The handgun used to kill a Chicago police commander had once been bought and sold by an unlicensed gun dealer who federal authorities say described peddling guns “like an addiction.”
The Chicago Tribune investigated the various sales of the gun that was used to kill Cmdr. Paul Bauer in February. The accused shooter, Shomari Legghette, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.
It’s unclear how Legghette allegedly got the weapon. But federal investigators traced the gun to a 68-year-old Wisconsin man, Thomas Caldwell, who has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of selling firearms without a license. A man Caldwell said he sold the gun to last year has pleaded not guilty to a similar charge; investigators say federal agents found 40 guns at that man’s home.
Experts say the case illustrates the ease with which people can illegally buy and sell guns either online or hand-to-hand. Chicago police say that’s a big factor in the hundreds of shooting deaths each year in the city.
The full Tribune story is here.
* Tribune editorial…
Anyone who makes a regular business of selling guns is supposed to obtain a federal firearms dealer license. Anyone buying from a licensed dealer has to submit to a background check that screens out those who are legally barred from gun ownership, such as felons. Caldwell, however, bought and sold dozens of guns a year without a license, and peddled them through a website that doesn’t require users to prove identity and undergo background checks.
That activity brought him to the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner and Annie Sweeney reported. In 2015, the ATF sent him a letter warning him not to sell more guns until he got a license. He agreed but didn’t stop. In 2017, the agency traced another gun to Caldwell and found he was still posting hundreds of firearms for sale online. Undercover ATF agents arranged to go to his home, where they bought a pistol.
He wasn’t charged with a crime, though, until later — after Bauer was shot. In the aftermath of that death, the ATF visited Caldwell’s home and found he was still plying his trade without a license, telling agents “that selling firearms was like an addiction,” as an assistant U.S. attorney said. Even then, he kept selling, finally earning his date in federal court.
Why didn’t the ATF move sooner to get prosecutors to put this chronic, dangerous scofflaw behind bars? The agency “declined to comment,” the Tribune reported.
This case shows the need for stricter enforcement of federal firearms licensing laws — which are meant to prevent people from operating as gun dealers without following sensible rules. The laws are also meant to block sales to prohibited buyers. The largely unregulated private gun market makes it much too easy for shady sellers and criminal buyers to find each other. That’s a good reason for Congress to pass legislation requiring federal background checks for all firearm purchases, rather than let private sellers continue to operate on the honor system.
It’s also a reason why the state might want to step in where the feds are failing to do so.