind of a deterrent," Donald said.

Atlantic Guns, a long-established dealer in Silver Spring, has sold more than 18,000 guns in the past 25 years. For every 1,000 sold, police have recovered 28.

And in Rockville, a second Atlantic Guns location has sold more than 21,000 firearms since 1984 - the most listed in state records. Out of every 1,000 guns sold, police recovered eight.

One of the main ATF indicators of trafficking is how quickly guns are seized after they are sold, known as "time to crime." The faster guns are recovered, the ATF has found, the more likely they were bought by someone with criminal intent, sometimes through straw purchases. Anything less than three years is considered a potential red flag.

In general, Realco guns have been recovered more quickly than guns sold by other Maryland dealers. In Prince George's and the District, 55 percent of the recovered Realco guns were logged by police within three years, compared with 40 percent for the guns recovered from other Maryland dealers.

A Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun sold in March 2006 was recovered by Prince George's police 13 months later not far from a body, surrounded by shell casings, on a Landover street. A 26-year-old man was shot and killed after finding two men breaking into his car. The shooter told police that he asked a 21-year-old woman to purchase the handgun for him because he was 20 at the time and "not of legal age to purchase one himself," police said.

In a May 2006 straw purchase, a man bought a handgun at Realco for a felon friend who wanted to shoot abortion doctors. The plot was foiled after the felon's family called authorities weeks later.

In another straw scheme that ended later that year, a 22-year-old District man on probation for a handgun violation had his 47-year-old girlfriend, an office manager at a law firm who had a clean record, buy handguns for him on four shopping trips to Realco, prosecutors said. The scheme unraveled after police recovered one of the guns in the District.

The ATF trace revealed that the woman had bought it at Realco two months before. After talking with an ATF agent, she filed reports that one of the guns was stolen, but she eventually said she gave it to her boyfriend.

The man "went to Realco Guns with her on each occasion," she told the ATF, according to a document filed in court.

The straw purchase

When Erik Dixon first shot at a man, he had in his grip a relatively new Ruger .40-caliber handgun from Realco.

Dixon, then 21, had a string of arrests, was on federal probation, had abused drugs and complained of hearing voices in his head.

Standing outside his mother's home in Landover the night of May 3, 2003, he accused a man, an acquaintance, of attacking him. Dixon ordered the man to the ground, took $200 from him and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the asphalt, and lead fragments ricocheted into the victim's face and shoulder.

As Dixon put the gun to the back of the man's head, a police car turned onto the street. Dixon fled.

When police arrested Dixon two days later, the gun fell from his waistband. Realco had sold the gun about eight months before, records show, to a man who had lived in the area.

Charged with attempted murder, Dixon claimed he was insane. The courts sent him to prison on a lesser charge of felony assault.

Once out, he met Cathy R. Anderson, 31, and soon asked that she buy a gun for him. In January 2007, the pair visited Realco, where she made a down payment on a Glock .45, signing a form saying she was buying the gun for herself. Dixon was in the store with her, she later told police.

She told investigators she didn't know of his criminal past. She said she never touched the gun after she picked it up on a return trip to Realco.

"I took it back to Erik's truck and gave it to him," she told police.

Two months later, Anderson called Maryland State Police, nervous about what she had done. That day, April 5, they opened a straw-purchase investigation to track down Dixon and the gun. Nine days later, he murdered his sister's boyfriend.

He was arrested nine days after that in Virginia. Anderson cooperated with prosecutors, who chose not to charge her. Dixon is serving a 60-year sentence.

In phone messages, Anderson declined to be interviewed, saying Dixon is no longer in her life.

"That was then; this is now," she said. ". . . I'm sorry for what happened."

Contributing to this report were staff writers James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz, videographer Ben de la Cruz, staff researcher Julie Tate and former staff researcher Meg Smith.

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