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“If Caldwell had been prosecuted when he first appeared on the ATF’s radar, Paul Bauer might be alive today”

Monday, Oct 15, 2018

* AP

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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

27 Comments
  1. - DuPage Saint - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 9:55 am:

    Perhaps if Cook County State Attorney had prosecuter had charged shooter as an habitual offender several felonies ago he would not have been on street to shoot anyone


  2. - low level - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:09 am:

    “Good reason for Congress to pass background checks”
    Which would be a reason for the very patriotic NRA to claim “THEY want to take away your guns!!!”

    Which is why we dont have such reasonable laws.

    Had he been charged as DuPage Saint claims above, couldnt he have just gone to a downstate gun sanctuary city?


  3. - Texas Red - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:09 am:

    “It’s also a reason why the state might want to step in where the feds are failing to do so”

    This is a Wisconsin and or federal problem. Not sure what Illinois can do as all private gun sales in IL are regulated.

    https://www.isp.state.il.us/docs/firearms052104.pdf


  4. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:12 am:

    –In 2015, the ATF sent him a letter warning him not to sell more guns until he got a license. ==

    Whoa, a letter? Did it have an angry face on the envelope? That’ll stop an immoral crook making a living as an illegal gun dealer.

    Caldwell claimed his annual income was $21K from disability, but he spent $24K a year on guns.

    That mathematical nonsense is just what he copped to. I’m guessing he make a lot of money selling a lot more guns than he admitted.

    No records, so who’s to say?


  5. - Em - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:22 am:

    =It’s also a reason why the state might want to step in where the feds are failing to do so.=

    Is this in reference to enforcement or enacted background checks? On the latter, the GA passed a watered down universal background check the same year concealed carry passed.

    THere’s a phone number you have to call with an automated system that checks the buyer’s FOID (for private sales, normal background check rules apply for stores).


  6. - Juice - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:27 am:

    Em, are private seller’s who are out of state subject to the Illinois requirement for the watered-down background check?


  7. - Jocko - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:28 am:

    Somehow we are able to keep track of 250 million registered motor vehicles in the US, but guns completely elude us. I know it’s a constitutional right, but I think most people can agree that Thomas Caldwell was an irresponsible gun owner.


  8. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:29 am:

    ATF screwed up. They could have easily monitored his website after visiting him and then gone back.

    That said, the shooter would have gotten a different gun somewhere. The seller was like one creek draining into the Mississippi. Damming the creek will not be noticeable.

    Yes the State should be more aggressive in areas where the Feds are inadequate. State and local governments should also target people known to be dangerous. The Christian idea that all people can be saved permeates our judicial system. Save their soup, but keep them away from the rest of us.


  9. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:32 am:

    ===This is a Wisconsin===

    In this one instance. But if this is how the ATF operates, this is an Illinois problem.

    Try to keep up.


  10. - Em - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:35 am:

    I believe, if someone went out of state to purchase the firearm, the seller wouldn’t be subject. But the buyer is subject to laws regarding out of state purchases. I’m not sure of the exact details on the second part, but most stores in other states refuse to sell to Illinois residents. Typically an Illinois resident would have to have the firearm shipped to an Illinois dealer to do the normal background check and transfer.

    But I think you would have the same issue if Illinois passed normal universal background checks. It is surprising to me that the gun groups have managed to keep private sales exempt at the federal level for so long.


  11. - Em - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:38 am:

    =In this one instance. But if this is how the ATF operates, this is an Illinois problem. =

    Better funding for ATF should be a bipartisan idea.

    But the NRA crowd doesn’t like the idea of more government even though they like to yell about enforcing existing laws, and the other side doesn’t like any solution that doesn’t involve banning something.


  12. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:39 am:

    –This is a Wisconsin and or federal problem.–

    I thought it was a dead Chicago cop problem.

    Maybe redouble on those thoughts and prayers.

    Chicago cops confiscate thousands of illegal guns a year. Those are just the ones they get their hands on.

    But it’s not an Illinois problem, in your pumpkin.


  13. - Dave W - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:43 am:

    If Illinois already regulates gun sales, I don’t understand what a new law would do? We can’t regulate sales that take place in other states.


  14. - Tequila Mockingbird - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:44 am:

    Out of state or non resident firearms transactions MUST go through an FFL to be legal.
    This was an illegal transaction that allowed a felon to obtain a handgun. Illegally.
    The ATF should have been on this guy but additional state laws are unlikely to be effective. You want to make it more illegal? How about prosecuting felons. Catch and release should be for fish, not felons.


