Gun Shop Owner Helps Bust Trafficking Ring

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Three Minnesotans are now facing federal charges for illegally engaging in straw purchases and selling dozens of firearms on the streets of the Twin Cities, thanks to the help of a local gun store owner who alerted authorities to a suspicious sale.

According to authorities, 33-year old Sarah Jean Elwood and her boyfriend Jeffrey Paul Jackson had been buying guns on a daily basis and selling them to a guy named Geryiell Lamont Walker, who would then allegedly take the guns obtained by Elwood and Jackson and resell them on the streets. Late last month police recovered one of the recently purchased firearms when they arrested a suspect in a Minneapolis shooting, and were able to trace the gun back to Elwood, who’d purchased it just two weeks earlier.

It was a vigilant dealer who helped the ATF catch Elwood.

On May 29, Elwood called Bill’s Gun Shop and Range in Circle Pines asking if they had any Glocks, according to court documents. The employee said they did not, and when Elwood showed up to buy two other guns, the employee grew suspicious and called the ATF.

Agents were already on Elwood’s trail from confiscating the gun a day earlier. They staked out the store and arrested Elwood the next day when she came to pick up the guns, according to charges.

In an interview with the ATF, Elwood said she’d been buying guns almost daily for the past month or two and selling them, usually for $100 profit per gun, according to court documents. She and Jackson needed the money since she lost her job in March 2020, lost her apartment and her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she told investigators, the court records said.

Jackson is prohibited from buying guns in Minnesota, so he’d arrange the deals, get money up front and Elwood would make the purchase, she said, according to court documents. The ATF has traced 56 guns straw-purchased by Elwood since last August, according to court documents.

I don’t have much sympathy for Elwood. Sure, it sucks that she lost her job and her apartment last year, but there are plenty of other Americans who’ve found themselves in similar dire circumstances over the past year who haven’t resorted to criminal activity to get by. Of course, now that Elwood and her boyfriend are facing federal charges, her issues finding housing may be taken care of for the next ten years or so.

The Star-Tribune newspaper, which covered the bust of the gun trafficking ring, really tries to make the case that Elwood’s arrest is an example of why the state needs more gun control laws, but one Republican lawmaker points out the flaws in that line of thinking. Rep. Jeremy Munson says gun licensing laws and other restrictions on legal gun owners aren’t way to address the issue.

Munson said Minnesota does need to take guns out of the hands of criminals, but he worries some of the state’s restrictions already go too far, such as a prohibiting gun ownership for residents on the medical marijuana registry. This year, Munson introduced the Minnesota Anti-Red Flag Act, a bill that would preempt any law or ordinance that allows law enforcement or family to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from a person who poses a risk of harm to self or others.

Another avenue of cutting down straw purchases is to focus on the sellers, said Garen Wintemute, an emergency physician who studies guns as director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at University of California, Davis.

Wintemute said data show certain shops sell a disproportionately high share of guns that end up on the streets.

“There are retailers who will clearly understand that they are involved in a straw purchase and will sell the guns anyway,” he said.

Law enforcement paying special attention to these sellers can pressure them to be more vigilant, he said.

Munson believes this strategy may also have unintended consequences. He said asking gun dealers to crack down could lead to racial profiling of legal buyers.

The best thing to do would be to ensure that alleged straw purchasers like Elwood, Jackson, and Walker don’t get a slap on the wrist as a result of their criminal activity. Take this case to trial instead of offering a plea deal, and if they’re convicted, use them as the poster children for why you shouldn’t lie about your gun purchase unless you’re willing to do some hard time in federal prison as a result. We don’t need new gun control laws to prevent this type of activity, which is already illegal. We just need to ensure that there are consequences for these crimes.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET