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Norfolk Police, ATF address local impacts related to straw purchasing of firearms

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Posted at 5:44 PM, Jan 14, 2022

NORFOLK, Va. - For the last five years, the Norfolk Police Department has been tracking recovered guns in the city, including those lost, stolen or straw purchased.

NPD Chief Larry Boone has been very vocal on the issues of straw purchasing and illegal firearms.

“My role is to galvanize folks to look at the issue, then galvanize folks how do we strategically start addressing the issue,” Boone said.

“This started really slow, in 2017,” Boone told News 3. “When more folks started getting involved, particularly the media. such as yourself. I want to thank you for taking that deep dive, because it forced others to take a look.”

The issue of illegal guns being used in crimes has been an issue News 3 Investigates has been looking into for nearly 2 years and has covered as part of the “Trigger Trace” series.

READ: Trigger Trace: A look into guns recovered throughout Hampton Roads

Throughout 2021, News 3 has reported on what Norfolk Police and other police departments in Hampton Roads are doing to track guns used in crimes, illegal guns and straw purchasing, as well as what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is seeing in Hampton Roads and on a national level.

READ: What is straw purchasing firearms? Here's what authorities, gun shop owners are seeing locally

Friday, Boone and other local and federal law enforcement officials came together to talk about efforts to address straw purchasing in the area.

“I looked at last year, and looked at this year, with respect to shootings, and I thought that we could do better,” Boone said.

Last fall, News 3 sat down with Boone to talk about the trend of straw purchasing. He said, at the time, straw purchasing had been on the rise for the past 2-3 years.

“You have to say, ‘Well how did they get the damn gun to start with,” Boone said. “We’ve had some success with people admitting, ‘Yeah I knew I shouldn’t have purchased a gun for him or her.’ The more we start highlighting that type of behavior, and they’ve been charged and held accountable for it, we can start making some in roads.”

ATF Special Agent in Charge Charlie Patterson said, when it comes to firearm recoveries in Virginia, Hampton Roads ranks “extremely high.”

READ: Behind-the-scenes look at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Tracing Center

“We find often that firearms are used in multiple crime scenes,” Patterson said. “This is extremely impactful. Unfortunately, it’s impactful to those communities that are black and brown.”

Patterson said one recent example of straw purchasing involved a former Norfolk State University student who straw purchased 45 firearms for an entire year.

Patterson added at least 15 of those firearms the student bought and sold were recovered in crime scenes in Virginia and other states.

“Here we have a student who was able to purchase firearms, took advantage of that opportunity to sell those firearms, and then they were ending up at crime scenes,” Patterson said.

READ: Local ShotSpotter success: How sensors pick up gunshots, pinpoint where triggers are pulled

News 3 also previously talked with Steve Dowdy, the owner of Bob's Gun Shop in Norfolk.

Dowdy said he and his team look out for straw purchasing and are speaking out against it.

“Nobody wants people that aren’t supposed to have guns to get them,” Dowdy said.

He added he believed stiffer penalties for straw purchasing will help send a message.

“You want to talk about getting the word out, when people start understanding how severe the penalties are, I think that’s a really big part in kind of curbing this,” Dowdy told News 3.

Meanwhile, Boone said, when looking ahead this year, they have certain procedures and processes to help tackle straw purchasing.

One, starting through the U.S. Attorney’s Office, called "Project Safe Neighborhood."

“That’s a program where gang members, certified gang members, are called into a courtroom,” Boone said. “They are given an ultimatum. We know that you are the trigger pullers in this city. You’re either going to straighten up, or you’re going to jail.”

The other, Boone said, being a grassroots program.

“You have violent crime interrupters that have street credibility from certain neighborhoods intervene before there’s a crime,” Boone said.

News 3 also asked Patterson about the ATF’s efforts in Hampton Roads to tackle straw purchasing, especially in the new year.

Patterson said they’re starting a regional NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) system. NIBIN is one tool police departments use to look at firearms and shell casings when tracing them in a case.

Patterson told News 3 this system will have more of a regional approach, involving police departments throughout the Seven Cities, versus just individual departments.

If you see or know of any potential criminal activity involving firearms, including straw purchasing, ATF officials said you can call their hotline: (888) ATF-TIPS.

Click here for more News 3 Investigations.