Gun store owner gets probation in straw buy ATF sting

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Edward Clyde Ledford is a lucky man, though I can’t speak to how intelligent he is. The 57-year old plead guilty to taking part in a brazen straw purchase of a firearm that was actually an ATF sting operation last November, and this week he learned that he won’t be heading off to federal prison despite the fact that his crime is punishable by ten years behind bars.

A straw purchase is defined as the purchase of a firearm by someone who is not the actual intended owner. While technically the intended owner doesn’t have to be prohibited by law from possessing a firearm for a straw purchase to take place, most prosecutions involve that exact scenario: someone who’s buying a gun for someone they know can’t buy one legally.

A straw purchase can take place without the knowledge of the gun seller, but Ledford’s case there was plenty of evidence of active participation in the crime.

According to information contained in court documents and court proceedings, on April 15, 2019, an individual who was prohibited from possessing a firearm entered the Whitnel Outdoorsman and Pawn in Lenoir. Court records show the individual told a store employee that he was interested in purchasing a firearm but would not pass the background check due to prior felonies on his record. The store employee advised the prohibited individual to “bring a buddy back” to fill out the paperwork.

Court documents state that a few days later, on April 18, 2019, the prohibited individual returned to the store with an undercover ATF agent posing as a friend. This time, the prohibited individual spoke with Ledford and again explained that he wanted to purchase a firearm but could not pass the background check. The prohibited individual also told Ledford that, at the suggestion of a store employee, he had brought someone who could pass the background check, and essentially be the straw buyer for the firearm. Ledford did not object, and, over the course of their exchange, the prohibited individual pointed to the semiautomatic shotgun he wanted to purchase. Ledford handed him the firearm and the prohibited individual paid Ledford in cash for the shotgun.

Ledford also gave the undercover agent the ATF Form 4473 to fill out for the background check. Once the form was processed and the sale was completed the prohibited individual took possession of the firearm in the presence of Ledford.

The ATF has a long and lengthy history of troubling sting operations including well known scandals like Operation Fast & Furious to lesser-covered, but no less worrisome operations like the storefront stings the agency ran during the Obama administration. In this case, however, the evidence looks pretty bad for Mr. Ledford, especially with the informant handing over the money to him while the ATF agent filled out the required paperwork.

What about entrapment? Well, if the undercover agent had to coerce or try to convince Ledford to go along with the scheme, the gun store owner could have at least raised that as an argument. But Ledford did not object, and that takes entrapment off the table.

Taking a plea bargain was probably a no brainer for Ledford, even if there was still a possibility of prison time on the table. The real surprise is that the Department of Justice chose to give him one, despite the sheer weight of evidence that they brought to the courtroom. Joe Biden has spent months on end talking about going after “rogue gun dealers”, and yet, when the ATF actually finds one (as opposed to shutting a gun shop over a paperwork error), Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice goes soft and cuts them a deal? What gives?