St. Louis, Missouri has seen an increase in homicides and violent crime in recent months, and now the Department of Justice is charging three men that are alleged to have sold dozens of firearms to prohibited persons in violation of state and federal law, fueling the violence on the city’s streets.

According to the indictment handed down in federal court on Friday, federal agents had been interested in what was happening at Piazza Jewelry and Pawn for several months.

Over the first eight months of 2019, more than 170 guns seized or recovered by law enforcement were traced to Piazza Jewelry and Pawn at 10201 Page Avenue, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wrote in a court affidavit. The affidavit accompanied charging documents against three former employees of the shop.

Six of the confiscated guns were used in homicides, four in robberies, 20 in various weapons offenses and another 36 were used by people prohibited from possessing a weapon, ATF Special Agent Chad Foreman wrote in the affidavit that was released Thursday.

About 40% of those who bought guns from Piazza were repeat buyers whose previous gun purchase was connected to criminal activity…
An employee admitted that so-called straw purchases, where someone who cannot legally buy a firearm uses a go-between to make the purchase, happened regularly, Foreman wrote. That employee also admitted that known felons were able to buy guns at Piazza, he wrote.
Based on that information, ATF agents conducted a sting operation of the shop beginning in October of 2019.
[Foreman] and a female undercover agent pretended to be a couple and bought guns on three occasions. Each time, Foreman picked out a gun and the other agent purchased it, the affidavit said. On Oct. 24, they saw another couple making a similar purchase. The man was a convicted felon and both later told investigators that “they had heard repeatedly ‘on the street’ that Piazza was the place to go to acquire firearms through a straw purchaser,” Foreman said.

On Nov. 25, the ATF sent in a convicted felon wearing a wire, who told Johnson that he was a felon. Johnson told the felon to “keep that information quiet” and allowed the felon’s partner to buy a .45 caliber Glock, Foreman wrote. The felon then bought ammunition, which is also illegal, he wrote.

That sting operation led to a raid by BATFE in December of 2019, and ultimately resulted in the charges handed down in federal court against the three current and former employees of the pawn shop on Friday.

Criminals will find a way to obtain firearms, but that doesn’t mean that gun stores can enable them and provide a one-stop shopping experience for those who’ve lost their right to keep and bear arms.

We haven’t heard the defendants side of the story yet, but based on the affidavit from Foreman, at least one of those arrested admitted to police that he knowingly engaged in straw purchases. I’m willing to hear what the defense has to say, but right now it doesn’t look for the three men.

One thing I’m curious to see is if any customers are charged with committing straw purchases as well. It would be odd to only charge the seller and not the buyer of the firearms, and prosecuting those who illegally obtained the guns would send as big as message as prosecuting those who illegally sold them.