  15. - Not It - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:50 am:

    The Wisconsin legislature should also consider beefing up their gun laws.


  16. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 10:52 am:

    ===already regulates gun sales===

    Rauner has vetoed a bill to put more regulations on gun dealers.


  17. - a drop in - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 11:11 am:

    If a web site can be shut down for alleged sex trafficking, why can’t someone go after those sites allowing gun sales without proper checks?


  18. - Em - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 11:12 am:

    =Rauner has vetoed a bill to put more regulations on gun dealers.=

    So how would that have affected a person illegally selling large numbers of guns in another state?


  19. - Rod - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 11:26 am:

    Rich SB1657 that Governor Rauner vetoed would not have impacted Mr. Caldwell in the least. First there is no evidence that Mr. Caldwell transfered the weapon in Illinois and second the bill addresses only importers of weapons not exporters in other states. If it did it might be possible to try and have Caldwell extradited based on the Extradition Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV Section 2) if the law applied to esporters. I would find it highly unlikely that Wisconsin would comply with request for extradition in that situation and clearly the current US Supreme Court would not support such a use of the extrdiction clause.


  20. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 11:31 am:

    ===would not have impacted Mr. Caldwell in the least===

    I never said it would.

    Try to keep up here.


  21. - ItsMillerTime - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 11:33 am:

    It’s stuff like this that infuriates me, conservatives are always incredibly happy when people die in Chicago so they can smugly say “looks like gun control doesn’t work!” except if you look at the studies you would see a lot of the guns used in violent crime come from red states with loose gun laws.

    Has Illinois ever sued or considered suing states such as Wisconsin or Indiana for the fact there guns are used to kill our citizens and police officers? I’m not sure how successful it would, but at least it would bring attention to the fact that these red states with loose gun laws are fueling gun violence in blues states and cities.


  22. - Roadrager - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 11:38 am:

    ==If a web site can be shut down for alleged sex trafficking, why can’t someone go after those sites allowing gun sales without proper checks?==

    How much money does the sex worker lobby put in politicans’ pockets annually, compared to what the NRA doles out?


  23. - 47th Ward - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 12:35 pm:

    ===We can’t regulate sales that take place in other states.===

    Yep. Dead cops are just the price we have to pay for freedom.


  24. - Todd - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 12:38 pm:

    The gun dealer bill in question would have done nothing to fix the situation or remedy it. Once again people use a tragic situation as a call for more gun control and regulation on firearms and FFLs.

    1. the individual was acting without a license. and could have been prosecuted at any time. He wasn’t
    2. the handgun somehow made its way to Illinois. Selling any firearm across state lines by a private to another private party is against federal law. Another crime.
    3. the second individual was acting without a license and could be charged.
    4. the second individual sold the gun to an Illinois resident, which is against federal law. the is such that if you lived in Illinois and you son lived in Indiana, to give him any gun for his birthday or Christmas, you would have to do so through a FFL in his home state.

    This isn’t a failure of ATF funding, its a failure of them not either running it up the chain for prosecution or the US Attorney not wanting to spend time on the case.

    Illinois law has no bearing on this other than the possession by the murderer who didn’t have a FOID, and if someone in another state illegally transferred a firearm, and someone did for it to get into the perps hands there is very little Illinois can do.

    BTW we have a state statue on operating as a gun dealer without a FFL. So if Cadwell had been an Illinois the minute ATF sent him that letter the local SA could have prosecuted him.

    the dealer bill that the Governor vetoed is just a way to hassle gun dealers and run them out of business, through regulations, rules, and taxes.


  25. - DuPage Saint - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 12:48 pm:

    I know I repeat myself, but it is a Federal crime with a 5 year mandatory minimum in a Federal prison for a convicted felon to have a gun. If that law was enforced none of this and much of the gun mayhem in Chicago would have been prevented.


  26. - Amalia - Monday, Oct 15, 18 @ 3:58 pm:

    I typically have lots to say in detail on this topic. But this story is just so sad that all I want to do is wish the family of Commander Bauer well. And tell everyone else to get it together.


  27. - HARRY - Thursday, Oct 18, 18 @ 12:15 pm:

    Need a gun to buy ? I know of a private dealer who sell guns and delivers it to the address provided he help me to get mine when i was seriously in need of the gun i use now’ he dealers it to to my directly before i completed the payment he runs fast and and clean business Contact him via: hawleonard111 @ gmail com


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