How legally-bought guns in Ohio end up in hands of felons in other states


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Legally bought firearms from Ohio gun stores, gun shows and online are ending up in the hands of criminals across the country.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says the agency traced 163 guns confiscated from Pennsylvania crime scenes back to Ohio, the most compared to any other state.

Ohio also ranked first among guns confiscated in West Virginia and second in Kentucky and Indiana.

Advertisement - Story continues below

The problem extends far beyond Ohio's borders. Ohio guns have been traced as far as Puerto Rico and Canada.

Ottawa, Canada, leads that country with the highest rate of violent crime, fueled in part by Ohio guns smuggled into the country.

ATF agents tell 10TV the guns are bought through what are called "straw purchases."

That's when a person with no criminal record is recruited to buy guns for someone who has a criminal record and can't legally own a gun.

Once the guns are purchased, the guns are dissembled and hidden in compartments in a car and driven across the border or shipped separately by mail.

"In the last 5 years, I have seen Ohio firearms recovered in Camden, New Jersey; Baltimore; Chicago; Canada; Buffalo and Mexico," says undercover ATF agent Teresa Petit.

Why Ohio? The ATF blames Oho's lax gun laws which are less stringent that states that border Ohio.

"It's easier to acquire a firearm here than it is in those market areas. These firearms that have left Ohio have ended up at crime scenes that include the murder of a child of adults narcotic gang wars," says Petit.

Last year, Columbus ATF along with law enforcement from New Jersey intercepted a gun smuggling ring allegedly run by Columbus resident Chucky Scott.

Scott is alleged to have directed others to buy guns from Ohio gun stores then sell them to people in Camden, New Jersey.

Investigators say on a weekly basis, guns from Columbus were flooding the city of Camden, one of the most violent cities in America, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

"You can get a handgun for $500 at an Ohio store and turn it around for $1,000, $1,200 here. If it's a rifle, even more than that," says Detective Sergeant Erick Hoffman of the New Jersey State Police, who was the lead detective in the Chucky Scott case.

Scott along with 6 of his alleged accomplices are now awaiting trial.

What is significant about the case is that Scott is charged with a never-before-used criminal charge.

"What we are accusing him of is directing the purchase of those guns, as well as directing the sale of those guns here in Camden City," says Detective Hoffman.

The charge is called the leader of a firearms trafficking ring which, until now, was only saved for drug dealers.

"It's very unique this is the first — as far as the state police go — this is the first time we've ever used this charge in a case like this," says Detective Hoffman.

The penalty can be a maximum life sentence.

Detectives say they would not have cracked this case had it not been for a West Virginia state trooper.

He used a traffic stop to pull over Scott and discovered thousands of dollars in cash and, more importantly, his cell phone.

That was critical.

"It helped tie us to the gun purchases, help tie us to the middle man who making the purchases," says Detective Hoffman.

While Hoffman says catching gun smugglers is hard to stop because the guns start with a legal purchase.

By law, licensed firearm dealers must alert the ATF when someone buys two or more guns in a five-day period from the same store. But unless those guns end up at a crime scene, there's little probable cause for the ATF to investigate.

Detectives say gun smugglers often go from gun store to gun store to avoid detection, which is what happened in another gun smuggling case out of Ashtabula, where guns eventually made their way to Niagara Falls, New York, into Canada.

There is no current federal law that requires gun owners to inform law enforcement when their firearms have been lost or stolen. Consequently, gun traffickers often claim that guns that were in their possession were lost or stolen in order to hide their involvement in gun trafficking.

So far, at least 10 states have taken the responsible step to require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within a short period of time after discovering that they are missing.

A nationwide poll found that 94% of registered voters supported laws to require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.

While dismantling gun smuggling rings are a challenge, Detective Sergeant Hoffman credits cooperation with other law enforcement to help outsmart the crooks and prevent the potential of these guns finding their way into the hands of felons and ending someone's life.

"You take one gun off the street, you would like to think you're saving someone's life," he says.

Learn more about the ATF's state-by-state reports utilizing trace data here.